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Pocket watches, once a staple of a gentleman’s wardrobe, are making a comeback. Maybe it’s the cottagecore movement or that fashion truism that everything old is new again, but pocket watches have become more than a novelty item or a groomsman gift. If you’re interested in collecting the best men’s watches, you can’t ignore the best pocket watches any longer.
But what exactly constitutes a pocket watch anyway? In short, pocket watches are a timepiece with a chain attached to a belt loop, waistcoat or lapel and kept either in the front of your pants, suit, or jacket. But there’s a lot more to learn about pocket watches and, surprisingly, some great options you can buy right now.
There are two types of pocket watches: Lépine (open face) and Hunter. Hunter has a spring-loaded cover and acquired the name by fox hunters who needed a closed pocket watch that would survive galloping through the woods. It’s also sometimes called the Savonnette as it resembles a round bar of soap. The Hunter has a secondary sub-type, the Half-Hunter or Demi-Hunter. It’s a watch case with a glass window or hole showing the watch’s hands when the cover is closed.
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
- The best pocket watches to buy right now
- Luxury gold pocket watches
- How to wear a pocket watch
History of the Pocket Watch
Clocks first made the transition to wearable items sometime during the 15th century. One of the famous clockmakers of that time was Nurenberg’s Peter Heinlen. Although he’s credited as the inventor of the watch, there were other German clockmakers at that time who were also experimenting with miniature clocks. 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 of brass and metal with a heavy grate over the face of the watch. They only possessed an hour hand and were more wore for status than for usage.
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 expensive accessories reserved for the upper class. But despite their premium price tags, the watches were abysmal timepieces by today’s standards. They used the “verge escapement” movement that often gained an hour a day. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has a small but choice collection of very early watches and watch cases. They also have a few decorative clocks, as well as this traveling clock watch and alarm, circa 1680, that is attributed to a famous watchmaker who made great strides in timekeeping, Thomas Tompion.
It looks vaguely like the now-familiar pocket watch. Tompion (1639-1713) was called the “Father of English Clockmaking” due to his tinkering with how watches were made. The above traveling clock watch utilized a balance spring, a device he created with scientist Robert Hooke, that made the watches more accurate than in the past. He also created a cylindrical escapement, and this invention allowed for the creation of flat watches.
Watches got a major upgrade in 1755 with the invention of lever escapement by Thomas Mudge. This 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 when pocket watch production got cheaper, and everyone started to buy. As watches became popular, wristwatches were considered only for the purview of ladies as they were worn on the wrist and were aesthetically viewed as a bracelet. Now-famous brands such as Heuer, LeCoultre & Cie, Cartier, 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 and were part of the railroad expansion in the United States. Railroad pocket watches are a big collectible item. Railroad grade watches were known as Ball (Webb C. Ball was the railroad industry’s official timekeeper and jeweler) or Massachusetts’ Waltham Watches.
During WW1, officers found that constantly pulling out pocket watches to tell time hampered their efficiency. With the advent of Cartier’s masculine design for their Tank Watch (named after a tank’s tire tracks), pocket watches slowly fell out of fashion. Men of a certain class still wore pocket watches through the ’30s, and there were square-shaped (breathtaking) Cartier Art Deco pocket watches whose design aped the decorative trend at the time, but men began to rely more on the wristwatch. During the mid-’60s and through the ’80s, when three-piece suits came back in fashion, the pocket watch made a brief resurgence, as what else could you accessorize well with a vest?
Today, you can find pocket watches from luxury watch brands like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Frederique Constant. The high-end watch companies never stopped making them. And as the style’s becoming more and more popular, other good watch companies are increasing production of this style.
The Best Pocket Watches to Buy Right Now
Below you’ll find some of the best pocket watches you can buy now. There are one-of-a-kind pocket watches from antique retailers like 1st Dibs and modern pocket watches from brands like Sturhling and Tissot. We’ve included a wide selection for every style and price point, including affordable sporty picks, chic everyday watches and heirloom-worthy gold watches. We’re starting the roundup with the unique, vintage or antique pocket watches because many of them are the last of their kind, and owning them is like owning a rare painting.
1. Tissot Unisex Savonnette Pocket Watch
BEST MODERN OPTION
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. Blending a classic design with modern timepiece technology, this is the best pocket watch of 2020 by a mile. The watch’s case is durable brass with 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, although it looks like it does.
