The pocket watch is a timepiece that for years, was seen as an accessory only for the wealthy, but over time, a more wide-ranging ownership came to be seen.
Invented in 1510 by German locksmith Peter Henlein, the pocket watch was a neck watch in its earliest iterations, but gradual design changes and uses of other materials led to the watch becoming very similar to how we see it today.
Henlein continued to design and manufacture pocket watches until the 16th Century by which time manufacturing had spread across the continent. The rich and noble showing them off as items indicative of wealth or power.
The watch became such a feature that clothing was adjusted to accommodate pockets to hold them. This allowed the gentlemen who commonly owned them to carry them about their person whatever the outfit.
The earliest versions of the pocket watch were not entirely accurate and didn’t have the glass or porcelain protection over the watch face that was seen in later designs. The dials and details of the watch are protected by a brass lid instead. The accuracy was later fixed when the lever escapement and minute handle were added.
Today – some 500 years later – pocket watches are still seen as exquisite gentleman’s timepieces, and whilst no longer limited to the wealthy, the watch still holds a certain allure and mystique that sets it apart from the wristwatch.
Understanding your pocket watch
If you own a pocket watch or are looking at pocket watches for sale, you may not be aware of the specific pocket watch you own or the type you want.
It may come as a surprise to know that there are varying types of pocket watches, each with unique looks and in some cases, unique ways to set the time.
Types of pocket watches
There are five main types of pocket watches. Each one shows slightly different features from the others. On some, a specific case may be noticeable, on others the watch face may be significantly different. Below you’ll see a breakdown of each watch type so you’ll be able to learn more about which watch you may own so you can follow the correct instructions for setting it.
Full Hunter-case pocket watch
The Hunter case pocket watch is a variation of the pocket watch where protection of it is a prime feature. With a lid that is spring-hinged and covers the watch’s face, it is built with ease of use in mind. Adopted by hunters so they could look at the time without having to compromise their holding of the reins, practicality was at the core.
Within the case, photos or engravings could feature, allowing the owners to carry a cherished memory with them wherever they may be.
The earliest versions of these watches have the hinge set at the 9:00 position whereas more modern variations have it sat at 6:00. Over time more variations of the hunter watch came into circulation, each offering something a little different.
Half Hunter pocket watch
Much the same as the original Hunter case pocket watch, the Half-Hunter offers an alternative. Whilst a case is still present, a small window allows viewing of the watch face and hands. Roman numerals engraved on the casing allow you to see what hour and minutes the hands are pointing at.
This removed the need to open a protective lid to tell the time and was seen as a step forward in pocket watches.
Double Hunter Pocket watch
The Double Hunter pocket watch is much the same as the Full Hunter pocket watch, with a protective lid over the watch face. The main difference is that not only can the lid on the front of the watch open, but the one on the back can too. This allowed a view of the mechanisms of the watch and enabled the watch to be stood should it ever be needed.
Double-half Hunter pocket watch
The Double Half Hunter pocket watch combines the features of each Hunter pocket watch style. With a case to protect the front, a glass window to allow a view of the time and a hinged lid on the back, the watch offers you the best of each Hunter pocket watch type. You could also opt for the movements to be viewed from the front of the watch which adds a little more character to the timepiece.
Open-faced pocket watch
The open-faced pocket watch is exactly what it says it is. A pocket watch with has protective lid over the watch face. Today, you may see them regularly available and enjoyed, but a few hundred years back, when watches such as these were meant to illustrate class or wealth, owners of the open-faced pocket watch were often left shocked at the regular repairs they had to book in. With no form of protection, scratches, chips, and cracks in the porcelain were common. It is this problem that led to the creation of the Hunter styles we mentioned above.
Features of a pocket watch
While there are five different types of pocket watches, all feature similar key components to keep time and add to their style.
- The main spring is the power source for a mechanical pocket watch. When you wind the watch, the spring tightens.
- The gear train allows for the power stored in the spring to be moved through the series of gears within the watch to its escapement.
- The lever escapement is the mechanism that allows the force created to be converted into a series of regular pulses.
- Balance wheel and balance springs allow for the watch to stay accurate. The wheel receives the pulses from the escapement and rocks forwards and backwards. The spring synchronizes with the wheel to produce the oscillations.
- The dial train is a collection of gears that take the power made by the balance wheel and use it to make the hands turn and allow the users to tell the time.
