Lock, Stock and Barrel: A Concise History of Firearms

Guns. Pieces. Firearms. Rods. Heaters. Six-Shooters. Hand-Cannons. Bullet. Shot. Cap. Cartridge. .45. .38. .22. 9mm. Flintlock. Wheel-lock. Matchlock. Caplock…

In one way or another, firearms have been around for centuries…ever since some clever guy in China discovered that if you mixed sulphur, crushed charcoal and saltpetre (that’s an old term for ‘Potassium Nitrate’) in the correct quantities…and didn’t get killed in the process…you could produce a powerful explosive! It’s impossible to imagine today’s world without guns, isn’t it? What would police-officers use on violent criminals? What would soldiers fight with? What would armed criminals use to hold up the local convenience-store with?

This article will look into the history and development of firearms from the very earliest and most primative pieces, to the first modern firearms that we would know today.

The Big Bang and the Invention of Gunpowder

Just like everything else of value, such as the compass, decent food, the wheelbarrow, martial-arts and fireworks, the Chinese invented gunpowder. The first documented proof of this comes from the early 12th Century. The Chinese were quick to grasp the possibilities of this new invention. With an explosive such as this, they could create weapons…primative weapons, that’s true, but weapons nonetheless…and weapons of a kind that nobody else at the time, had ever seen. Cannons, muskets, grenades, bombs and even naval-mines, used to blow holes in ships.

By the 13th and 14th Centuries, the Europeans had also discovered gunpowder. Early gunpowder was tricky to make, though, and highly dangerous. It took considerable experimentation in the 1200s before those people brave enough to tamper with the stuff had come up with a suitable ratio of ingredients. Europeans improved gunpowder by moistening it in a process called ‘corning’. By corning the gunpowder, makers could form the powder into cakes and then break these down into individual little granules or ‘grains’. This prevented excessive gunpowder-dust from hovering around in the air, which was a significant explosive hazard.

The First Firearms

The very first firearms were crude, dangerous inaccurate weapons, little more than a tube that was open at one end, sealed at the other and with a small hole at the sealed end of the tube called a ‘touch-hole’. Called ‘hand-cannons’ or ‘hand-gonnes’, they were merely scaled down versions of larger artillery pieces in-use at the time. Little thought was given to them and they certainly weren’t relied upon in battle. Indeed, many early guns were so impractical that they often came with forked, wooden stands or poles upon which to rest the muzzle of the gun. That way, one hand could be freed from supporting its immense weight, to hold the burning match-cord or ‘slow-match’ (a precursor to the modern fuse) to the touch-hole to ignite the gunpowder and fire the ammunition.

Firing Mechanisms – Matchlock

The very first firearms had to be set off by putting a burning match-cord into a touch-hole to ignite the powder and fire the weapon. This was adequate, but hardly ideal. With both hands, or one hand and a forked, wooden stand needed to support the length and weight of early muskets and hand-cannons, guns were dangerous, agonisingly slow, inhibiting of movement and fatally slow to reload.

In the 1300s, the first reliable firing-mechanism was invented…the matchlock.

A man firing a matchlock musket. The burning white rope is the match-cord

The matchlock worked by filling the barrel of the gun with blackpowder, then driving down your bullet and a wad of cloth or paper to keep everything firmly seated. You then filled the flash-pan with powder and closed it. After this, you fitted your smouldering match-cord into the jaws of a simple, S-shaped lock on the side of the gun. You then opened the flash-pan by hand, aimed and pulled the trigger. If you’d lined up the match-cord with the pan, then the cord came forward, ignited the priming-powder in the pan and fired the gun for you. This kept both your hands free to fire and hold the gun and kept both your eyes on the target. From the 1300s until the early 1500s, this was the most advanced firing-mechanism available, even though it was incredibly slow, allowing only about two shots a minute (if you were lucky!).

It was during the matchlock period of firearms, when guns were coming onto the battlefield which had for so-long been dominated by bows, arrows, crossbows, bolts, swords and spears, that a new word was coined.

“Bullet Proof”.

These days, we’ll add ‘proof’ to the end of anything. Waterpoof. Fireproof. Leakproof. Greaseproof. Idiotproof.

