Do You Have the Time?

When my Grandpa was alive, and in his younger years, he enjoyed "tinkering" as he'd call it.  Basically, he'd be in the garage or his basement workshop taking something apart to figure out how it worked only to put it back together again in better shape than he found it.  I can still picture him in his red and black check flannel shirt jacket with a trucker cap hunched over some little object at his workbench.  One of the items he was constantly picking up at garage or estate sales to tinker with were pocket watches.  He didn't discern between collectible, valuable or mass-produced watches - he was just going to tear them apart anyway.  He only wanted to see if he could get them running again.  It was like his own little challenge to himself.  You'd find fixed pocket watches all over my Grandparents' house.  He never sold them.  He'd give them away to friends and family over the years or leave them in random drawers throughout the kitchen once he was done.  I have several he'd given me over the years.  I even have the little wooden box with all the gears, extra watch chain and tools he'd used to try and repair these little bits of history.


My Grandpa's watch repair supplies, a Victorian watch hutch & the centerpiece - an antique pocket watch that my Grandpa once gave me
now nestled in the hutch.  I love how the  hutch looks like a little piece of furniture!


Recently, I discovered a little more about antique pocket watches.  Unlike my Grandpa, rather than leaving their watches randomly strewn throughout the house, the Victorians (and earlier periods!) used these ingenious little "watch hutches" as a place to keep their watches when at home while having them do a bit of 'double duty' as it were.  Naturally, upon learning of the existence of these ingenious little devices, I tumbled through the rabbit hole to learn more.

During the 19th Century people used pocket watch hutches as a sort of keeper to protect them from loss or damage. These watch holders also converted any pocket watch into small table or mantel clock for a room that didn't have a clock. They also made perfect bedside clocks, before the advent of alarm clocks.  Some pocket watch holders imitated other clock cases, only in miniature. Each evening the pocket watch owner would place his watch into the hole where the clock face would be.  Larger versions may have set atop the fireplace mantel or on a desk in the gentleman's study.

This adorable example is available on Ruby Lane from As Good As Old.


The French called them "porte montre," meaning “watch stand.” Parisian artisans fashioned ornate watch holders for wealthy travelers visiting Paris on the Grand Tour (to learn more about the Grand Tour, click here.).  Pocket watches were a necessity during this era and fine shops along the Palais Royal specialized in selling unusual and whimsical accessories to house them.

History

Pocket watch hutches spanned all decorative styles, from Neoclassical to Regency to the opulence of Napoleon III.  After the 1860s, makers explored the styles of the day, such as Rococo Revival and Renaissance Revival.  At the turn of the century, artisans created beautiful examples in the styles of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts...and by the mid-1920s, Art Deco.

This Argentinian watch hutch, circa 1880-1910s, is a recent purchase for my personal collection. 
I think it'll be perfect to hold one of the many pocket watches my Grandpa gifted to me over the years.

By the late 19th Century watch holders could be found in a vast variety of shapes and forms. Champlev√© enamel work - an enameling technique in which craftsmen carved, etched, die struck or cast troughs into the surface of a metal object and then filled these troughs with vitreous enamel - was especially popular.  They then fired the piece until the enamel fused, and when cooled, polished the surface of the object.  The uncarved portions of the original surface remained visible as a frame for the enamel designs. The name, champlev√©, comes from the French for "raised field," or background, though the technique in practice lowers the area to be enameled rather than raising the rest of the surface.

Materials

During the second half of the 19th Century, cast iron was the most common material for making pocket watch holders.  Artisans covered these unsightly cast pieces with gilded bronze to simulate gold. Artisans sculpted the original designs to represent forms in nature, such as vines, leaves or figural representations of country life.  Mounted on a marble base and standing between 7 and 8 inches tall, they were quite heavy.  Of course, wood was also a common and relatively inexpensive material for watch hutches as well.  It could be ornately carved and finished thereby hitting various price points for all any and every potential purchaser.

Each holder featured either a round frame with a metal pocket or a metal hook for the pocket watch to be displayed on.  Fanciful designs often featured Baroque cherubs.  A less expensive option, craftsmen used spelter - a heavy zinc and lead alloy - which they then applied a bronze wash or brightly colored paint.  They sculpted the originals of animals or single figurines. 


Personally, although more rustic & probably handmade, I think this vintage folk art watch hutch from Collectors-Row is a wonderful example made for the mantle.  It even opens from the top to provide even more storage options.  Talk about character!

Parisian Artisans

Parisian artisans created some of the most elaborate pocket watch holders. Resembling a larger version of the famed Limoges porcelain box, these became known as a "casque porte montre," or a pocket watch casket.  Developed in the late 19th Century, these little gems usually often featured a beveled glass box mounted on sculpted brass legs.  The bourgeoisie of Paris in the 1860s, loved all things mythological and Greek inspired and these classic elements appeared in design motifs on small items such as watch holders as well as larger pieces of furniture.  Pocket watch hutch makers also produced dramatic designs drawn from nature such as eagle, swan or a festoon of laurel leaves.


Notice the pocket for the watch in the steeple of this fine porcelain example, circa 1820, from Classic Tradition.

Not Just for the Men

While artists created the majority of pocket watch holders to hold the larger watches carried by men, they also designed a number of them specifically for women.  Typically smaller in scale to accommodate the scale of the chatelaine watches favored by women, these hutches would often include other vanity items such as a perfume caddy and pin dish.  The may even incorporate a small drawer for pins or boot hooks. 

This circa 1860s ladies' watch holder was created as an upholstered replica of a Jacobean chair features a drawer for pins or button hooks & is available on Etsy from the Quirky Antiques Store.  Notice the small hook at the top of the chair to hang the watch from.


Watch Hutches became a staple in the well-appointed home particularly during the Victorian era and are now highly collectible.  My personal favorites are the ones which are hand-carved of wood and have a unique feel about them.  Perhaps not fit for today's wrist-style iWatches or FitBit-style timepieces; I can't help but think these would be so much more beautiful on my catch-all table than the jumble of charging cords the are currently there!


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