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Editorial: Pocket Watches: Are They Still Relevant Today?

by Robin Lim on January 31, 2015

Some time back, I was having dinner with a few friends at a restaurant. Midway through a meal, a mate of mine named Joel yanked out a curious and vintage looking thing from his pocket. It was round, shiny, and had a chain attached to it. “Wait, isn’t that a… pocket watch?!” I exclaimed.

The Urwerk 1001, a modern interpretation of a pocket watch.

The Urwerk 1001, a modern interpretation of a pocket watch.

That was the catalyst that changed the course of our conversation that day. My poor friend, of course, was ridiculed by some dining partners for his unconventional and old-fashioned antics. However, I was curious. More curious than ever. In an age where wristwatches are ubiquitous and fashionable, why would someone carry a pocket watch that is cumbersome, heavy, and seemingly out of place in this age and society?

Since we are on the subject of pocket watches, let us rewind and have a brief summary on this history of horology. The pocket watch is a time-telling device used by Man since the 17th century. Prior to that, clocks were worn as pendants around the neck. While we think that such an idea is ridiculous and odd, it was actually popular back then to don such an ornament. Pocket watches, as compared to these neck-hanging clocks, were easier to carry and hence it gained popularity among the richer folks back in those days. The pocket watch was eventually taken over by wristwatches after the two World Wars, since they were more convenient and were generally more well-accepted by the male after the war (the disappearance of waistcoat attributed to it as well).

Coming back, the pocket watch is rather obsolete in today’s age. I have known a few collectors who has got a few pocket watches in their collection, but I have not seen a person using it to tell time until that faithful day. Strangely, my mate was not so much of a collector. He owns a few watches, and that pocket watch. It was rather intriguing to see that a small and young collector (who is in his teens, by the way) actually owning a pocket watch, and bringing it out to use it.

Of course, I had to talk to Joel. I had to find out why he had chosen to get a pocket watch, instead of getting another wristwatch with the cash that he had.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Artistica Spherotourbillon pocket watch, featuring a twin-axis tourbillon and a hand-chiseled dial.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Artistica Spherotourbillon pocket watch, featuring a twin-axis tourbillon and a hand-chiseled dial.

He told me the idea of owning a pocket watch got him when he was watching shows and dramas that dates back to the olden days, such as Sherlock Holmes. The idea of observing time, as well as the intricate carvings and decorations on the casing, made owning a pocket watch an interesting prospect. The fact that a pocket watch is larger than a wristwatch certainly makes the experience of appreciating the craft-works even more tremendous. The idea of owning something that is outdated seems cool to him as well. And all these led him to his purchase of a simple, but rustic pocket watch.

However, his experience of owning it is not perfect. In fact, there are many shortcomings that have blighted the ownership experience. The hassle of having to take out the pocket watch and opening up the cover to tell time is just the tip of the iceberg. There were other issues such as having a faulty catch (well, the pocket watch is very old), a perpetually entangled chain, and the fact that the entire pocket watch is taking up a ton of space in the pocket. Well, that was then when it dawned upon him why the pocket watch is outdated. Practicality is a major issue here.

The vintage Royal Chronometer by Vacheron Constantin. The highlight of this piece is the immaculate enamel dial.

The vintage Royal Chronometer by Vacheron Constantin. The highlight of this piece is the immaculate enamel dial.

Would I still buy a pocket watch? Maybe, when a nice and reasonable piece comes along the way. But I doubt I will be bringing it out to use it, unless the occasion calls for it. Will it be making a comeback? That’s for me and for you to find out.

Before the article ends off, here is another thought. Both the pocket watch, as well as the predecessor (the pendant clock) went obsolete due to practicality issues. Will that happen to wristwatches one day, since it is much easier to tell time using the phone? Well, we guess only tell can tell.

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