What does “proof” actually mean?

The word ‘proof’ itself means to provide evidence or to show effectiveness. Hence the term ‘proving ground’, an open area where weapons were ‘proofed’ or demonstrated to show their effectiveness. Given this definition, what is the original meaning of ‘bullet-proof’?

Originally, bullet-proofing meant proving (that is, ‘demonstrating’) that bullets could not penetrate your body-armour. Back when soldiers still marched into battle wearing plate-armour, it was the job of the armourer to “proof” his armour. This was done by firing a bullet from a matchlock pistol or musket, at the breastplate of his completed suit of armour at point-blank range. If the armour was good quality, the musket-ball left a dent in the armour’s breastplate. This dent was circled or marked in some way by the armourer so that it stood out to the enemy. This circled dent, caused by the bullet, was the “proof” that his armour was impervious to firearms. Hence the term “bulletproof”.

Firing-Mechanisms – Wheel-lock

If you’ve ever used a modern cigarette-lighter, then the basic operation of the wheel-lock firing-mechanism should be pretty familiar to you. Invented in the early 1500s, the wheel-lock was the first self-igniting firing-mechanism. It didn’t rely on a tempermental and fiddly piece of smoking cord to light the powder…it created its own lighting-mechanism through pure friction.

The wheel-lock operated by pulling the trigger, which rotated a steel wheel inside the firing-mechanism. This wheel, when rotated fast enough by the pull of the trigger, created sparks which set off the gunpowder and fired the weapon.

Although the wheel-lock was pretty advanced…for the first time you could just load a gun and shoot it, for the first time, you could (with luck) shoot a gun in the rain, for the first time, you didn’t need to fumble with burning match-cords…its downfall was that the wheel-lock firing-mechanism really was…advanced. Far too advanced to be practical. The intricacies of the mechanism made it a pain in the ass to clean, lubricate and maintain. It was also hard to mass-produce and it required master gunsmiths to be able to disassemble, repair and clean them effectively. Because of this, they died out, to be replaced by…

Firing-Mechanisms – Flintlock

The flintlock firing-mechanism is one of the most famous firing-mechanisms in the world. Half of our firearms jargon and slang comes from the flintlock. A ‘flash in the pan’, meaning a sudden idea which amounts to nothing, referred to a gun misfiring, producing a quick flash of burning powder and nothing else. ‘Going off half-cocked’, meaning to start before being fully prepared, referred to flintlock guns firing before the hammer had been pulled off its safety-position. ‘Ramrod straight’ referred to the necessity for really straight, rigid ramrods, used to help load early firearms.

The flintlock mechanism was invented in the early 1600s, and for the next, at a rough estimate, 230 years…it remained the forefront of firearms technology. Even though it couldn’t operate reliably in wet weather like the wheel-lock mechanism, the flintlock was popular for a number of reasons: It was easy to use, easy to clean, easy to make and easy to repair. Its simplicity of operation meant that anybody could pick up a musket or a pistol and know how to use it within a couple of minutes, without risk of injury. The flintlock mechanism even came with its own “safety-position’: The hammer had to be cocked twice before a gun could be fired properly. The positions, called “half-cock” and “full-cock” related to how far away from the frizzen the firing-hammer could be pulled back to. Half-cock provided access to the flash-pan and frizzen, but would not cause the gun to fire if the trigger was pulled accidently. Pulling the hammer back to full-cock meant that when the trigger was pulled, the gun would fire.

The flintlock mechanism worked by using a type of stone (called…’flint’) which was clamped into the jaws of the gun’s lock (hence the term ‘flint lock’). The piece of flint ws usually a small, sharp piece of stone which, when the gun was fired, came down and struck against a ‘frizzen’ or steel striking-plate, creating sparks. After hitting the frizzen, the flint would push the frizzen back, allowing the sparks to fall into the ‘flash-pan’ which ignited the priming-charge of gunpowder. Once the priming-charge was lit, it would ignite the main charge of gunpowder inside the barrel through the small ‘touch-hole’ next to it, setting off the gun and firing the projectile. Considerably faster and safer and easier to maintain than other firing-mechanisms, a trained soldier could fire three or four shots a minute using a flintlock firearm, or, under exceptionally good training, up to five shots a minute, or one shot every twelve seconds! A considerable change from the matchlock mechanism which only allowed one or two shots a minute, a couple of hundred years before.

