The History behind the Steampunk Pocket Watches

History of the Pocket Watches

Before the creation of the pocket watch, portable watches could not be worn on the body because of their large size, they were essentially a table clock. The first real portable watch was created in 1505 and quickly became popular thanks to ambassadors like Johann Cochlaeus.

Over time, this pocket watch has undergone many innovations to become more practical and modern, making it a true fashion accessory today. And more particularly, a flagship accessory of the Steampunk style. 

This article presents the history of the pocket watch from its invention to the advent of bracelet models.

Who invented the Pocket Watch and at what period in History?

The first pocket watch appeared in 1505 thanks to the ingenuity of Peter Henlein. He then created the Nuremberg egg, which became the common name for pocket watches. Historical figures such as Johann Cochlaeus and Charles II of England contributed considerably to their popularization.

Before we delve deeper into the history of the pocket watch, check out our complete collection of Steampunk pocket watches.


Black Steampunk Pocket Watch

The first portable watch, the pomander watch

In 1505, the first portable watch was created by Peter Henlein, who lived in the Franciscan monastery in Nuremberg. It was here that the locksmith and watchmaker acquired his knowledge of oriental watches.

At that time, the Pomander watch was a real technological innovation, capable of working in any position. Henlein installed a miniaturized form of the torsion pendulum and coil spring mechanism in this invention.

In French, Pomander means Pomme ambre, while in German this name means Bisamapfel. The first portable watch is also called Riechapfel or scent apple, because inside the pommel, there is a musk scent with disinfectant properties.

Pomander Watch

Aesthetically, the first models of pomander watches are distinguished by their two small half-spheres connected by a hinge, made of fire-gilded copper on the outside and silver plated on the inside. They also have nice engravings like the snake biting its tail (Ouroboros), the laurel and the sun.

The Nuremberg egg, the old name for pocket watches

Towards the end of the 16th century, pocket watches all took the name Nuremberg egg, because of their common shape. After the Pomander watch, Peter Henlein also made other similar, flatter watches, including drum watches.

In each of these, a spirally wound spring replaces the driving weight, making it easy to integrate the mechanism into a portable egg-shaped box. This can then be attached to a ring to be worn around the neck as a pendant.

The choice of the egg in the design of the watches was dictated by technical constraints. But this oval shape also appeals to hearts because of its practicality and ergonomics, as it allows the watch to be taken out of the pocket and stored more easily.

The historical ambassadors of the pocket watch

The pocket watch has been very fashionable since its conception in the 16th century. Today, it is still synonymous with chic and elegance, designed in a variety of styles and worn by famous people throughout history. Its historical ambassadors include

 Johann Cochlaeus: This Catholic theologian, to whom Peter Henlein owes much of his fame, was full of praise for the invention of pocket watches in Nuremberg in 1511. In his writings, he described these small clocks as beautiful things that could be worn on the chest as a pendant or in a handbag.

 Charles II of England: he traveled throughout Europe and North America popularizing the use of pocket watches. Thanks to this ambassador, these watch models became very fashionable in the late 1600s.

 Blaise Pascal: this historical ambassador of the watch brought some innovation to the wearing of the pocket watch. He made a retreat to the convent of Port Royal in 1655 where he wore his watch on his wrist, attached to a string.

To know everything about how to wear a pocket watch, discover our article dedicated to the subject.

The evolution of the pocket watch throughout history

Since its appearance, the pocket watch has undergone many innovations to become a more aesthetic and practical accessory. The most important ones include Audemars Piguet's revolution with its perpetual calendar and the rise in popularity of wristwatches during the First World War.

Audemars Piguet revolutionized the world of watches with its perpetual calendar. A mechanism that gives the day, month and position of the year in the leap year cycle, without the user having to make any adjustments.

The first wristwatch of this model was unveiled by the Manufacture in 1955. The great sophistication of this masterpiece of watchmaking makes it rare and therefore expensive.

The turning point of the watch during the First World War

During the First World War, soldiers confided in us about the restrictive nature of the pocket watch, which always had to be taken out of the pocket to tell the time. The history of this accessory then takes another turn with the advent of the wristwatch for the wrist.

This lack of practicality had already been observed long before, as in the late 1700s, Jaquet-Droz designed wristwatches in Geneva. Also in 1810, the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, had a wristwatch made.

The black, brown leather wristwatch and other designs definitely take over the gusseted models at the end of the 19th century and during the First World War. Military pocket watches suitable for the wrist were now mass produced.

