Friday, 10 April 2015

How to choose a watch chain

I am frequently asked for advice about selecting an Albert chain so hopefully this post will save me some time in the future!

2nd Draft and work in progress!

Why have a chain?

A key principle is that a pocket watch should always have some sort of safety device in case it is dropped. I have had three customers in the last three months  drop their watches on the floor (whilst winding I think) and two of these watches cost over £550, and in each case they broke the balance staff, one only 2 days after purchase. 

I have managed to fix two of them and the third is on its way to me and can probably be fixed. But these users were lucky, they were all watches for which New Old Stock balance staffs are potentially available, for many watches and all English ones this is not normally the case and that makes repair out of my competency and may exceed the value of the watch.

So you need to have a chain (or similar) and use it at all times! However remember it is a safety device, clips and case bows may fail, so hold onto the watch not the chain.

Matching the chain to the watch

For silver this is really a non-issue, whilst putting a supper heavy chain with a tiny watch would look rather odd, essentially any chain will go with any watch, they are all silver and will colour match although a new silver chain will take some time to loose some of its newness.

The colour of gold chains can vary from the cases, particularly initially as the case will have had a fairly vigorous cleaning during restoration and will need some time to recover. One issue that re-occurs is that of rose gold chains, these were popular and are fairly common in solid gold as are other dark golds. But  the vast majority of watches are yellow gold so presumably people used to live with the colour miss match.

The watch and chain are only seen together when the watch is out of the pocket, more important is the...

Matching of the chain to cloth

This is the big one! The following photographs tend to mask the differences which are more obvious when being worn in natural or bright artificial light. Click on the image for a larger view.

A heavy chain is likely to look quite bold against a dark, smooth cloth with a discrete pattern such as this blue Dormeuil Royal 12 Super 120's.

Whereas the same chain against a patterned cloth with texture such as this tweed from the Glenroyal bunch by Porter & Harding is less dominating:

It is less of an issue with lighter coloured fabrics, particularly if there is some texture to them, I have never worn a watch and albert chain with this two piece suit (the trousers have a fob pocket) but it should work, although being a very light weight cloth with minimal canvasing the weight of a watch could distort it.

Some of the pattern showing on the cloth (Linen & Silk by Caccioppoli) is a photographic affect that the anti-aliasing function can't quite cope with.

Conversely  this light weight chain is in danger of getting lost against  this Tweed from Bateman Ogden's Glenhunt bunch.

All of the clothing shown is by Geoff Souster of Souster & Hicks, Woburn and Savile Row.

The Waistcoat

An additional button hole
for the chain.
The most obvious and traditional place to wear a pocket watch is the waistcoat pocket. A single Albert is fine although a double a Albert would have been the norm. On one end and in one pocket would be the watch and on the other end would have been a
  • Watch key
  • Vesta (for matches)
  • Cigar cutter – perhaps a novelty one
  • Smokers knife
  • Pen knife
  • Coin holder
  • Seal
  • Locket
  • etc.
For a double breasted waistcoat you need either a longish single albert or a "Slider" double, an ordinary double will not normally have long enough arms to reach the pocket on the "long" side and if it did it would look unbalanced.

A pocket watch can be worn with most waistcoats  with pockets but for preference have an additional "button hole" for the Albert. A bespoke tailor might also ease the pocket a little to stop stress marks from forming around the bulge of the watch.

Trouser Pockets

Are a problem, first putting the watch in the same pocket as your car keys or loose change is likely to cause small dinks and scratches on the case and crystal but with care it can be done.

Secondly a normal type chain with a bolt ring to attach to a belt loop or with a leather piece with button hole to go over a button on the inside of the trouser belt will work, but is likely to cause a lot of damage to the edge of the pocket as the chain rubs against it. There are two main alternatives:
  1. Use a "snake chain" in metal which is very smooth and less likely to cause damage.
  2. Use a boot lace, simple but effective, tie one end to a belt look and the other to the watch (a bowline for a sailor or a perfection loop for an angler, looped through the bow is fine). 

Fob Pockets

Fob pockets are normally associated with small Fob Watches of size 8 and below but the example shown is a standard full size man's size 16 and the pocket will take most size 18 Railroad watches and more comfortably than many waistcoat pockets.

The problem is finding trousers with them, this pair of moleskins were from an internet tailor and of course a bespoke tailor should have no problem providing one. Some factories such as Wensum will include them in their made-to-measure trousers if asked - mine don't cost any more with one than without.

Do however make sure that he understands that this is for a watch and needs to be accessible from the outside, many fob pockets would now be put inside the waistband for a stash of bank notes, credit cards etc. Also make sure it will be big enough for the watch.

Using a normal type chain secured with a bolt ring as in the picture is not a problem as the chain does nor rub against the edge of the pocket. Chains and straps ending with a tab with a button hole in it to go over a braces button is also an option.

A Jacket "top" pocket.

This works fine providing the watch is not too heavy (e.g. some S18 watches) and the chain is long enough so that when in the lapel button hole the watch rests at the bottom of the pocket and is not suspended from the chain which will distort the jackets lapel. Leather Alberts can also be used in this way. A single Albert is best.

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