2. Frederique Constant Pocket Watch
Frederique Constant is a luxury Swiss watch company founded in 1988 by Peter Constant and Aletta Francoise Frédérique Stas-Bax, a married couple who used their grandfathers’ names for their company. Constant Stas founded a watch dials company in 1904 and Frederique Schreiner. In 2016, they sold their company to Citizen Holdings. Frederique Constant is based in Plans-Les Ouates and produces thousands of watches annually. They create everything from smartwatches to tourbillons. Their silver-tone pocket watch has a 45mm case and is water-resistant to 30 meters. It is automatic, and the chain is included. The case and chain are rose gold tone, and the dial is silvery-white.
3. Antique Swiss Made Pocket Watch
MOST REASONABLE ANTIQUE
If you’re looking for a functional antique pocket watch that ticks and has that special aged patina, you couldn’t go wrong with this Swiss-made one. The case is silverplate, and it does keep time. Made between 1900-1919, it does not have a magnetic lever. This watch is on 1stDibs, and they have a wide selection of antique pocket watches that range from a few hundred dollars to sky-high luxury prices.
4. Speidel Classic Pocket Watch
Speidel started as a watchband manufacturer in 1867. They then branched out and began making women’s jewelry, but the spotlight didn’t hit them until 1951. They started manufacturing ID bracelets, and it became a huge trend. The company was sold, went bankrupt, and in 2009 they were bought by Cerce Capital LLC, and now they’re back to making watch bands and men’s watches. This closed-face pocket watch has two subdials: day and seconds and quartz analog movement. Speidel offers a 30-day guarantee; if you don’t love your watch, you’ll be refunded 100%.
5. Dalvey Half Hunter Skeletal Pocket Watch
BEST SCOTTISH POCKET WATCH
Initially known as Duncan MacRae, the company started creating musical instruments, specifically bagpipes, in Scotland in 1897. Sir Patrick Grant took over the company in the ’70s, and the newly renamed company began making men’s accessories. Today they create flasks, cufflinks, travel clocks, barometers, money clips, watches, and more. And everything is manufactured in Dalvey, Scotland.
This skeleton watch is two inches in diameter and comes in four other color combinations. It has a Seagull skeleton mechanical movement, 17 jewels, a high-grade stainless steel case, a domed mineral glass lens and a hand-polished stainless steel curb chain with a solid stainless T-bar and clip.
6. Omega Art Deco Vintage Steel cased Pocket Watch
Omega has had a long and renowned history, including its place on the wrists of the first men on the moon. This sleek and stylish pocket watch has a silver-tone steel case, and the face has Roman numerals with a seconds subdial. Like most watches on this list, it’s a manual wind. It has a 15 Jewel Mechanical movement.
Read More: Best Vintage Watches
7. Hamilton Antique Pocket Watch
ORNATE AND ELEGANT
This watch comes from Hamilton, an American watchmaking icon (now a Swiss company). This watch has an eye-catching, almost art-deco-inspired look with big blocky numerals and a detailed case design. The watch has a seconds subdial, and the watch is powered by a 21-Jewel Movement.
8. Mondaine Evo White Dial Pocket Watch
BEST RAILROAD TIE-IN
In addition to creating wristwatches in eye-catching contemporary styles, Mondaine has a long relationship with the Swiss Federal Railways. They’re the official timekeeper of said railways, and their station clocks look stunning. That crisp, clean design has been transferred to their wristwatches. The Evo is characterized by a rounded, slightly domed crystal, red sweep second hand, and black hands that move over a white face. This pocket watch is an excellent example of the Evo. It has a 43mm stainless steel case, Swiss quartz movement and the watch is attached to a stainless steel snake chain.
9. Elgin Pocket Watch with Original Dial
BEST ART DECO
Based in Elgin, Illinois, Elgin watches vied with Bulova and Waltham to be the best American-made watch company. Created in the 40s, this gold-filled pocket watch’s hands are gilt leaf, and it has a separate seconds dial. Oh, the stories this watch could tell! It has been recently serviced and runs great, according to the dealer.
10. Hermès Harnais Pocket Watch
BEST FOR MINIMALISTS
When you think of Hermès, you’re probably thinking about their leather goods, scarves or ties, not watches. The venerable French company does make luxury watches; they just don’t get the same amount of press. TheRealReal is reselling this watch and has labeled it as a smart investment. This pre-owned pocket watch has quartz movement with a date complication. True to a heritage leather brand, the watch’s case is surrounded by leather, and instead of a chain, it has a thin, fine leather loop.
11. American Coin Treasures JFK Bicentennial Half Dollar Coin Multi-Tool Pocket Watch Compass
A multi-tool is always helpful when hiking, camping, or working around the yard. They usually have mini versions of screwdrivers, knives and hammers, and some even have flashlights. Now you can own a pocket watch that’s also a multi-tool. This is a smart pocket watch to own for outdoorsy types as it has a bottle opener, screwdriver, knife and bottle opener ringing around the sides of the three-hand watch. A compass is embedded between the watch case and the key ring. On the flip side of the watch is the bicentennial JFK half-dollar coin. The keyring is built like a carabiner to be attached to a belt loop.