To find out which skeleton watch to choose, please read our dedicated article.

Why wear a pocket watch today?

Today, the pocket watch for men and women is a real fashion accessory. In addition to being more durable than a wristwatch, it gives off an air of elegance and distinction with its vintage style. You can use it to embellish your formal gentleman's outfits, as well as on more casual styles, by putting them on a nice pair of jeans for example.

Man Steampunk Pocket Watch

Another advantage is that the antique pocket watch is available in a range of materials, shapes and chain styles to suit all requirements. You can easily customize your steampunk look and enhance your unique style with this timeless piece of jewelry.

What is a pocket Watch?

A pocket watch is a design of pocket watch usually with a string to be attached to clothing or worn around the neck as a pendant. Some models have a transparent or non transparent cover. This fashion accessory for men and women comes in both antique and modern styles, as well as more original versions.

The different cases and materials of pocket watches

In the world of fine watchmaking, there are essentially 4 types of cases for the pendant watch:

  • The open face: the entire dial and the workings of this skeleton watch remain visible without any border
  • The hunter case: you have to open a flap to read the time
  • The half-open case: similar to the open face gusset watch, this model is distinguished by a visible bezel covering the edge of the dial.
  • The half-hunter case: it allows you to read the time both by opening the case and by keeping it closed thanks to a peephole (with a crystal).

The types of cases are also distinguished by their mode of access to the movement. The most common are :

  • Hinged case: this gusset watch has two lids that can be easily opened
  • The case with screw lid: it is possible to unscrew the front bezel and the back lid
  • The consular case: this pocket watch has hinges and can be rotated out of the case
  • The nestable watch case: a flat-edged case opener must be used to lift the back cover.
  • Hybrid cases: you will also find pocket watches with hidden hinges in the case, and travel clocks with three or four cases inside each other.

In terms of aesthetics, two pocket watch cases stand out for their original design: the Gallone and the Niello. The first is a steel case, decorated in red on the bezel and the edge of the cover. The second has a black pattern on the silver case.

This black material is obtained by mixing lead, silver, copper, sulfur and salmiac. The solution is applied to the silver case and then burned.

The different movements of pocket watches

The movement or caliber refers to the timing mechanism of the pocket watch. The main types include:

The manual winding movement: to wind this type of pocket watch, the crown must be operated manually. These designs with simple mechanics, skeleton, etc. are very popular with collectors.

The automatic winding movement: here, the wearer's wrist generates a certain amount of energy that automatically winds the watch. The automatic watch has a large number of complications appreciated by professional watchmakers and mechanical enthusiasts, such as the phases of the moon or the perpetual calendar.

The Quartz pocket watch: more modern, this accessory is distinguished by its rechargeable batteries, with 3 years warranty. Unlike the mechanical movement design, it does not require a watchmaker to frequently check its gears.

The different styles of pocket watches

The world of watches is rich in creativity, which promotes the existence of a variety of styles. The types of pocket watches can be summarized in 3 :

The old style: this vintage watch offers models with silver or yellow gold case, smooth or brushed, stainless steel and with a transparent back.

The modern style: this collection of men's and women's pocket watches preserves its antique design while adding a touch of modernism to the wearer's wardrobe, through its performance, its analog dial and its quartz movement.

The original steampunk pocket watch: lovers of ornaments can turn to this design. These original fashion accessories come with animal, motorcycle, fractional and many more motifs.

Why Pocket Watch are so popular for the Steampunk?

Pocket watches are an essential part of the Steampunk outfit. This element reminds the past, through its ancient connotation and the future with its beautiful apparent mechanism.

The models of pocket watches for steampunk are declined in several models, the major ones are : 

  • Gears Pocket Watch 
  • Gothic/Steampunk Pocket Watch
  • Copper Pocket Watch

Conclusion on the history of the Pocket Watch

The first pocket watch (the pomander) was created by the locksmith and watchmaker Peter Henlein in 1505. When he made the Nuremberg egg, all pocket watches bore his name. In 1600, Charles II of England, through his travels, contributed to making them very popular.

The pocket watch has evolved a lot throughout history, especially thanks to Audemars Piguet with its perpetual calendar and to the wristwatch that became essential during the First World War.

Today, the pocket watch is still very popular in the world of fashion accessories. This popularity is due to its multitude of designs. The pocket watch comes in various types of cases, materials and calibers. It also offers antique, modern and original styles to suit all tastes.