How to Wear a Pocket Watch Like It’s 2020

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by  Karlton Miko Tyack | Last Updated:  Sep 23, 2020
How to Wear a Pocket Watch Like It's 2020

Like the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series, everything comes back around. 

The vintage-style watch market exploded when Sotheby’s sold a $24million Patek pocket watch in 2014. Even Apple is in the pocket watch game

Popularity aside, knowing how to wear a pocket watch is like knowing how to change a tire—every man should know how even if you rarely do.

By the end of this article, you’ll know how to rock a pocket watch anywhere, anytime.  

What is a Pocket Watch? A Brief History

Pocket watches were invented in 1500s Germany. They evolved into the round shape and small size we recognize today during the 1670s when England’s Charles II popularized small-pocketed waistcoats.

Pocket watches then made their way from aristocrats’ waistcoats to the jeans pockets of laborers in the 1850s and eventually to your grandfather’s three-piece suit.

The more convenient wristwatch outmoded the pocket watch by World War II, but they continue to be a distinguished, if unique, men’s accessory today.

The Five Types of Pocket Watches

Open Face

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The open face pocket watch is just a dial with no cover, so it’s the quickest and easiest to read. This makes it the path of least resistance but also the most vulnerable.  

It’s almost as convenient as a wristwatch, but don’t wear it at your next company rugby game.

Full Hunter

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The full hunter pocket watch has a cover over the dial making it more durable. The cover pops open using a button on the crown.

The full hunter is quintessential, and it’s the design you often see characters sporting in BBC period dramas. 

Half Hunter

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The half hunter has a similar design to the full hunter, but with a window on the cover so you don’t have to open it to read the time. 

Double Hunter

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The aptly named double hunter has two covers—one on the front protecting the dial face, and one on the back that you can also pop open to see the mechanical skeleton or the heartbeat.

Double Half Hunter

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The double half hunter combines all the above designs: A front cover with a window and a back cover, like the double hunter. This time, the back cover also has a window so you can see the mechanical skeleton or the heartbeat without opening it.

The double half hunter is a full-on show. It’s like a music box for men (don’t let that deter you. Isn’t a camping trip just a sleepover for men?)

The Four Types of Pocket Chains

Albert T-bar

T bar pocket watch diagram

One end of this chain has a T-bar, which you place in a buttonhole. The other end is attached to the pocket watch, which you place in your vest pocket.

This chain is used with vests, jackets and waistcoats —it was named after Queen Victoria’s husband after all.

Bolt Ring

Bolt ring pocket watch diagram

One end of this chain has a bolt ring, which you hook to a vest or waistcoat buttonhole. The other end of the chain is attached to the watch, which goes in a jacket or vest pocket.

You can also attach the bolt ring to a belt loop, with the watch in your pants pocket.

Belt Bar Slides

Belt bar slides pocket watch diagram

One end of this chain is a clip-like apparatus that you slide over your belt or the top of your waistband, and the other end is attached to your watch, which goes in your pants pocket. 

Watch Fob Chain

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The watch fob is ornamentation that you chain to your watch. You’d then pocket the watch and let the fob hang out as an accessory. 

This is purely for style. It doesn’t secure the pocket watch to your person. If anything, it makes it more vulnerable.

What You’ll Need to Wear a Pocket Watch

  • Your choice of pocket watch
  • Your choice of chain
  • The appropriate outfit (read on!)

Ways to Wear a Pocket Watch

With a Vest  

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There are more ways to wear a pocket watch with a vest than there are movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some styles are only appropriate for specific situations, so pay attention gents.

You’ll use either the Albert T-bar or the bolt ring.

The watch goes in your left vest pocket if you’re right-handed. Lefties, put it in your right pocket. This frees your dominant hand, just like a wristwatch.

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Place the fastening end of the chain in the buttonhole of your choice, except for the bottom-most buttonhole, which is often left undone.

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Remember:

  • The higher you place the fastener, the more of the chain will show, and the more of a statement piece it will be. The more the chain is showing, the more important it is that it matches your jacket buttons if they are metal statement buttons.
  • It’s most common to fasten to the lower buttons. This was originally considered more gentleman-like, but that isn’t as relevant today.  

The Double Albert Style

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The double Albert requires you to place the T-bar fastener on the middle of the chain, as opposed to the end of it. 

Instead of having the chain links dangling from the buttonhole to only one side of the vest, the chain will be dangling on both sides like a W. 

Attach your watch to one end and place it in the pocket of your non-dominant-hand side. Attach another object, perhaps your keys or a money clip, to the other end and place it in the pocket on your dominant-hand side.  

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The double Albert stands out as a statement look. Conventional wisdom says that it’s only suitable for formal occasions, but I think it’s also appropriate for fashion-forward events.

Avoid the double for work cocktails but consider it for cocktail-attire situations that encourage creativity (gallery openings or at hip bars, for example). Just make sure it’s your only statement piece; tone the rest of the outfit down and avoid loud patterns so you don’t end up looking too costumey.

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The double Albert is a symmetrical look, so only wear it with symmetrical vests. I’m all about thoughtful rule-breaking, but if you’re using a double Albert on an asymmetrical vest, you may as well be tying the pocket watch around your head.

Using a Watch Fob 

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Watch fobs are most often incorporated with waistcoats or smart vests. 

Hanging the watch fob from the buttonhole is called a drop.

With a single Albert, you can do a demi-drop and hang the fob from the middle of the chain that drapes across the side of your vest.

