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The return of the pocket watch

The pocket watch is making a comeback, with designers and watch brands revitalising the classic form and making it relevant for contemporary lifestyles.

In the last few months a number of stylish new pocket – or fob – watches have been unveiled, with Dezeen Watch Store stocking three different models.

First, French designer Mathieu Lehanneur unveiled Take Time, an affordable pocket watch “for the Instagram generation”. It featured a stretchy silicone rubber strap allowing it to be worn on the wrist, belt or clothing, as well as kept in a pocket. Then Hong Kong brand MMT released Calendar, a minimalist timepiece for the pocket or neck with a wooden case and a leather strap, and last month innovative Hong Kong watchmaker Ziiiro came out with Titan, an LCD watch that comes in a range of fashionable anodised aluminium colours and is light enough to be worn as a pendant.

“The classic pocket watch was my initial inspiration, but I wanted to bring a futuristic shape to it,” said Robert Dabi, chief designer at Ziiiro. “Obviously it’s digital, as we’re living in the digital age, and it’s not meant to be a pocket watch only,” he said. “I wanted to create something that can be worn as a pendant also for example.”

Pocket watches were ubiquitous until the First World War, when digging a timepiece out of your pocket became impractical in the trenches. Nobody knows who first had the idea of adding a strap to allow the watch to be worn on the wrist, but wristwatches soon boomed in popularity, leaving the pocket watch looking anachronistic and antiquated.

However the rise of portable digital devices such as smartphones and smart watches means that timepiece design is undergoing a similarly profound revolution, since people no longer rely on their watch to know the time.

“Watches are making a shift to the accessory or jewellery section more and more since the nineties, where mobile phones first arrived,” said Dabi. “That also applies for a pocket watch. It’s not a bad thing though, as it motivates the watchmaker to be more creative.”

“Today people are looking at the time very differently,” agrees Baptiste Guédez, co-founder of MMT. “They’re on their phone most of the time.”

This means there is a new role for the pocket watch as an object loaded with meaning and ritual, Guédez said. He compared the “poetry of the gesture” of getting a smartphone out of your pocket to the way people used to check their fob watches.

“Our grandfather used to use pocket watches,” he said. “We have this memory of him looking at his pocket watch while talking to us, or balancing in his rocking chair. It was a very descriptive gesture of his personality: when we were imitating members of our family , or just playing at being adults, this was an obvious gesture to do while talking loudly, with a deep voice.”

He added: “Our grandmother had one too, but smaller, more detailed and more feminine, and worn around around her neck.”

In contrast to the cold, metallic feel of a mobile phone, MMT chose to place their Calendar watch in a wooden case so that it would feel warm, natural and tactile in the hand.

“Despite everything that technology can bring in terms of comfort and instantaneousness, we think that people will always love to get a feeling, a sensation [from their possessions],” Guédez  said. “Having a natural material in your hand produces a nicer sensation than a cold metal or plastic block”.

Dabi of Ziiiro was also inspired by family memories. “I have this old pocket watch my father gave me,” he said. “It was made by my great grandfather, who owned a factory for all kinds of metal ware in Romania. That brought me to the idea of designing one. I kind of followed in his footsteps.”

Dabi said a pocket watch is not simply a wrist watch without a strap: there are different design considerations to take into account. “If there’s no strap, the circular shape of the casing draws even more attention to the watch face,” he said. “Because of the different way it’s used, you have to take care that it’s easy to slide in and out of your pocket, and that it’s light enough to be used as a pendant, which is why it’s aluminium”.

He added: “Compared to a wrist watch, the look of the case back is more important, as it will be exposed more often. That’s why an extra portion of attention went to that as well.”

Guédez believes that the popularity of fob watches will grow as both men and women realise that they are stylish and extremely versatile accessories. “A pocket watch is a great match for any style, from a three-piece suit to a raw denim pair of jeans, ” he said.

Buy the Take Time for in white for £35
Buy the MMT Calendar in maple or walnut for £135
Buy the Titan Ziiiro in five colours for £135