19th Century Bling ~ Watch Chains & Fobs




My 96 ½ year old maternal grandmother is a pack rat. We discovered this when, at her insistence, the family began cleaning out her home and readying it to sell.

After three days of sorting, my sister, mother and I sat down to go through her jewelry boxes. The memories were fun – the bird and flower and dragonfly pins she always wore when teaching because her kindergarten and first grade students loved them. [The articulated owl was my favorite.] We found several cameos [see my August 7 post Carved in Stone–or Shell]. And pearls, of all lengths. Seems GGG-Great Grandmother Grace loves pearls.

In a box marked “Keepsakes” we found hat pins and buttons and old marbles. And a watch fob. The card with it says it belonged to GGG’s father, my Great Grandfather Ole, a Norwegian wheat farmer from North Dakota.

The chain is nothing fancy but there is a bit of bling on it that brought a wonderful surprise. The square gold locket fob hanging from the center held an old photo of my Great Grandmother Julia.

The find got me thinking: what kind of bling would you find on a gentleman’s dressing table in the 1800s?

A fancy button waiting to be sewn back onto a vest. We found a few of those, military coat buttons mostly, carefully pinned to cards identifying the owners.

Cufflinks of gold, perhaps declaring the gentleman’s membership in an organization like the Masons.

man-wearing-watch-with-fobThe most common bit of bling would likely be a pocket watch and chain, that extra little something that showed a man’s taste, his position, and sometimes offered a glimpse into his life.

The pocket watch has been around since the 1500s. Originally a status symbol only the very rich could afford, by the 19th century most anyone who wanted one could buy one.

Attached to the pocket watch would be a chain, one end secured to his clothing, the other to the watch. Most commonly, the chain would hook through a button hole on his vest or coat, leaving the chain to drape across his middle to the pocket containing the watch. The chain was functiohair-chain-w-watch2nal–it kept his watch attached to his person should it accidentally slip from the pocket–but it could also be jewelry.

My Great Grandfather’s watch chain was made of human hair. I assume the chain was braided by Julia for Ole–perhaps it was a gift for him when they were betrothed. I can imagine him, all spiffed up and looking proud, with that chain and fob adorning his vest.

What is a fob, you ask? Fobs are medallions that would hang from the end of a gentleman’s watch chain. Their purpose was to help pull the watch from their vest pocket.

They could be made of the same material as the chain: gold, silver, hair, etc. Here’s a good example – the fob is the small length of braided hair chain hanging by the button finding.

See the little loop at the end? From there the gentleman could hang almost any bit of bling he wished.

The fob could display the family crest.fob_with_crest_and_eagle2501


Or be covered with gold and jewels.cameo-watch-fob-1890s



It could be a locket, like Great Grandfather Ole’s. Or perhaps a cameo.






There were Double Albert chains, named for Queen Victoria’s husband, with a fob hanging from the center.

Double Albert watch chain


And the fob wasn’t an exclusively male piece of jewelry. Women commonly wore very ornate little fobs such as decorated balls or baskets of flowers or lockets. 

In Victorgarmentclip2ian times, garment clip chains were worn by women on the pocket of a blouse or waist band of a skirt and were worn by men clipped directly on the trouser pocket or vest pocket.

Women also wore their watches on long chains, or slides. The slide was a very long chain with a slide in the middle that could be adjusted to the length that looked best with the lady’s garment. The slide itself could be engraved, or decorated with seed pearls or small gemstones. ladiesslide2


Or perhaps she preferred to wear a pin.watch pin


The possibilities were only limited by the wearer’s taste and financial means.



Does anyone you know wear a pocket watch? What’s the most unusual watch fob you’ve seen?



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31 thoughts on “19th Century Bling ~ Watch Chains & Fobs”

  1. Hi Tracy,
    I wear a pocket watch myself, when I wear a watch at all. For a lot of years I worked in a molecular biology lab and got out of the habit of wearing jewelry on my hands or wrists. I love your pictures of ladies’ pocket watches, and the fobs are beautiful. Would women ever actually carry their watches in their pockets?

  2. Tracy, your post brought back some great memories. My grandfather used to wear a bright shiny pocketwatch with a very elaborate cover and we grandkids were always begging him to take it out so we could look at it. Hadn’t thought about that in years.

  3. Hi Jennie,

    From what I read, yes. Victorian ladies often carried them in the pockets of their skirts, probably with the clip to keep it attached.

    Molecular biology? Wow.

  4. Morning, Winnie. Did you grandfather use a chain and fob? My granddaddy used a po ket watch when he worked mail on the railroad, but I don’t remember a chain of any kind. I wonder…

  5. I love this, Tracy. I think what we forget is that back then people (well, most people) had so FEW extras. So a watch or a pin might be so cherished, so carefully treated, because it might be the only piece of jewelry anyone owned and only once in a lifetime. To think how careless we are now if we lose an earring or a watch strap breaks. Everything is disposable.

