The rumblings of a surprising trend can be heard in the watch world: pocket watches are making a comeback. That’s right. The old-fashioned watch, preferred by sophisticated men up until around the early 20th century, is making a comeback, and not just with steampunk cosplayers.
But what exactly constitutes a pocket watch anyway? In short, pocket watches are a timepiece with a chain that’s attached to a belt loop, waistcoat or lapel and kept either in the front of your pants, your suit or your jacket. But there’s a lot more to learn about pocket watches and, surprisingly, some great options that you can buy right now.
Diving into the pocket watch world after 100+ years of wristwatch dominance can seem strange. In an effort to impart the sophistication and elegance of a pocket watch, we’ll cover the following:
- The history of pocket watches
- How to wear a pocket watch
- The best pocket watches to buy right now
History of the Pocket Watch
Clocks first made the transition to wearable items in the 16th century. These early timepieces were worn around the neck and called ‘clock-watches,” and they were powered by small springs. Clock-watches were massive, heavy devices, usually measuring several inches in diameter. They were made up of brass and metal with a heavy grate over the face of the watch.
These large pendant watches got smaller and more sophisticated over the next century until making their way into gentlemen’s pockets in the 17th century. During this time, pocket watches were very expensive accessories reserved for the upper class. But despite their premium price tags, the watches themselves were abysmal timepieces by today’s standards. They used what’s called ‘verge escapement’ movement that often gained an hour a day.
Watches got a major upgrade in 1755 with the invention of lever escapement by Thomas Mudge. This type of movement made watches far more accurate and is still used in most mechanical watches. Lever escapement didn’t become popular until the mid 19th century, which is when pocket watch production got cheaper and everyone started to buy. Now-famous brands such as Heuer, LeCoultre & Cie and Ulysse Nardin are some of the companies that came out of this pocket watch boom.
Pocket watches were a staple of men’s everyday carry until wristwatches replaced them in the early 20th century after World War I. But now, as wristwatches become less necessary, it seems pocket watches are coming back into vogue.
How to Wear a Pocket Watch
There are four ways to rock a pocket watch in 2020. The first is the classic look, with the pocket watch attached to a waistcoat. Of course, most of us don’t wear waistcoats unless we’re getting really dressy with a three-piece suit, but it can be fun and stylish if you’re a sharp dresser. For this look, attach the watch chain to a button on your waistcoat and drop the watch in your waistcoat pocket.
The second, more realistic way to wear a pocket watch in 2020 is in your front pants pocket with the chain or fob attached to your belt loop. It introduces a little metal glint to a normal outfit and maybe even some 90s biker vibes.
Another method for sporting a pocket watch is to hang it around your neck. This is great if your pockets are already bursting with everyday carry essentials.
Finally, you can simply keep your pocket watch in any pocket without using the chain. However, some of the best pocket watches are made from gold, feature complex inner workings and come with a four-figure price tag, so you want to make sure your luxury timepiece doesn’t accidentally slip out of your pocket.
The Best Pocket Watches to Buy Right Now
Below you’ll find some of the best pocket watches that you can buy right now. We’ve got options for every style and price point, including affordable sporty picks, chic everyday watches and heirloom-worthy gold watches.
1. Tissot Unisex Savonnette Pocket Watch
Our favorite modern pocket watch is this Tissot Savonnette. It checks all the boxes of a great pocket watch with brand reliability, style and functionality. The watch’s case is made of a durable brass that features gold and palladium tones and a sophisticated face that modernizes classic sensibility. Tissot’s Swiss quartz movement means you won’t have to worry about missing a second. And at $330, the watch doesn’t cost too much either — although it looks like it does.
2. Bulova Stainless Steel Pocket Watch
If you’re looking for a stylish timepiece with a more modern look that can be worn every day, we suggest this Bulova pocket watch. Many pocket watches go for an antique, vintage look, but this one is essentially a larger version of Bulova’s best-selling everyday men’s watches. The watch is made of stainless steel with a classic design. You’ll find the Bulova tuning fork etched on the case. It’s also very affordable at $140, making it a great gift as well.
3. Stuhrling Original Mechanical Pocket Watch
This Stuhrling Original pocket watch nails the vintage vibe on the outside and inside. It uses mechanical (a.k.a. manual) movement, which you rarely see today (especially under $100). The power reserve is rated at 30 hours, so you should hand-wind this watch each day before slipping it in your pocket. Don’t worry; winding a watch is a quick, meditative process, not a chore. The watch also boasts a beautiful antique look with a skeletonized dial and exhibition case back to see the watch’s inner gears and workings. It also features a desk stand on the back, making the watch a great timekeeper at work.
4. Tissot Bridgeport Pocket Watch
Looking for something a little more upscale? Check out Tissot’s Bridgeport pocket watch. It’s made of a high-quality 316L stainless steel, which offers more corrosion resistance than regular stainless steel. The movement is old school Swiss mechanical for authenticity. Style-wise, the Bridgeport does very well with a look that’s classic yet modern with a skeletal face and a rear opening to check out the inner workings. At $1,150 it’s entry-level in terms of luxury watches, making it a great option if you plan on keeping this watch for years or even generations to come.
5. Mudder Pocket Watch
If you’re on a tight budget or just looking to give pocket watches a try, this Mudder pocket watch might be the right choice. It’s extremely affordable at just $13 but looks more like an expensive antique. The front cover features engravings and a handy design quirk: a window with roman numerals that lets you check the time without opening the watch. According to more than 600 reviews and a 4.4/5 star rating, the watch is accurate and very respectable for the low price. If you’re just looking for a quirky timepiece or need a pocket watch for a costume or cosplay adventure, then try this cheap pocket watch from Mudder.
6. Bucasi Military Pocket Watch
Not all pocket watches are sophisticated fashion statements. Some of the best pocket watches for modern use are designed to be clipped onto a bag or belt. That’s because many guys like to use a pocket watch for activities like mountaineering or construction when you don’t want an expensive watch on your wrist. This military pocket watch from Bucasi is great for such needs with reliable Japanese quartz movement, an easy-to-read luminous dial and a sturdy nylon cord. It’s slightly smaller at 44mm so that it can fit inside packed pockets.
7. Patek Philippe Art Deco 18K Pocket Watch
TRUE VINTAGE PICK
If you’ve got the cash, there are some very impressive high-end pocket watches available via antique dealers. Take this vintage 18 karat Patek Philippe. It was originally sold in the 1940s, as you might be able to tell from the gorgeous art deco look. The case is super minimal to show off the yellow gold while the back opens to reveal an engraved covering that also opens to show off the mechanical insides. After almost 80 years, this incredible timepiece is still ticking. Most of us can only dream of owning this thing, but hey, every gold watch lover is an expert dreamer.
8. Usee Tech Chain Smartwatch Band
SMART POCKET WATCH
Many of us have made the switch from analog and digital watches to smartwatches. Luckily, you can utilize the unique functionality of a pocket watch with your current Apple watch thanks to this smartwatch necklace chain. The chain attaches to your Apple watch (they have options for all sizes) so you can hang it from your neck or loop it through your belt to be worn like a classic pocket watch.