The World’s Oldest Pocket Watches

the world's oldest Pocket Watches

In the realm of horology, the enduring allure of pocket watches signifies a blend of craftsmanship, artistry, and historical importance. The world's oldest pocket watches, which we will journey through in this article, hold more than just time; they are exquisite time capsules, revealing the societal norms and technological advancements of their era.

Invented in the 1500s, these intricate devices were not merely tools of timekeeping, but symbols of wealth, status, and ingenuity. They revolutionised personal timekeeping and left a lasting impact on society, punctuating historical events with each tick and tock. Join us as we delve into the captivating history and significance of these ancient treasures.

Edward East Puritan Watch - UK, Circa 1640

Fashioned in the heart of London circa 1640, the Edward East Puritan Watch bears a testament to the watchmaking skills of its namesake, Edward East, who would later serve as a clockmaker for King Charles II. The watch presents itself in an oval shape and is styled in the Puritan fashion, reflective of the period's penchant for simplicity as opposed to the more elaborate designs common of the era. This Puritan-style silver watch comes encased in an outer cover crafted from fish skin, adding to its unique aesthetics​.

The plain yet distinctly elegant silver case features a circular window on the front cover that houses a crystal held in place by a ring with screws. On the rear of the case lies a winding hole with a shutter, further enhancing its functional design. The silver dial, while also plain, bears a small engraved chapter ring and a steel hand with a long tail marks the passing of time. Inside, the watch harbours a movement with a verge escapement, a train of three wheels, a balance with a broad steel rim, and a fusee with a gut line. The balance cock, originally attached to the backplate with a pin, is now secured with a screw, and the backplate itself is signed 'Eduardus East Londini', a proud testament to the watch's creator​.

The materials used in its construction include brass, rock crystal, silver alloy, and steel, reflecting the blend of durability and elegance inherent in East's design. The overall measurements of the watch stand at 4.5 cm x 3 cm x 1.9 cm, compact enough to be carried with ease yet large enough to make a statement​.

Johann Possdorfer Watch - Germany, 1630 - 1640

The Johann Posdorfer watch, created between 1630 and 1640 in Dresden, Germany, showcases the artistic and technical prowess of the era. This notable timepiece was designed by Johann Posdorfer, a highly respected German watchmaker known for his collaboration with the brilliant Swiss horologist Jobst Bürgi. Their combined expertise led to the creation of a watch with a cross-beat escapement, making it one of the most accurate portable timekeepers of the time, until the invention of the balancing spring​​.

The watch features an enamelled dial that only registers hours and half hours, emphasising its unique attribute of compact size over accuracy. The craftsmanship of Posdorfer is evident in the exquisite design of the watch. Housed in a case made of rock crystal and gold, the watch is more than a timekeeping device; it is an embodiment of the artistic sensibilities of the period. The movement inside is made of gilded brass and steel, partly blued, adding to its aesthetic appeal. The watch's petite physical dimensions, measuring 3.2 cm × 2.2 cm, make it a marvel of miniature engineering.

Posdorfer's timepiece is a testament to the era's technological advancements and the artistic culture of Dresden. It is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, serving as a precious artefact that provides insight into the evolution of watchmaking technology and design.

Clock Watch With Alarm & Calendar - France, 1600 - 1610

The Clock Watch with Alarm & Calendar was crafted by Nicolas Forfaict in Paris between 1600 and 1610. This watch stands as a significant milestone in horological history, as it was among the earliest to incorporate additional features such as an alarm and a calendar. The calendar feature was particularly unique because it did not simply track dates; it also showed the moon's age in its monthly cycle.

This innovative function allowed the user to measure the duration of moonlight after sunset, a feature that was probably valuable to astrologers of the time. The watch's movement was made of gilded brass and steel, with the case and dial composed of brass, silvered brass, and silver.

Clock Watch - UK, 1600 - 1610

The "Clock Watch," a marvel of craftsmanship and design, dates back to the period between 1600 and 1610 and originates from London. This antique timepiece is attributed to Michael Nouwen or Nouen, a renowned Flemish watchmaker of that era. However, the artist responsible for crafting the exquisite case remains unknown. The Clock Watch is known for its distinctive feature of striking the hour, much like a conventional clock, hence earning its name.

Unlike most watches of its time, it incorporated a bell within the case that would ring to indicate the hour. This was a significant technological advancement, bringing the experience of a large stationary clock into a portable timepiece. The case of the Clock Watch was ingeniously designed with cutouts, which allowed the bell's sound to be heard clearly. This feature demonstrated an impressive understanding of acoustics and mechanical design, combining form and function seamlessly.

The Clock Watch is not only a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of its maker but also a remarkable piece of history, marking a significant advancement in the evolution of timekeeping devices. Its existence serves as a reminder of the continual human pursuit of technological innovation and mastery over time.

