Pocket watches have been around since the 1400s. The invention of the tempered coiled steel springs in place of a pendulum made possible handheld watches like the one above. This sterling silver example dates to around 1710 and is signed by P. Menetrier of Amsterdam (figure 1). Featuring its original hour and minute hands, the silver face is elaborately engraved with Roman and Arabic numerals. Birds, strap work scrolls, tendrils, a scallop shell and grotesque masque decorate the center of the face.
The outside decorations pale in comparison to the inside. Upon opening the watch, an elaborate engraved interior can be seen. The top is engraved with an Arabesque motif of intertwining leaves, flowers, birds, a cherub’s head and even a squirrel. These elements are made out of gilt brass.
The mechanical part encompassing the gears and spring is located below the embellished top (figure 2). Two important parts of the watch’s mechanism can be seen. The spring is visible on the left above the case hinge. Wrapped around the spring is a steel chain. To the right of the spring is a large gear with a grooved conical element. The chain connects both the spring and gear together. When wound, the chain pulls on the spring and regulates the uncoiling that in turn helps the watch maintain accurate time.
Both men and women wore pocket watches. These could be expensive when new. In probate inventories they range in value from 4 pounds for a plain silver model to 18 pounds for a gold-cased version. In today’s currency that would be approximately $300 to $4,400.