Firing Mechanisms – Caplock

The caplock mechanism was similar to the flintlock mechanism, but with a few advantages: It was easier and faster to load and, unlike the flintlock mechanism, it could enable a gun to be fired in wet weather. It worked like this:

You poured gunpowder down your musket-barrel, along with a bullet and a cloth or paper wad, to stop anything falling out. You rammed it all down with a ramrod, withdrew the rod, returned it to its cradle underneath the gun-barrel, and then you fitted a small brass cap (similar, but larger than a modern child’s precussion-cap, used for toy ‘cap-guns’) over the ‘nipple’, a small metal tube above the breech of the gun, which had replaced the more bulky flintlock mechanism.

With the gun loaded and the brass cap securely placed over the nipple, you pulled back the firing-hammer, aimed and pulled the trigger. The hammer hit the gun-cap, and a chain reaction occurred. On the underside of the gun-cap was a small, impact-detonated explosive charge. When the firing-hammer hits the cap, it sets off the charge, that sends sparks and flames down into the breech of the gun. This lights the gunpowder and the subsequent burning and expansion of gases forces the bullet out of the gun.

Until the advent of the modern, self-contained cartridge…this was as advanced as firing-mechanisms got, until the later stages of the American Civil War in the mid 1860s.

The Evolution of Ammunition

Ammunition has always been changing, and throughout history, there have been several kinds of ammunition used in firearms. The three most common are the round ball, the Minie ball and the modern bullet.

Musket-Ball or Lead Shot

The earliest type of ammunition was obviously a round ball. Originally made of rounded off pebbles or stones, the musket-shot, the mainstay of ammunition up until the second quarter of the 19th century, was later made out of lead. People used to make their own lead balls by melting down lead in a small spoon or cup over a fire, before pouring the molten lead into a small bullet-mould. When the lead had hardened, the mould was opened and a small, round lead ball came out. Lead-shot was easy and cheap to manufacture, but it was hardly accurate. Due to the windage (gap) between the interior of old gun-barrels and the musket-balls manufactured to go into them, and the fact that the barrels were smoothbore, meant that these bullets were not accurate beyond about a hundred meters. With the addition of rifling to muskets, a musket-ball could be fired accurately to a range of about 200-250 meters, however.

The Minie Ball

Invented by Claude Etienne Minie in the 1850s, the Minie Ball (despite its name), is not actually a ball. It’s a conical-cylindrical projectile, very similar in shape to the modern cartridge-bullet. The Minie ball was designed to be used with another innovation in firearms technology: Rifling.

Minie Balls, the new type of ammo that replaced the musket-ball of the 18th and early 19th centuries

Rifling is the process of cutting a curved, spiralling groove into the inside of a gun-barrel. This groove allows the bullet to spin in the barrel after the charge has gone off, giving it greater accuracy. Although rifling had existed on a smaller scale before the invention of the Minie ball, when the two were combined, it allowed guns to be significantly more accurate than before. This led to devastatingly high levels of carnage during subsequent military engagements such as during the American Civil War. The Minie ball fired from a rifled musket or rifle could hit a target more than twice as far away as a comparable, unrifled musket firing a regular lead ball. However, military tactics didn’t evolve as fast as the weaponry which meant that in the earlier years of the Civil War, armies were still lining up, shoulder to shoulder in close formation, within a few dozen yards of their enemies and firing at each other, just as their ancestors had done nearly a hundred years before, in the American Revolution.


The modern bullet as we know it today, or rather, ammunition as we know it today, was the result and combination of three different elements: The impact-detonated precussion-cap (seen on muskets of the American Civil War), smokeless modern gunpowder and the modern, conical-cylindrical bullet, derived from the shape of the Minie Ball. But why is it called a ‘cartridge’?

