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Bracelet Watch

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Bracelet Watch

Date: 1800-1825
Medium: Gold, half-pearls, diamonds, enamel, steel
Dimensions:
41.3 x 60 x 57.2 mm
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Thomas R. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 355
Label Text
The first known documentation of a watch worn on a wrist is in an account book from the firm of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot of Geneva in 1790. The reference notes, "a watch to be fixed on a bracelet." The watch may have been a special order or a watchmaker's experiment with a new form. The Empress Josephine gave her daughter-in-law, Princess Auguste-Amelie of Leuchtenberg, a pair of gold bracelets, one with a watch and the other with a calendar, as a wedding present in 1806. When the bracelet watch was first introduced, it was, most likely, attached to a ribbon fastener; later, watches were incorporated into gold bracelets. A bracelet watch was relatively rare feminine adornment during most of the nineteenth century. The form was not widely accepted until the 1880s. Its successor, the wristwatch, did not become be a commonplace accouterment for men and women until the twentieth century.

Text Entries

Today wristwatches are commonplace, affordable to just about everyone. They come in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes and sizes and are fashioned from a multitude of materials ranging from plastic to gold. Mechanisms are so advanced that most watches, even inexpensive ones, keep time for many years before requiring a change of battery or other service. This was not always the case. The first Wristwatches, which appeared on the market in the early nineteenth century, did not find favor among consumers. Potential buyers, perhaps leery of wearing a watch where it would be in constant motion and potentially exposed to perspiration, worried that shocks, dust, and humidity would affect its timekeeping performance; the passage of time has proven these concerns unfounded.

The first documented mention of a watch worn on a wrist is in an account book from the firm of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot (active 1784-1824?) of Geneva in 1790. The reference notes, “A watch to be fixed on a bracelet.”(1) The watch might have been a special order or one watchmaker’s experiment with a new form. The Empress Josephine (1765-1814) gave her daughter-in-law, Princess Auguste-Amelie of Leuchtenberg, a pair of gold bracelets, one with a watch and the other with a calendar, as a wedding present in 1806. The Parisian jeweler Nitot (active 1750-1855) made the bracelets using watch and calendar mechanisms made by a Swiss watchmaker living in Paris.(2)

When the bracelet watch was first introduced, it was, most likely, attached to a ribbon strap.(3) Later, watches were incorporated into gold bracelets. The Institute’s example is essentially a ring watch set into a bracelet. The octagonal case, framed by a bezel set with half-pearls, contains two white enamel dials, the first with an Arabic chapter ring marking seconds, the other reading hours and minutes. The balance wheel, set with rose-cut diamonds, is centered between the dials. The bracelet consists of five articulated tapered sections, each with a panel of white enamel scrolls surrounded by a red translucent enamel border.

Bracelet watches were a relatively rare female adornment during most of the nineteenth century. The form did not achieve wide acceptance until the 1880s. Its successor, the wristwatch, would not be a commonplace accoutrement for men and women until the twentieth century.

1. Quoted in Eugene Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis with the cooperation of G. Albert Berner and Samuel Guye, Technique and History of the Swiss Watch (London: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1970), p. 104.

2. Ibid., p. 105. For an illustration of this pair of bracelets, see ibid., fig. 82.

3. For an illustration of an early watch with a ribbon strap, see ibid., fig. 83.