Usually a masculine fashion accessory, the pocket watch nowadays bespeaks a man of refined taste and a penchant for unusual time pieces. During historic times, however, the pocket watch was a symbol of wealth and initially reserved for nobility and the upper classes. Thanks in part to the Industrial Revolution; these types of chronometers soon became available to everyone.
1462: Bartholomew Manfredi, a clockmaker from Italy, invents the portable time piece. Terming it a pocket clock, this device is meant to be carried on the person in the small pouch that a nobleman usually hung from his belt. Cumbersome and heavy, this accessory did not really catch on.
Early 1500s:German locksmith Peter Henlein invents a portable clock that can be worn on a chain around the neck. Still heavy, the fashion accessory is initially not much sought after. During this time, the earliest depiction of a pocket watch was painted by Renaissance artist Maso de San Friano. It depicts Cosimo I de Medici, the Duke of Florence, holding the watch in his right hand.
Mid 1600s: The pocket is invented. In an effort to make it more difficult for robbers to cut off the purses dangling from belts, hidden pockets are being sewn into the inner part of the breeches worn by men. Britain’s King Charles II orders courtiers to wear vests with pockets. He becomes the first royal to keep a pocket watch in his vest pocket rather than letting it hang from his neck.
1800s: Fashions continue to change. The design of the pocket watch, too, undergoes numerous dramatic changes. Pocket watches become smaller, lighter, and rounder. They can now be attached to a chain that would then be affixed to the inside of a pocket. In the United States, the American Watch Company has perfected the mass manufacture of pocket watches by 1865. Accuracy continues to improve and watches would now only lose a few minutes over the course of a day. European railroad workers are required to wear pocket watches to help keep timetables accurate.
1900s: As the world goes to war for the first time, the vest falls out of favor and pocket watches go with it. Wristwatches are the new rage.
The novelty of wearable watches caused royals and nobles alike to turn a blind eye to glaring inaccuracies of these time pieces. While it is true that the elimination of falling weights finally made it possible for small watches to be created, early main springs did not provide for the accurate movement that we have come to appreciate and expect in modern time pieces. In fact, until the lever escapement became a common part of pocket watches after 1750, it was not unusual for these devices to lose several hours in the course of a single day!
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