From about 1620, the English began manufacturing pocket watches. (Pockets had been introduced in men’s breeches about fifty years earlier). In contrast to the earlier Continental watches, the English “Puritan” watches were housed in completely plain cases, usually made of silver and, of course, were carried in the pocket whereas earlier watches were usually worn on a string around the neck.
While the English were producing plain Puritan watches, watchmakers on the Continent were creating the most elaborately decorated watches the world has ever seen. Metal watch cases were pierced, chiselled, engraved, beaten and enamelled.; they were made of exotic materials, like rock crystal and in a huge variety of “forms”, including crosses, roses, tulips, skulls and shells.
In the 1680s, waistcoats became fashionable for the first time and watches were carried in the waistcoat pocket. Particularly from about 1730, watches were worn as a prominent piece of jewellery.
Most early English balance-spring watches, called “pair-case” watches, have an engraved or embossed outer case or one covered with leather or tortoiseshell. Most French and Swiss of the period are known as “oignon” (onion) watches from their shape and have cases of brass with a leather cover, or engraved gilt-brass or silver.
From about 1715 to 1770, the most sought-after decoration for English watch sasas was repousse (metal hammered from the inside). After 1770, enamel decoration, typically of a neo-Classical cameo-style scene, became the most popular.
Did you know?
“Copy watches” are not a new phenomenon. In the 18th century, the Dutch made watches using cheap Swiss movements and gave them spurious English signatures and false English hallmarks.