- Bearings, often jewel bearings, are used to reduce wear of the parts and as a result, maintain time-keeping accuracy.
- The dial, is normally decorated with Roman numerals and is the watch face used for the time to be told.
- The crown is the mechanism used for setting the time.
- The stem is a small piece of metal that connects the crown to the watch movement.
Setting the time on your pocket watch
Now you may know which type of watch you own, it may also be handy to know which type of mechanism it has for getting the time set correctly. There are commonly four types to look out for. Some will be more distinguishable than others.
Your pocket watch will either be key-set, lever-set, pendant-set or pin-set. Below, we show you the step-by-step ways to set the time for each pocket watch.
Setting the time on a pendant-set pocket watch
The pendant-set pocket watch is perhaps the most common type you will come across, especially in the more modern editions sold today. You will know if you have a pendant-set watch by seeing how the crown moves. If the crown can be pulled up and pushed down, your pocket watch is pendant set. To set a pendant-set pocket watch:
- Pull the crown fully upwards
- Listen for a click, the crown will lock into place
- Turn the crown in a clockwise direction to get it to the time you require
- Push the crown back down but not all the way
- If your pocket watch requires winding, push the crown down to its lowest point
- Turn the crown clockwise until it can no longer turn any further
- Pull the crown back up to its middle position and your watch is ready to go. When fully wound, you can expect your watch to last anything from 24 hours to as many as 60!
If the crown would not stay in position when pulled upwards, look to speak to a watch repairs specialist for additional advice.
Setting the time on a lever-set pocket watch
You’ll know if you have a lever-set pocket watch thanks to thanks to a small metal piece poking out from under the dial. They may be slightly covered so in some cases, you may need to remove the front case to find the lever and have access to it. These can be mistaken for pendant-set watches as the crown on these will also move but the sight of a small piece of metal will clarify for you what your pocket watch is. To set the time on a lever-set pocket watch, you should:
- Locate the lever. This can be Tricky. You may need to remove the lid of the watch and then remove the bezel and crystal to find it. Most of it will be hiding under the watch face.
- Using your fingernail, gently pull the lever. It will spring out and set the mechanism for setting the time.
- Now, go back to the crown and turn it either clockwise, or anticlockwise. Both will achieve the same thing. Get the watch to show the correct time by turning the crown.
- Push the lever back into place
- Reattach the bezel and your watch is ready to use. Just remember, if you have an open-faced pocket watch, you will not be removing any casing.
- You can then wind the watch up by turning the crown clockwise. Once it stops moving, the watch is fully wound.
Setting the time on a key-set pocket watch
You will know if your pocket watch is key-set by the lack of a rotating crown. You will also know thanks to the handy key you should have been provided with when you purchased or inherited the watch. This particular type of pocket watch is more common among antique collections and it would be rare for a modern version to be key-set. To set the time on a key-set pocket watch:
- Find where the key should go. There will be a square peg on the front or a hole on the back of the pocket watch. It must be in the centre. An off-centre hole will be for winding and not setting.
- Open the case for your watch and remove the bezel and glass.
- Place the key over the square peg and turn clockwise or anti-clockwise to set the time.
- If there is no square peg on the watch face, use the key on the central hole on the rear of the watch.
- With the correct time set, remove the key and close the case making sure it is secure.
- Now turn the watch round and insert the key into the off-centre hole. Turn the key carefully until it no longer turns. Your watch is now fully wound and set to the correct time.
Setting the time on a pin-set pocket watch
The pin-set pocket watch is identifiable by a small button that will appear near the crown. The crown will also rotate like those on pendant-set pocket watches. To set the time on a pin-set pocket watch, you will need to:
- Hold the button down. You may need to use a pin to do so.
- Whilst holding the button down, turn the crown either clockwise or anti-clockwise
- Keep turning until it reaches the correct time, then release the pin.
- Turn the crown clockwise, and you’ll wind the watch so it is ready to go.
With all of the pocket watches we have mentioned, frequent winding of them can help keep them running but a careful pocket watch cleaning is also vital to extending its life and enhancing its quality.
At The Clock Clinic, we have been assisting owners of stunning pocket watches for years. From sales to service, our team of horologists can offer comprehensive, professional, and friendly guidance on how to look after your watch to help extend its life and potentially increase its value. If you have a pocket watch that requires a little attention, or you would like to browse our collection for a gift, book an appointment today.