Lesser George Watch - UK, 1600

Crafted in London around the year 1600, the "Lesser George Watch" is a significant artefact of historical importance. Made by the watchmaker Nicholas Vallin, the case was created by an unknown artist. The body of the watch was crafted from gilded brass and steel, while the outer case predominantly features gold and enamel.

The case showcases the ensign of the English Order of the Garter, an esteemed group of royal knights established by King Edward III. Prominently displayed on the case is a depiction of Saint George, the patron saint of the Order, engaged in battle with a dragon. The intricate artwork is a testament to the exceptional craftsmanship of the era.

The "Lesser George Watch" was not merely a timekeeping device. The symbolic embellishments on its case were a clear indication that the owner of the watch was a knight of the Order of the Garter. This watch was not just a functional object, but a symbol of prestige and nobility, a badge of honour, and a statement of social standing.

Royal Crystal Case Watch - Germany, 1560

The Royal Crystal Case Watch is an intriguing artefact of historical horology. Originating from Germany, this timepiece is believed to have been created by an unknown German artist. The watch itself is dated back to 1560, making it one of the oldest known watches in the world.

The intricately designed case, crafted from rock crystal, was added later in 1625, underscoring the value and status of such timepieces during the era. One of the key characteristics that sets this watch apart is its size, which has led to debates about its authenticity, as it was a lot smaller than others from this time. The watch's relatively small dimensions for the time have raised questions among some scholars and horologists, as smaller, more portable timekeeping devices were not common until later periods.

Despite these debates, the Royal Crystal Case Watch remains a significant testament to the progression of timekeeping technology and design aesthetics in the 16th and early 17th centuries. This watch embodies the transition from public timekeeping in the form of town clocks to personal timepieces, marking a pivotal shift in how individuals perceive and measure time.

Henlein Pocket Watch - Germany

Peter Henlein, a German locksmith and clockmaker from Nuremberg, is a seminal figure in the history of horology. Born in the late 15th century, Henlein is credited with the invention of the portable timepiece, marking a revolutionary shift from stationary clocks to personal, handheld devices. His contribution to timekeeping technology is exemplified in the Henlein Pocket Watch.

Made in 1510, the Henlein Pocket Watch is a drum-shaped timepiece, showcasing the primitive yet pioneering engineering of the era. For centuries, this watch was believed to be the world's oldest, embodying the infancy of mechanical timekeeping. However, its exact origins remain uncertain, leading to debates among historians and horologists.

Henlein's influence on horology extended beyond this single creation. His work signified the advent of the pocket watch, a critical step in the evolution of personal timekeeping devices. His innovations laid the groundwork for the miniaturisation of mechanical clocks, transitioning them from public town squares into people's pockets.

Despite the ambiguous origins of the Henlein Pocket Watch, Peter Henlein's legacy is undisputed. His work symbolises a pivotal moment in horological history, shaping the trajectory of watchmaking and personal timekeeping for centuries to come. Henlein's role as the pioneer of the pocket watch cements his place as one of the most influential figures in the realm of horology.

Oldest Watch In The World: Pomander Watch

The "Pomander Watch," dating back to 1505, is currently believed to be the oldest known watch in the world. Found in Nuremberg, Germany, this unique timepiece is attributed to Peter Henlein, often credited as the inventor of the watch, though its true maker remains uncertain.

Discovered in 1987, the Pomander Watch initially faced scepticism and was passed from owner to owner due to concerns of forgery. However, its historical authenticity was eventually confirmed through an in-depth examination by a committee of experts. This multi-disciplinary panel found strong evidence indicating that the Pomander Watch indeed dates back to the early 16th century and bears Henlein's signature.

The Pomander Watch revolutionised timekeeping. It represents a critical transition from static clocks to portable timepieces, marking a significant leap in the history of horology. It's a testament to Henlein's ingenuity, embodying the spirit of innovation that was prevalent during the Renaissance period.

Despite the controversy surrounding its discovery, the Pomander Watch stands as a symbol of human progression in understanding and manipulating time. Its existence challenges our modern perception of timekeeping and provides a captivating glimpse into the origins of the watch as we know it today.

This prestigious timepiece, with its rich history and controversial past, continues to intrigue horologists and history enthusiasts alike, securing its place as a monumental artefact in the world of horology.

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From the groundbreaking innovations of Peter Henlein to the intricate designs of Edward East and Johann Posdorfer, these ancient treasures reveal the evolution of timekeeping technology and the societal values of their time. Each pocket watch represents a milestone in horological history, leaving an indelible mark on the world and reminding us of the human pursuit of innovation and mastery over time.

If you’re looking to invest in a vintage pocket watch, here at WatchCentre, we have a range of luxury brands to explore, from Rolex to Patek Philippe, there is a range of great pieces to choose from. Located on Bond Street, we have years of experience in supplying luxury vintage and pre-owned timepieces and pride ourselves as a trusted supplier.

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