Pocketful of time

Pocketful of time

By the time you read this, 2013 will have rambled in like a locomotive bound to keep to its schedule — without so much as a toot to recent merrymaking.

Time is on a forward roll. In a week, I'll enjoy the practical expression of the clock's advance as I celebrate another birthday. Never mind which one.

I'm caught in the throes of time because, as I put this together, we are a few days the other side of Christmas and I'm on my annual hunt for spare moments to buy, wrap and deliver gifts to those I love, in as little time as possible. Like the spare change I hope to find under the sofa cushions — enough to pay my holiday Visa bill — it isn't there.

The best we mortals can do is learn to manage our time, though truly, time has the upper hand. That brings me to my topic: pocket watches.

Pocket watches appeared on the scene from Germany about the same time that the waistcoat — fit with appropriately tiny pockets — became fashionable, around 1675. The first watches told only the hour, but by the late 17th century, we began watching our minutes fly by, too. Seconds, anyone?

Pocketed timepieces were the norm until wristwatches began to take hold after World War I. That was when the military decided that a fast peek at the wrist was more expedient on the battlefield.

Pocket watches required a key for winding and setting until 1875, even though the stem winds were invented in the 1850s. If they were multizonal, they would have a pin and lever for changing the additional time zones.

Pocket watches came in two styles: with either a hunter case, an often decorative metal covering for the face, or an open face, with no covering over the crystal. A chain attached to the watch fastened to a lapel or belt loop. The current Steampunk revolution has revived the popularity of the venerable pocket watch.

A fully jeweled watch is one with 17 or more jewels. Makers placed various, low-grade gems to reduce wear on the fragile movement.

The first American-made pocket watches didn't appear until about the 1830s. Waltham and Elgin are two well-known names. Both churned out timepieces for about 100 years from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s.

In the world of monetary value, gold speaks the loudest, with age and rarity close behind. A sampling of recently attained prices: a Swiss 16S (size), 18-karat gold watch by Brevet with zone movements sold for $1,675; one 23-jewel Hamilton open-face brought $2,200; and a few gold examples brought in the neighborhood of $600. Nongold watches bring $100 to $150.

A pocket watch that had the nerve to stop for four minutes was to blame for a railroad accident in Ohio during the 1800s. In 1893, the governing body mandated the General Railroad Timepiece Standards that set the style and accuracy of watches for conductors. These railroad-regulated pieces are available for about $600.

So when the conductor checks his faithful timepiece and announces, "All aboard," we may as well make the most of the scenery because time and trains wait for no one.

Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at

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