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
There aren’t many luxury brands making great pocket watches right now, with one exception. Tissot pocket watches are available in a variety of styles, and their popular Savonnette pocket watch is a great timepiece by any standard. In addition, there are a lot of affordable pocket watches for sale, as well as accessories that let you wear a smartwatch like a pocket watch.
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. Blending a classic design with modern timepiece technology, this is the best pocket watch of 2020 by a mile. 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. ESS Quartz Pocket Watch
If you’re looking for a stylish timepiece with a more modern look that can be worn every day, we suggest this pocket watch from ESS. It has a classic, polished watch face with festive, large numerals and a stainless steel cover that’s a darker grey. This pocket watch is also one of the most affordable ones on the list, which makes it a great budget gift for someone else, Halloween costume accessory or affordable stylish accessory.
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. Engraved Best Man Proposal Pocket Watch
Looking to gift something extra special to your future best man? This pocket watch comes engraved for a one-of-a-kind “broposal” experience of inviting your best friend to be your best man. Treasure the special moment with a classic pocket watch he can wear to compliment his outfit on the big day.
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. ManChDa Lucky Dragon Mechanical Pocket Watch
If you’re gonna rock a pocket watch, you might as well go for the one with dragons etched into it and a skeleton dial on the front. This design is one of the most unique we’ve seen, with its black case and roman numerals. It comes with a long accompanying chain and is made of acrylic instead of glass for durability. This one uses hand-winding so there’s no need to worry about changing a battery, making it legit as well as boldly stylish.
7. VIGOROSO Men’s Vintage Copper Pocket Watch
TRUE VINTAGE PICK
This is another great vintage option that’s affordably available to purchase on Amazon. It’s built to be hand-wound for up to 36 hours of power and the bronze tone gives it an antique look that you’re probably already going for by sporting a pocket watch. The chain is made of full copper for stability and the watch face is simple and easy to read.
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.
9. ManChDa Mechanical Black Blue Pocket Watch
MOST UNIQUE DESIGN
This black and blue pocket watch has a sleek, moody vibe that’ll look great with a leather jacket and a great pair of boots this fall. It’s a fashionable, modern take on the pocket watch trend that comes with the option for engraving as well. It’s engineered for precise mechanics and time telling, and the case and chain add to its elegance.
10. ESS Black Dial Half Hunter Mechanical 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 the view inside of the internal mechanics it has a classic pocket watch look with a monochromatic design that you can easily match with neutral outfits for fall.