18. April 2022

Pocket Watch: The Grandfather Of All Wristwatches

Genius Peter Henlein

Today’s Blog Post relates to a topic that only true watch aficionados will understand. Behind all the current hot models such as Daytona, Nautilus, and Royal Oak lies the invention of the pocket watch by Peter Henlein, a watchmaker from Germany. In 1510, the German genius invented a watch that “no matter how one might turn the watch, it shows and chimes the hours for forty hours without any weight, even when carried at the breast or in a handbag.”

As a watchmaker, he used his tradecraft as well as the innovation of smaller mainsprings to create a smaller watch design. His first pocket watch had the shape of a can (thus, was also called a portable can watch) and was probably carried in a bag. Although the watch was still too big for a normal jacket pocket, it is still considered the first pocket watch because it was small enough to be carried around. Over the following years, watch manufacturers further enhanced pocket watches and gentlemen wore the timepieces on a chain in a patch pocket or (less common) as a pendant around the neck.

Only For The Ultra-Rich

Charles II of England was one of the biggest influencers of pocket watches – and therefore also of current wristwatches. He loved wearing his fashionable waistcoats and the pocket watch would sit inside his patch pocket. Soon, the stylish timekeeper was popular all over Europe. The upper class especially loved the pocket watch as a status of wealth and sought elaborate pieces of higher complexity. Watch manufacturers started to create chronographs, perpetual calendars, minute repeaters, etc. trying to satisfy their customers’ requests.  As a consequence, pocket watches were quite expensive luxury items that were only afforded by the elite.

From Prestige To Stale

While in the past pocket watches signified class and prestige, nowadays they are unfortunately viewed as outmoded. What a shame! The most well-known brands such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, etc. battled against each other over decades to produce the most stunning pieces. Although we still find a lot of technical aspects in today’s wristwatches, young collectors have mostly lost touch with the beauty of pocket watches.

One great example of great technical excellence is reference 5236P of Patek Philippe. The wristwatch features a perpetual calendar with an original in-line display coming from 1972. Back then pocket watch No. P-1450 was the first-in-line display perpetual calendar. Seeing such a pretty high-parts-count complication revive in modern Patek Philippe watches is phenomenal from a watch collecting view.

Pocket Watches Today

Nowadays, watch manufacturers still produce a small number of pocket watches. They serve as guardians of high-end watchmaking artistry and are intended exclusively for true watch collectors. I would wish to see a comeback of stylish pocket watches for daily use but in a world where the pace of digitalization is faster than ever, the watches will most likely remain nothing more than an olden time status symbol.

Most Complicated Pocket Watch

The most complicated pocket watch ever made is the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260. It features 57 complications and was introduced by Vacheron Constantin in 2015.

Reference 57260, which consists of 2’826 parts, took eight years to assemble. It features impressive 31 hands to illustrate the different functions of the watch. With a weight of almost 1 kilogram (to be precise 957 grams) and with a diameter of 98mm, it’s almost too big to be considered a pocket watch.

Photography: Yves Müller, IG: @wristconspiracy for The Collectors Circle www.thecollectorscircle.com