    I can’t think of a pocket watch in my family but when my grandma died we found one small (ring sized) jewelry box in her possession. That was all she had.

    She wasn’t poor (not rich either, but not poor) She wore a single gold band wedding ring all her life. There might have been a couple other little rings in there, not valuable.

    It’s such a different world.

  6. HI Tracy, what a fantastic post full of great information. My hubby has a couple of “modern” pocket watches, but he rarely uses them anymore…they seemed to be more trendy twenty years ago or so. He has a nice fire department one he keeps under a little glass dome.

    The fob is just a nice gold big-linked chain.

    I have never worn anything but a wrist watch on my right hand as I am left-handed. But I gave our niece a darling heart-watch on a chain last birthday.

    And this all reminds me that I mistakenly went into the hotel pool last Sunday with my watch still on LOL. It’s a cheap-o but I love it, so was especially delighted it works again now that is has dried out, cheap or not. Yay.

    Hugs, Tracy oxoxoxoxox

  7. Tracy, I’d forgotten all about my dad’s pocket watch until you posted this blog today. He loved trains so there was an engraved image of a train on the back of the watch. It was attached to a chain and had a plain silver fob. I can close my eyes and see the chain draped from his belt loop to his pants pocket. Thanks so much for jogging the memory. That watch was so special to him and now I have it. And it still runs. I’ll always treasure it.

  8. My mom, sister and I all have gold necklaces made from the chain of her great grandfather’s watch. I wear it always. I think my nephew got the actual watch. My husband’s uncle still is upset that his own mother sold his father’s watch without his knowledge. In fact she sold a lot of things that happened to be stored in her cellar without telling anyone – and for a pittance.

  9. Tracy, Grandaddy’s pocket watch was on a chain but I don’t recall a fancy fob – just an extra bit of chain

    Mary, yes, we do tend to take things more for granted these days, and so many items are considered ‘disposables’

  10. Great post, Tracy. I don’t remember anyone in my family using a pocket watch. But what I thought of while reading this was the O. Henry story, “Gift of the Magi” where the husband sells his prized watch to buy some combs for his wife’s beautiful hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain and fob for his watch.
    Loved the part about going through your grandmother’s jewelry.

  11. Mary, your grandma sounds like my dad’s mother. I have her wedding ring, but there was little other jewelry. Maybe a string of pearls–I’ll have to think about that.

  12. Thanks for dropping by Melinda.

    Tanya, whenever I think of watches on a pin, I think of a Sherlock Holmes story where they caught the villainess because she was actually a nurse and reached for her pin-watch–which she wasn’t wearing with her disguise. 😀

  13. My dad, a farmer, wore bib overalls and carried a pocket watch. The “chain” was an old shoestring. No fancy fobs attached. I think he may have had a wristwatch that he wore when he “dressed up” in slacks and shirt.

  14. Hi Tracy!

    Great blog! In truth, I don’t remember anyone in my family who had a pocket watch. I do love them, though — they always remind me of trains and porters and engineers, and going somewhere exciting. 🙂

  15. We bought a pocket watch for our son when he was in high school because he kept breaking wrist watches and didn’t like them. He wore it for a little while, but it ended up in a box. My husband has his father’s pocket watch which had belonged to his father (my DH’s grandfather). There is no chain or fob. I can remember people wearing them and every once in awhile I’ll see someone with one.

  16. We have several old pocket watches and watch chains and fobs around. My husband wears a pocket watch most of the time and has most of the time that I have known him, old farmer that he is.

  17. My dad had a pocket watch and used it all the time, my husband has one but he has never used it, it is still in the box our grandson gave it to him in a long time ago. Maybe he will get it back and they will be back in style.


  18. I just bought a lady’s silver pocket watch 1 1/2 in. in dia for my wife. How would you wear it and where can I find it? Watch is a waltham 1889. Thank you for your help. Dave

  19. Dave, I’m certainly no authority, but here are some ideas that I found in my research. Hope they help.
    “In Victorian times, garment clip chains were worn by women on the pocket of a blouse or waist band of a skirt…Garment clips today still can be used in a variety of ways such as a trouser pocket, blouse pocket, shawl, jacket, etc.”

    “Called either long chains or slide chains, these ladie’s [sic] type watch chains were popular in the Victorian and Edwardian periods and consisted of a very long continous [sic] chain with a slide in the middle and a watch swivel on one end to hook into the bow of the watch. Slides were often very ornately decorated with seed pearls, small gemstones or intricately engraved. These slides could then move up or down the chain to adjust the look and fit of a chain. Most chains were at least 45 -48 inches with some topping the 60-70 inch mark. Slide chains could be used with any type of blouse and did not require a pocket to hold the watch. Today, these chains are still collectible and make a nice accent for a ladie’s [sic] pocket watch.”

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