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Watch Chain

There were a class of chains specifically made for use as watch chains. Different styles were made for both men and ladies

[top]Chains: A Separate Watch Accessory

Prior to later 20th century packaging, watch chains were purchased as a separate accessory from the pocket watch movement and case (or cased movement). There was a immense assortment of chains from which to choose throughout the era of American jeweled watch manufacturing.

The process of making gold-filed chain is explained in the article "The World's Fair Exhibit Of R.F.S. & Co."

[top]The Basic Watch Chain

The basic watch chain is a length of chain having a swivel (see below) on the end that attaches to the watch bow and a means of anchoring the chain at the other, typically a spring ring (a style known as the Waldemar chain). This allows the chain to loop around a belt and be Latched Onto Itself with the spring ring. For rougher wear, a D-Ring Fastened to a Leather Belt Loop provides a more secure anchor. Watch chains were made for decades by the R.F. Simmons Co.. This firm was making watch chains right up into the post-WWII era, as seen in a 1946 and 1952 ads. There were other well-known manufacturers, such as W&S Blackinton Co.

For the railroader, at least one company offered jackets and overalls with a "Safety Pocket." As shown in the ad, this was a patch pocket having a short, unstitched section so that the end of the watch chain could be passed through to be secured in a nearby button hole. With this arrangement, even if the watch fell out of the pocket (when bending over), it still wouldn't fall to the deck (the locomotive cab or tender floor) or to the ground. In other ads, the company made the point that if the chain caught on someting, the watch would stay in the pocket.

[top]T-Bar

The T-Bar chain, one of the more common ones, has a bar that is intended to go through a button-hole. A section of chain, long enough to reach into a pocket, with a swivel (see below) on one end, is fastened to the T-Bar on the other, such as the ladies' Victoria Chain. A typical men's example, referred to as an Albert, or Half Dickens (or Half Dicken), appears at the top of this 1908 Sears, Roebuck catalog page, posted by Dan O'Connell. A later example, appearing in the mid-1920s, uses a Screw Arrangement to secure the watch to the swivel. On a lot of T-Bar chains, there is a section of chain connected about one third the distance from the T-Bar. This holds a brotherhood or lodge emblem attached to the end. Or, that end might hold a signet, originally used for embossing the family crest in the warm wax seal of a letter or document. This had evolved into a drop (a decorative piece), which may or may not have been used as a signet. R.F. Simmons Co. made chains like this in the 1920s and 1930s, designed to match the styling of the cased watches then being marketed by the watch companies. T-Bar chains may also be seen on a page from a late-1920s Studebaker Catalog (on Frank Kusumoto's excellent South Bend Website). The classic Dickens chain (also referred to as a Double Albert) is shown in the center of that page.

[top]Fob Style Watch Chain

A Common Form of Watch Chain, referred to as a fob, has short lengths of either three or four chains, or a wide mesh band, fastened to connective end pieces. A clip, meant to go on the waistband of a pair of pants, near the watch pocket, is on the top end and a fob or drop (a decorative piece) on the other. A section of chain was attached to the top and had a swivel (see below) at the bottom to attach to watch bow. The examples shown in the linked-to ad were made by Bates & Bacon - a watch case manufacturer.

[top]Ladies Chains

For ladies watches, neck chains were available. A small assortment is shown in the 1887 S. F. Myers Catalog and there were slide chains such as were made by Providence. Other styles of ladies chains were also availaable. The "DuBarry" chain is one example, the Is-A-Bell is another.

[top]Coat Chain

The unusual Coat Chain had a large stud fastened to the upper end. This was designed to go through the lapel buttonhole of a jacket or coat. The lower end had the swivel (see below) attached. The chain was more than long enough to reach into what is now considered to be the handkerchief pocket of the jacket.

[top]Swivel

At the business end of chain, the part that holds the watch there most likely is a small fixture that clips onto the bow of the watch. It allows the watch to freely rotate through 360 degrees without causing the chain to twist. This small fixture is called a Swivel, a logical name, considering its function. The swivels were made in different sizes for use with different size watches and in different qualities of material.

There was also an Anti-Pickpocket Novelty Swivel, examples of which show up from time to time. The picture in the linked-to ad shows upside down from how it would rest in a pocket. When the chain to which it is attached is pulled, the "spikes" come up and "grab" the inside of the pocket, preventing the watch from being pulled out by the pickpocket yanking on the chain. Of course the owner would have to be careful to lift the watch out by grasping the watch itself, not the chain.

[top]Watch Fob

Many chains were designed for the addition of a fob, a lodge or Brotherhood Emblem, or just a decorative one. Like chains, the variety of fobs was almost infinite.

[top]Leather Straps & Fobs

Although not a chain, many people used a leather strap and fob, such as was offered to Santa Fe employes, or available at nominal cost by various companies. Others, representing a wide variety of lodge emblems were intended for sale in jewelry stores. Many leather straps and fobs were given away as a premium upon the puchase of goods or one magazine suscriptions or another.

The strap goes through the watch's bow and is buckled to the portion passing through the fob. The watch is carried in a watch pocket (now called a change pocket), such as is found on a pair of jeans, with the strap and fob hanging out. The watch can be easily removed from the pocket by grasping the leather strap and pulling it up. However, this is not a very secure arrangement for the watch and its use is not recommended.

[top]References and Additional Catalog Information


Pocketwatcher.org's "How to wear your pocket watch" page.

Mikrolisk's "How to wear a pocket watch" page. It is recommended that the watch be carried with the crystal facing inward, towards the body.

Watch chains are shown in the M.C. Eppenstein & Co. Pocket Price List, undated - but appears to be early 1890s, pages 84-101. Courtesy of the Internet Archive and the Winterthur Library (located by Richard Beauchamp).

A large selection of watch chains is shown on pages 390-400 of the 1897 Lapp & Flershem Twenty-first Annual Illustrated Catalogue.

P.W. Ellis 1915 - 1916 Illustrated Catalogue (found online by Gordian), pages 53-61.

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