A pocket watch (or pocketwatch) is a watch that is made to be carried in a pocket, as opposed to a wristwatch, which is strapped to the wrist. They were the most common type of watch from their development in the 16th century until wristwatches became popular after World War 1. Pocket watches generally have an attached chain to allow them to be secured to a waistcoat, lapel, or belt loop, and to prevent them from being dropped. The chain or ornaments on it is known as a fob. They often have a hinged metal cover to protect the face of the watch; pocketwatches with a fob and cover are often called "fob watches". Also common are fasteners designed to be put through a buttonhole and worn in a jacket or waistcoat, this sort being frequently associated with and named after train conductors.
An early reference to the pocket watch is in a letter in November 1462 from the Italian clockmaker Bartholomew Manfredi to the Marchese di Manta, where he offers him a 'pocket clock' better than that belonging to the Duke of Modena. By the end of the 15th Century, spring-driven clocks appeared in Italy, and in Germany. Peter Henlein, a master locksmith of Nuremberg, was regularly manufacturing pocket watches in England by 1524. Thereafter, pocket watch manufacture spread throughout the rest of Europe as the 16th century progressed. Another early example of a pocket watch measured in minutes was created by the Ottoman watchmaker Meshur Sheyh Dede in 1702.
The watch was first created in the 16th century when the spring driven clock was invented. These watches were at first quite big and boxy and were worn around the neck. It was not for another century that it became common to wear a watch in a pocket.
The rise of railroading during the last half of the 19th century led to the widespread use of pocket watches. Because of the likelihood of train wrecks and other accidents if all railroad workers did not accurately know the current time, pocket watches became required equipment for all railroad workers.
The first steps toward codified standards for railroad-grade watches were taken in 1887 when the American Railway Association held a meeting to define basic standards for watches. However, it took a disaster to bring about widespread acceptance of stringent standards. A famous train wreck on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in Kipton, Ohio on April 19, 1891 occurred because one of the engineers' watches had stopped for 4 minutes. The railroad officials commissioned Webb C. Ball as their Chief Time Inspector, in order to establish precision standards and a reliable timepiece inspection system for Railroad chronometers. This led to the adoption in 1893 of stringent standards for pocket watches used in railroading. These railroad-grade pocket watches, as they became colloquially known, had to meet the General Railroad Timepiece Standards adopted in 1893 by almost all railroads. These standards read, in part:
Railroad employees to this day are required to keep their watches on time, and are subject to spot checks by their superiors at any time. Failure to keep their watches on time can lead to disciplinary action, due to the gravely serious safety issues involved.
Additional requirements were adopted in later years in response to additional needs; for example, the adoption of the diesel-electric locomotive led to new standards from the 1940s on specifying that timekeeping accuracy could not be affected by electromagnetic fields.
Pocket watches are not common in modern times, having been superseded by wristwatches. Up until about the turn of the 20th century, though, the pocket watch was predominant and the wristwatch was considered feminine and unmanly. In men's fashions, pocket watches began to be superseded by wristwatches around the time of World War I, when officers in the field began to appreciate that a watch worn on the wrist was more easily accessed than one kept in a pocket. However, pocket watches continued to be widely used in railroading even as their popularity declined elsewhere.
For a few years in the late 1970s and 1980s three-piece suits for men returned to fashion, and this led to small resurgence in pocketwatches, as some men actually began using the vest pocket for its original purpose. Since then, a few watch companies make pocketwatches, and they have their firm adherents. However, in the U.S.A. for most men, most of the time, a pocket watch must be carried in a hip pocket, and the more recent advent of mobile phones and other gadgets that must be worn on the waist has made the prospect of carrying an additional item in that area less appealing, especially since all cell phones and similar devices tell the time.
This said, mobile phones, personal digital assistants, digital music players, digital audio players, pagers and other electronic gadgets that a user may place in a pocket or holster usually have timekeeping functionality as well, and serve commonly today as a pocket watch would have in the past.
In some countries a gift of a gold-cased pocket watch is traditionally awarded to an employee upon his or her retirement. In that capacity, a "gold watch" has become a cultural symbol alluding to retirement, obsolescence, and old age.
See separate article: List of watch manufacturers
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