Certain pieces never quite disappear, although time makes them obsolete or less practical. The pocket watch – worn more as an item of classic menswear rather than a standard timepiece – clearly falls within this group.
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Originating as far back as the 16th century, it lost out to the wristwatch during World War II.
Today, though, it likely comes with nostalgia attached – perhaps for period menswear or as an heirloom passed down from generation through generation. In any case, if you’re thinking about wearing a pocket watch, here’s how to go about it.
The Pocket Watch Back in Time
Called Nuremberg watches or eggs initially, these timepieces were sizably larger than they are today and wearers didn’t tuck them into their pockets off the bat. Instead, Nuremberg eggs were worn around the neck or attached to a man’s clothing.
It wasn’t until 1675 that King Charles II championed a new watch-friendly waistcoat design.
Mass production picked up during the 19th century, and during this time, you could find a wider range of quality – from the higher-end Swiss models to the practical and economical American timepieces.
Types of Pocket Watches
Beyond history, pocket watches have two distinct designs:
- Hunter case: These watches have a spring-loaded metal lid designed to protect the glass or crystal from damage. The demi-hunter is an off-shoot of this basic style: The lid features a hole at the middle, offering enough space for the user to read the time.
- Open face: As we mentioned above, this style required for late 19th century railroad workers eliminates the lid. As well, this design adds a pendant above the 12 o’clock marker, and a sub dial near the 6 o’clock marker. Spinning off this, the sidewinder adds the subdual to both six and three o’clock positions.
Pocket Watch Chains
Where do you plan to wear your pocket watch? Beyond just the watch’s shape, the attached chain influences where and how you’ll wear it:
- T-Bar: At one end, you’ll notice a T-shaped bar that’ll pass through the button-hole on your vest or shirt. The watch, then, should fit in the nearest breast or side pocket.
- Belt bar: For a more modern use, the belt bar slides or clips onto the belt or top of your pants. The watch, then, should easily slide into your pocket. In many cases, this option resembles a small belt chain.
- Bolt ring: The most versatile option, the end of this chain attaches to a belt loop on your pants, or can clip onto a button-hole on a vest, shirt, or waistcoat.
Beyond just the clip, you might come across a straight single chain, an adjustable slide chain, or a more elaborate Albert or Double Albert chain, which offers space for hanging fobs or charms.
For a more modern option, the watch may be attached to a strap of leather or even a thicker cloth ribbon.
Ways to Wear a Pocket Watch
“While pocket watches may not be as popular now as they used to be, there’s something undeniably stylish and classic about wearing one – with the right outfit!
To wear a pocket watch, you need to plan how it will fit into your custom look. A pocket watch combines well with more formal attire such as a three-piece suit, however, this doesn’t mean you have to always dress up – think how adding a pocket watch to your favorite pair of jeans and jacket could add an extra dimension of class.
Pocket watch chains are an important detail too so it pays to choose wisely – a single Albert chain is easy to use but if you’re looking to make a statement a double Albert is ideal.
When pairing with clothing it’s important to contrast the gold and silver coloring – try selecting one metal that matches your other accessories and contrast them with different colored outfits. Ultimately, how you wear a pocket watch comes down to how creative you can be so don’t be afraid to make yourself stand out with many styling options!”
– Ingrid Leo / Stylewithingrid.com / Co-founder & Fashion Blogger
“Pocket watches are absolutely fashionable today. We’re seeing younger generations pick up unique fashion trends from previous decades. They’re timeless because they look nice, but are also functional and perfect for any special occasion like a wedding since they pair well with a suit more so than a conventional wrist watch.
Find one in your preferred metal, whether that be gold or silver – this helps in matching it with your own clothing and other accessories. I suggest owning a pocket watch belt holder for everyday wear as this will keep it protected, but also easily accessible.”
– Shanna Nelson / The Artisan Rings / CEO
With a Vest or Waistcoat
The most traditional approach involves a T-bar or bolt chain in an Albert or single style. While vests and waistcoats a century ago had a separate watchhole specifically for this purpose, today, you’ll need to use one of the existing button-holes:
Fasten the chain first before you button up. Then, place the watch in the closest pocket. Because such pieces are often for show, make sure the chain remains visible.
Although, to build on the point above, you can simply attach the pocket watch to your three-piece suit’s waistcoat. However, this isn’t your only option.
As one alternative, consider the placement of buttons and pockets on your suit jacket. In this scenario, clip the chain to a button-hole and then slip the watch into the pocket.
Ideally, consider one of the lower button-holes, as formal dress codes dictate that you keep these unbuttoned while standing.
If the watch won’t fit or if your jacket’s pocket placement isn’t ideal, think about your suit’s pants. Using a belt bar, attach the chain to the belt, and let the watch rest inside the closest side pocket.
In any case, because a casual watch band – think leather or woven nylon – isn’t appropriate for formal events and it’s considered gauche to repeatedly check your smartphone, a pocket watch presents a two-for-one convenience that not only lets you keep time but further matches the dress code.
Looking for an eye-catching accessory that draws attention? Add a pocket watch to your jeans or button-down shirt.
Sticking to more smart-casual pieces – think chinos and a printed button-front – attach the watch chain to a chest-level button-hole, and let the watch stay in your pocket. It’s yet another way to try out the chain trend that’s been everywhere in the menswear market over the past year.
And, don’t forget about your jeans. Perhaps for an elevated take on the wallet chain, attach the pocket watch’s chain to a belt loop, and then keep the watch itself in the side pocket.
For a more distinctive touch, opt for a longer, more ornamental chain or consider a leather band instead of traditional metal.
Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born menswear fashion blogger and copywriter. When not writing about men's style he's also an EDM and synthpop enthusiast.