12. Dakota Watch Company Leather Field Clip Watch
This three-hand pocket watch is nestled in a leather fob. The watch has a date complication, Japanese quartz movement, and luminous hands. The carabiner clip allows you to add the pocket watch to your key chain, a zipper pull, backpack, or wherever you want to place it, enabling you to quickly tell time.
13. Clyda Vintage Pocket Watch
BEST CASE DESIGN
This watch has a nice-enough-looking face, with a mixture of Roman and Arabic numerals, a hand seconds subdial and elegant hands. But the real star of the show is the case, which has a detailed design of a dressage horse rider.
14. 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 into 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.
15. Invicta 47m Objet d’Art Mechanical Skeletonized Dial Black Pocket Watch
BEST RULE BREAKER
Invicta’s known for their up-to-the-minute styles, and in the past, they’ve teamed up with Shaq and NFL’s Jason Taylor to create limited edition watches for men. Founded in 1837 in — where else? — Switzerland, the watchmaker’s current HQ is in Hollywood, Florida. If you’re in the market for a nice-looking watch that does the job well, you can’t go wrong with an Invicta. They’ve come out with a few pocket watches in the past couple of years, and this is one nifty skeleton Lépine. It’s part of their broader Objet d’Art watch collection. This 47mm watch is surrounded by black plated stainless steel. It’s an analog watch with a hand-wind movement, and the chain comes with the watch.
16. Mount Royal Mechanical Pocket Watch
COOL HALF HUNTER
This is a spiffy-looking Half Hunter pocket watch that has engraving along the edges of the case. This 17-jewel mechanical watch has a skeleton or openwork dial, which shows the internal gears. The polished chrome case is 45mm and comes with a matching chain. Keep it in your pocket or attach it to your waistcoat. Either way, it’s a classic timepiece and a great conversation starter.
17. ESS Black Dial Half Hunter Mechanical Pocket Watch
STEAMPUNK POCKET WATCH
This pocket watch has all sorts of decor flair, including a border design on the case, roman numerals, a black exterior and gold and silver interior, and a long chain for hanging options. With a view showing the internal mechanics, it has a classic skeleton pocket watch look with a monochromatic design that you can easily match with neutral outfits for fall. If you love everything steampunk, then this is the pocket watch for you.
18. Pierre Laurent Swiss Made Solid Sterling Silver Pocket Watch
BEST AFFORDABLE LUXURY
Swiss watch company Pierre Laurent is a relatively new luxury watch company, as they were founded in 1980. Their excellently made watch collection includes men’s and women’s watches, clocks, and of course, men’s pocket watches. This pocket watch’s 40mm case is sterling silver; it has a Swiss quartz movement, three hands and a date complication.
19. Charles – Hubert Paris Classic Collection Antiqued Finish Double Hunter Pocket Watch
BEST DOUBLE HUNTER WATCH
Such a cool-looking pocket watch, the design is a mix of contemporary and vintage styles. It has the designation double hunter because the front and back covers open. This is a large pocket watch, as the case measures 47mm, and it is a mechanical hand-wind skeleton watch.
Luxury Gold Pocket Watches
Luxury watchmakers are still creating pocket watches. You can find high-end pocket watches from Omega, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Frederique Constant, to name a few of the top pocket watch players. You can also find pocket watches from designer watch brands like Invicta, Bulova, Mount Royal, Jean Pierre of Switzerland and Tissot.
While there is a wealth of fine pocket watches to be purchased, the purpose of this article is to showcase timepieces most men can afford. Still, we can’t help ourselves. Below, you’ll find a handful of luxury gold pocket watches that will set you back at least five figures.
1. Omega Olympic Pocket Watch 1932
Omega has been the Olympic’s official timekeeper since 1932, hence the name of this spectacular-looking, manual winding pocket watch. Omega is one of the few high-end watch companies consistently updating their men’s pocket watch collection. For each Olympics, they create a new wristwatch that commemorates the event, and they sell quickly. Getting back to the 1932 pocket watch, Omega only made 100 of them. Beautifully crafted from 18K gold, this is not an ordinary pocket watch; it’s a working chronograph pocket watch. It has an anti-reflective, scratch-resistant crystal, Omega’s mechanical calibre 3889, and the case back is stamped with the Olympic five rings. And each of the 100 watches cost $109,000.
