European Pocket Watches

Pocket watches are by far the most fascinating timepieces for the collector. They represent the best that craftsmen could produce. European watches were produced primarily by hand. Lathes were used, but these were usually powered by hand or by watermill. All parts were fitted, finished, and adjusted by hand. Most wristwatches, on the other hand, were made entirely by machine, and only the final adjustments were performed by hand in higher grade watches. There are exceptions to this, of course. Some of the earliest wristwatches were made by hand, and some of the latest pocket watches were made by machine.

Brass, steel, silver, and gold have today been replaced by plastic. In today's society of computers and robots, we are losing touch with the ways things used to be made, and failing to appreciate the value and uniqueness of that which was made by hand. Compare furniture that was made by machine with furniture that was fitted and finished by hand. Compare machine-made Belgian rugs with hand-made Persian rugs. Cameras were once assembled by hand: the last Nikons that were assembled by hand were the F2s. Rolls Royce cars that were made by hand are said to be "coach-built." In summary, things that are made by hand are more than merely products: they are expressions of craftsmanship of the individuals who made them. Consider these watches. The first one is from the early 19th Century, made in England. It is a verge fusee. Each link of the fusee chain was made by hand with a file. The carving on the balance bridge was made by hand. Notice the diamond cap jewel. You will not see any plastic here.

I would like to thank Mrs. Mary Watson for allowing me to present the following verge fusees, in memory of her late father, from his collection. Mr. Bill Watson collected and repaired watches as a hobby. The first pair of images (of the same watch) show how these watches were fitted with protective covers to guard against dust. However, this cover does not protect the most important parts (the escapement) because of the watchmaker's eagerness to show his art.

These two watches are typical of British watches from around 1870. They have English Lever Escapements. The first one is from Mr. Watson's collection.

Here is fine pocket watch from the 1890s, probably made by Longines (Swiss). What really makes this watch interesting is the engraving inside the back cover (the case was made of sterling silver).

By 1900, machines were considerably improved, and their influence in watchmaking was becoming very obvious. Watches looked more utilitarian, less appealing to the eye, though the parts were much more precisely made. This Swiss Omega has friction jewels, which few watches had back then. It has a Swiss Lever Escapement. (I am told that my grandfather wore this watch for 55 years!)

Here is a fine Swiss Gruen Verithin from the 1930s.

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