Re-blogged from The History Girls
Russian Officer’s Watch, 1912
Right now I am wearing something quintessentially feminine, which no self-respecting man would consider putting on.
What is it? A wristwatch.
Naturally any gentleman would be carrying a sensible, sturdy pocket watch. A watch bracelet is women’s jewellery, too frail and ornamental for a man to wear…
Before World War I, this was exactly how “watch bracelets” or “wristlets” were generally regarded. In a much-repeated quote, one gentleman even declared that he “would sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch”.
I stumbled upon this detail during my research for Cuckoo Song, a book set in the aftermath of the First World War. The male suspicion of the wristwatch surprised me. Surely it must have been obvious how practical such an arrangement would be? Apparently not. Wrist watches were considered too small to keep accurate time, and too vulnerable to dust, weather and shocks.
The wristwatch was an old idea, but had been slow to take hold. The Earl of Leicester allegedly gave Elizabeth I an “arm-watch” in 1571. The Clockmakers’ Museum have an exquisite, pearl-studded Broillal watch with a black velvet wrist strap, dating from about 1780. In 1810 the Queen of Naples commissioned a watch on a wrist-chain from the Breguet family. However, these were luxurious novelties, and very rare.
Jewelled wristwatches became more common amongst aristocratic women in the latter part of the Victorian era. After the turn of the century, wristlets became more affordable, but were still elegant works of art in their own right, fastened to the wrist with bracelet chains or ribbons.
Most men of that time would not be seen dead in a wristwatch. Curiously enough, the few exceptions were all men with very real odds of ‘being seen dead’, who wanted to keep those odds as long as possible…
Read more: The History Girls – All in the Wrist – a guest post by Frances Hardinge
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge