Pocket Watch invented
Perhaps everyone has seen an old photograph or movie featuring a man standing outside a train depot awaiting a train. Sporting a curly-mustache, top hat, suit and shiny shoes he pulls out a shiny gold object, rubbing it on his coat and checks the time. Pocket watches were once an item that owners took great pride in possessing. Now these treasures are either found only in antique shops or as a novelty in a jewelry store.
Where did Pocket watches come from and why were they so popular?
Lets take a look at the history of these fascinating but antiquated timepieces.
Peter Henlein, a German locksmith from Nümberg, Germany crafted the first pocket watch in the early 1500’s. The first pocket watches were very large. Those who have noticed modern rap artist Flavor Flav wearing a large clock around his neck should picture something slightly smaller than that. The initial pocket watches were shaped more like a globe or cylinder. Because of their size, they had to be worn around the neck, suspended by a chain. The reason these watches were so bulky was because scaling down the size of elements needed for timekeeping pieces had not yet begun. These early watch designs functioned by means of verge escapement, meaning that the time-telling functions yielded intense friction. Coiled springs were also used in these early models. Springs would tend to unwind at different varying rates, resulting in significant inaccuracy of time-telling.
The oldest functioning pocket watch today is one of the most valuable pocket watches on earth. Believed to have been made by Peter Henlein himself, it is one of only five in a series and the only one of the series that survived past WWII. There is a video on YouTube of this amazing timepiece which you can watch below:
By 1650 almost all Pocket watches were able to actually fit in a pocket (!).
During the early years of the pocket watch, many pieces were crafted by the help of a jeweler and blacksmith. Many Pocket watches were created upon request of a wealthy customer, hence the high price they had to pay. LePine and Frederic Japy were well-known quality pocket watch craftsmen in the 1700s. Due to the length of time involved in crafting a pocket watch at that time, most pocket watches were made by individuals rather than clock companies.
Clock companies did produce some pocket watches, but very few as most time was devoted to (normal) clocks. Because clock companies did not regularly market pocket watches before the 1850s, their value was much higher. Ads in newspapers often offered substantial rewards for those who found a lost pocket watch and returned it to the owner. These accessories, often donning a cover made of brass, gold or silver, almost invariably required frequent winding. Some pocket watches even had a small crank similar to that found on a musical jewelry box, while others had to be wound by a small key. The pocket watch had a chain that was pinned to clothing or looped through a button-hole to suspend it. Watch craftsmen had discovered that the rate at which coil springs unwound was closely related to how tight the watch itself was wound. Most early pocket watches needed to be wound twice a day to function optimally (what a pain, huh?).
During the 1800s the use of pocket watches in the railroad industry increased. The importance of the pocket watch was crucial to traveling engineers. As several of the dominating railroad companies expanded and began crossing tracks, there was a demand to keep an eye on time to avoid disastrous collisions. In 1891 a devastating accident occurred in Ohio because an engineer’s pocket watch stopped for only a few minutes. After this incident, the American Railway Association implemented a new set of strict standards for timepieces used by railroad workers. The newly-coined term “railroad-grade pocket watch” was used to refer to a pocket watch made to fit the strict standards for accuracy and dependability.
By 1850 owning a pocket watch was affordable; this was the height of the timepiece’s popularity and accessibility.
A revolutionary change came about by Aaron Dennison and Edward Howard. The pair had invented machines capable of making the tiny parts required to create a pocket watch. They took advantage of their discovery by mass-producing inexpensive pocket watches, making them affordable for nearly everyone. Resulting from their hard work was perhaps one of the most famous pocket watch companies in the history of time: Waltham Watch Company. For another 100 years, this company would continue to produce affordable but well-made pocket watches. These precious timepieces are worth a pretty penny today on the antique market; some sell for more than $10, 000.00.