2. Patek Philippe 973J Open Face Pocket
Currently, luxury watch brand Patek Philippe offers nine pocket watches; they vary from an open face to a hunter-moon case and come in yellow, white and rose gold. The Patek Philippe 973J Open Face Pocket watch has a 44mm gold case and is a hand or manual wind with a 50-hour power reserve. The watch has a seconds hand at the six-hour marking, and the hand-finished pocket watch comes with a matching chain. We’re guessing there aren’t many men who want to spend over $40,000 on a timepiece to hide it in their pocket, but if you want a genuinely exquisite gold pocket watch, Patek Philippe is the name to know.
3. Vacheron Constantin Pocket Watch
This unique pocket watch comes from Vacheron Constantin, one of the most storied watchmaking brands. This rare pocket watch has its original luster and has barely been touched or used, which is amazing, as this pocket watch dates back to the 1920s. It has a 60mm case. It is considered an uncommissioned military deck watch never used in service.
4. Cartier Pocket Watch
Cartier is known for its iconic Tank watch, beloved for its simplicity. Likewise, this pocket watch from Cartier has a straightforward and clean design. It features a dark charcoal-colored face with thin gold indices, an hour and minute hand and the Cartier logo below the noon position. The watch has a 17 jewel mechanical, manual wind movement.
5. Jules Jurgensen Pocket Watch
It’s incredibly rare to see a pocket watch that’s not round, and the clever Danish watch designers in the Jule Jurgensen crafted this beauty. The case is engraved and chased platinum, while the face’s design appears inspired by Dutch Delft blue pottery. The sterling silver hands have enameled touches, the case measures 43mm, and it has 19 jewels. It was produced some time in the 1930s.
6. Longines Pocket Watch
Travel back to the roarin’ ’20s with this pristinely kept pocket watch from legendary Swiss watchmaker Longines. It has a chronograph feature with two subdials, in addition to the hour, minute and second hands. The watch has sophisticated yet easy-to-read numerals, making this a great option if you use it to tell time.
How to Wear & Style a Pocket Watch
Pocket watches are an undeniably old-school menswear accessory. Outside of steampunk cosplay, which we won’t endorse here, you need confidence and a certain sartorial flair to pull them off. That being said, for the right guy, they can be the perfect finishing touch for your outfit.
There are five ways to rock a pocket watch. 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 dressy with a three-piece suit, but it can be fun and stylish if you’re a sharp dresser and you have an important event to attend. For this look, attach the watch chain to a button on your waistcoat and drop the watch in your waistcoat pocket.
Second and thirdly, you can wear it cottagecore style; slip a vest over either a button-down or long sleeve tee shirt, and then pop the pocket watch in the vest’s pocket. Another cottagecore way to wear a pocket watch is to slip it into a blazer or cardigan pocket.
The fourth and easiest way to wear a pocket watch in 2021 is in your front pants pocket with the chain or fob attached to your belt loop. It introduces a little metal glint to an everyday outfit and maybe even some 90s biker vibes. Lastly, turn the pocket watch into a necklace. Worn over the shirt, it’s a fashion-forward option for daring guys who aren’t afraid of a more androgynous look. Tucked under your favorite flannel, it’s a practical EDC item for your next camping trip.
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’ll want to make sure your luxury timepiece doesn’t accidentally slip out of your pocket.
Tips on Buying the Perfect Pocket Watch
There are so many different types of pocket watches for men, how do you decide on the perfect pocket for you? As you can see from the above selection, you can buy vintage, sporty, and modern pocket watches. Even when you look at the contemporarily styled pocket watches for men, they range from steampunk to streamlined.
As for buying a silver, gold, or brass-tone pocket watch, or one that’s filigreed, or sleek and contemporary, again, the best pocket watches to try on and buy is the one that fits your wardrobe and your lifestyle. Don’t buy a pocket watch in a style that you’re not comfortable with, as you’ll rarely use it. For example, if a smart watch buy for you is a skeleton watch, then definitely start looking at skeleton pocket watches. If you’re the outdoorsy type, opt for a pocket watch that comes with a carabiner clip. Those can be attached to a day pack, a belt loop or a jacket’s buttonhole.
Pocket watches are designed either with an open face or with a cover. Because open watches don’t have the protection of a cover, they’re fragile. Opt for an open-face pocket watch if don’t you plan to wear it often. If you’ll be using the pocket watch instead of a wristwatch or a phone to tell time, which means you’ll be using it a lot, then choose a lidded pocket watch.
While pocket watches were traditionally kept in a vest or blazer pocket, you can place a pocket watch in a pants pocket, let the chain hang and attach the end to a belt or belt loop.
Many guys gift their groomsmen a pocket watch to thank them for being part of their special day. It’s an excellent and useful gift. More than likely, they’ll be using it for years to come.