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Pocket watch

The pocket watch was invented by Peter Henlein in 1510.

A pocket watch is a strapless personal timepiece that is carried in a pocket. The display is traditionally analog. Pocket watches generally have a chain to be secured to a belt loop (the chain or ornaments on it being known as fobs), as well as a hinged cover to protect the face of the watch. Such covers are not always present. Also common are fasteners designed to be put through a buttonhole and worn in a jacket or waistcoat, this sort being frequently associated with and named after train conductors.

Pocket watches are commonly regarded as being one of two types: the lepine or the savonette. In a strict technical sense, the lepine is a watch whose winding stem is in line with the seconds-marking dial found on the face. The savonette has a winding stem perpendicular to the orientation of the seconds dial on the face of the watch.

Since the separate dial that marks the passage of seconds is traditionally placed closest to the six o'clock position, this means a traditional lepine's winding stem is set at its twelve o'clock position. The savonette's winding stem is placed most commonly at the three o'clock position. When read, a lepine is held with the stem straight up. A savonette is read by turning the watch 90° with the stem pointing to the right.

A lepine is traditionally an open-faced watch with a large, scratch resistant crystal covering the face. A savonette is commonly found in a 'hunter' or 'consular' case, with a protective lid hinged over the face. A consular case is further differentiated by the fact the back case is also hinged so that the watch movement can be easily separated from both halves of its protective cover.

Modern manufacturers of pocket watches, especially those watches with a quartz movement, are not bound by tradition when regarding the orientation of movements (lepine or savonette) and the cases they are inserted into (open-faced or hunter). It is possible today to find watches with a lepine orientation in a closed-faced hunter case, and vice versa.

Early pocket watches

The watch was first created in the 16th century when the spring driven clock was invented. These watches were at first quite big and boxy and were worn around the neck. It was not for another century that it became common to wear a watch in a pocket.

Use in railroading in the United States

See main article: Railroad chronometers

The rise of railroading during the last half of the 19th century led to the widespread use of pocket watches. Because of the likelihood of train wrecks and other accidents if all railroad workers did not accurately know the current time, pocket watches became required equipment for all railroad workers.

The first steps toward codified standards for railroad-grade watches were taken in 1887 when the American Railway Association held a meeting to define basic standards for watches. However, it took a disaster to bring about widespread acceptance of stringent standards. A famous train wreck in Kipton, Ohio on April 19, 1891 occurred because one of the engineers' watches had stopped for 4 minutes. This led to the adoption in 1893 of stringent standards for pocket watches used in railroading. These railroad-grade pocket watches, as they became colloquially known, had to meet the General Railroad Timepiece Standards adopted in 1893 by almost all railroads. These standards read, in part:

"...open faced, size 16 or 18, have a minimum of 17 jewels, adjusted to at least five positions, keep time accurately to within 30 seconds a week, adjusted to temps of 34 to 100 degrees F. have a double roller, steel escape wheel, lever set, regulator, winding stem at 12 o'clock, and have bold black arabic numerals on a white dial, with black hands."

Additional requirements were adopted in later years in response to additional needs; for example, the adoption of the diesel-electric locomotive led to new standards from the 1940s on specifying that timekeeping accuracy could not be affected by electromagnetic fields.

Decline in popularity

Pocket watches are not common in modern times, having been superseded by wristwatches. Up until about the turn of the 20th century though, the pocket watch was predominant and the wristwatch was considered feminine and unmanly. In men's fashions, pocket watches began to be superseded by wristwatches around the time of World War I, when officers in the field began to appreciate that a watch worn on the wrist was more easily accessed than one kept in a pocket. However, pocket watches continued to be widely used in railroading even as their popularity declined elsewhere.

In the United States, a gift of a gold-cased pocket watch is a traditional present given to an employee upon his or her retirement. In that capacity, a "gold watch" has come to be a cultural symbol used to allude to retirement, obsolescence, and old age.

Historically famous pocket watch manufacturers




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