Best Pocket Watch to Wear With a Vest

Gotham Men's Silver-Tone 17 Jewel Mechanical Double Cover Pocket Watch
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The uber-versatile Gotham Double Cover pocket watch style works well with most vest looks.

Typically, the slimmer a pocket watch is, the more formal it is. However, if you’re looking for a pocket watch that is minimalist enough that it works with casual vests, but classy enough that it works with dressy vests, the Gotham does just that. 

Without a Vest

There are two acceptable ways to wear your pocket watch without a vest: In your pants pocket or in your jacket or blazer front pocket.

When you wear your pocket watch in your pants pocket, you can use a bolt ring, a belt slide or you can attach it to a watch fob and let it hang from your pocket.

To attach a pocket watch to a jacket or blazer, you’ll place the watch in the breast pocket and attach the fastener to the lapel pinhole from behind the lapel.

If you’re wearing a casual sports coat (say, you’re at a hockey game, but it’s a special occasion so you and the guys got a box suite), I recommend using the bolt ring instead of the dressy Albert T-bar.

Same goes for non-formal work events.

Pairing the watch chain on your lapel with a loud pocket square can end up looking too much like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. With a simple toned-down suit and a modest pocket square, you can go from cartoon rabbit to FDR.

Best Pocket Watch to Wear Without a Vest

Stuhrling Original Men's 6053.33113 Special Reserve Vintage Pocket Watch
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The classy Stührling Reserve Vintage has an understated palette, which is balanced by intricate mechanics. Sans vest, your outfit has fewer moving parts and can take on this pop of complexity.

The Stührling pairs well with either a simple watch fob hanging from your jeans pocket or with a high-end chain hanging from your jacket lapel.

With Formalwear

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A tuxedo or classic monochrome suit is an easy blank canvas to have some pocket watch fun with.

This is the time to go crazy with all those double Alberts, double half hunters and extravagant watch fobs we tiptoe around in other contexts. 

The Albert T-bar is your quarterback when it comes to formalwear. A silver or stainless steel chain is more modern, while a gold chain is considered more classic. 

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Thinner pocket watches are more suited for black-tie events since waistcoat and jacket breast pockets tend to be small. Ornate pocket watches are also invited to this party. 

You’re welcome to go the subtle route if the excessive stuff isn’t for you. Just know that formal dress is the most appropriate context in which to channel your inner Downton Abbey.

Best Pocket Watch to Wear With Formalwear

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The Audemars Piguet is the Amal Clooney of pocket watches.

It’s more than just a strikingly beautiful face; it’s one of the most intelligent pocket watch designs out there. It’s elegant but it’s also grand, so it may not be for you if you don’t like to draw attention.

With Casualwear

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Since people associate pocket watches with old-world refinement, there are some rules about sporting a pocket watch casually.

The most important one is this: Stick to modern or simple models.

I recommend keeping your pocket watch in your pants pocket for purely casual looks. You can wear the watch in a vest or sports coat for smart casual outfits, just avoid the Albert T-bar and ornate pocket watches completely. 

Heavier chains and leather strap fobs look more rugged and go well with jeans. If you’re going for casual but quality, the leather adds an aesthetic similar to a simple leather messenger bag.

Go for smaller, subtle watch fobs when dressing down. Avoid watch fobs entirely if you’re wearing your pocket watch in a vest or jacket.

Some men wear fobs that display allegiances or memberships, like wearing a class ring or having a sports team phone case. This is perfectly acceptable for casual looks.

Finally, you can wear a slightly more ornate watch fob and pocket watch as a “fashion-casual” look. This is the equivalent to when your lady dresses down but sports a Chanel bag.

Proceed with caution when attempting this though! Stick to an exceedingly simple outfit from head to toe.

Best Pocket Watch to Wear with Casualwear

Gotham Gun Metal Railroad Pocket Watch
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With its sleek gun-tone case and big and bold numbers on a black dial, the Gotham Railroad pairs safely with casual outfits.

Importantly, it boasts a high quality spring ring clasp which means it’ll stay snug and secure inside your pocket.

Be Bold, Never Regular

Whether or not you’ve inherited an heirloom from your grandfather or have a deep interest in exploring the pocket watch as an accessory, it’s important for you to at least know the basics of how to wear one. 

Maybe they become a style must-have one day. Maybe your son or future son will want one and he’ll need guidance.

It’s a classic men’s skill, and therefore a must-know. Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, please share this article and follow us on Instagram for more style tips!

FAQs

What button does a pocket watch go on?

The button can go on any buttonhole on a vest or waistcoat except for the bottom-most button. The higher the button you choose, the more of the chain is exposed, and the more of a statement piece it becomes.

How do you wear a pocket watch casually?

The easiest way to wear a pocket watch casually is in your pants pocket with a simple watch fob, belt slide or bolt ring with a heavy, rugged chain. Modern styles look more casual than vintage styles.

Can you wear a pocket watch without a vest?

Yes, there are two ways: You can put the pocket watch in your pants pocket and attach it to your pants with a belt slide or bolt ring, or you can attach it to your jacket or blazer by placing it in the breast pocket and fastening it onto the lapel pinhole from behind the lapel.

Does Rolex make pocket watches?

No, Rolex stopped making pocket watches in the 1970s and they were never known for them. The company played a big role in wristwatches superseding pocket watches.

Are pocket watches still in style?

They are less common than wristwatches but have risen in popularity in the 2010s. They aren’t trendy but are still viewed as a unique statement piece for style enthusiasts.