The term ‘cartridge’ as it refers to firearms, has existed a lot longer than modern all-metal cartridges and bullets. A ‘cartridge’ originally referred to a rolled up tube of paper, which contained a pre-measured amount of gunpowder and a projectile (either a lead shot or a Minie Ball, depending on the period). The ball and the powder were seperated inside the cartridge by a twist in the paper. When a soldier needed to load his musket or rifle, he ripped the paper cartridge open, poured a bit of the powder into his flash-pan, closed the frizzen and then poured the rest of the powder down the gun-barrel. He then pushed in the shot or the Minie Ball and then scrunched up the paper cartridge, stuffed it into the gun-barrel and rammed it down with a ramrod.

The modern cartridge bullet as we know it today, containing the bullet and gunpowder in a sealed metal cartridge-casing, came around in the 1840s, however, its introduction was slow. In fact, in the early years of the American Civil War, many soldiers were still firing muzzle-loaded muskets and rifles, similar to the ones their ancestors used in the Revolution. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century saw mass-production of cartridge-bullets which gradually led to the obcelescene of muzzle-loaded, loose-powder firearms.

Multi-shot Firearms

Thusfar, this article has concentrated on single-shot firearms. Pistols, muskets, rifles, blunderbusses and so-forth. The main weakness of these firearms brings me to the next part of this article…firearms that could fire more than one shot between reloadings.

Even the Minie-Ball-shooting rifle of the 1850s and 60s, though faster to reload and more accurate than its 18th century counterpart, the flintlock musket, had one major drawback: It could only fire one shot at a time. Once you loaded it and aimed and fired, you had to reload it all over again. In the heat of battle, this was a waste of precious time. This hazard of early firearms was the kind of problem that kept gunmakers up late at night, wracking their brains for centuries, trying to find a solution.

Various interesting firearms were developed throughout history, in an attempt to invent a gun that could fire more than one round before needing to be reloaded. The famous ‘Pepperbox’ gun or revolver is one of these inventions:

The ‘Pepperbox’ Revolver

Depending on the size and number of barrels, the pepperbox revolver could fire anywhere from five to ten rounds before it had to be reloaded. Pepperbox revolvers were not terribly accurate, but they did allow people to have more firepower on them without also needing more guns.

The modern revolver or “six-shooter”, a handheld firearm capable of firing six bullets in quick succession (hence the term ‘six-shooter’) was developed from the early pepperbox revolver and became a reality in the 1840s. Samuel Colt, the American inventor and firearms manufacturer did not invent the revolver, as some people believe, he merely improved on its design. Early revolvers were blackpowder firearms, requiring the user to load each bullet, powder and wadding one by one. Early cylinders had to be turned by hand and cocked and fired one by one. Sam Colt changed this by producing revolvers that would shoot cartridge-bullets. Cocking the firing-hammer immediately lined up a new bullet and pulling the trigger fired the gun. You still had to cock the revolver again after that shot, before you could fire the next shot, but the basic modern revolver as we know it today, had been invented. This style of revolver was called the “single-action” revolver, because pulling the trigger only fired the gun, it didn’t also rotate the cylinder and cock the weapon again (the later “double-action” revolver would do this, and allow you to fire the gun even faster).

Samuel Colt was many things, but amongst other things, he was a salesman. It was he who practically single-handedly, introduced the world to the modern revolver. Indeed, the revolving-cylinder handgun was so new in the 1840s that it was still called a “pistol”. It wouldn’t be for another few years that the term “revolver” became the accepted term for Colt’s new toy.

From the 1840s until the early 1900s, handheld firearms were limited to revolvers. However, a new invention, the automatic pistol, soon changed things, affecting how fast and how many bullets a person could fire at once.

The automatic pistol was developed in the late 19th century. In its most basic form, the pistol works by pulling the trigger, which sets off a chain reaction. After pulling the trigger, the firing-pin hits the primer-cap on the cartridge, which ignites the gunpowder and fires the bullet. The recoil from the bullet firing forces the slide at the top of the gun to shift backwards, ejecting the spent shell-casing and allowing a new cartridge from the clip stored in the gun-butt, to ascend into the firing-chamber above.

The automatic pistol was a big improvement on the revolver, for various reasons. It was faster to shoot and easier to reload. But an automatic pistol did require more care than a revolver. Failure to strip down and clean the pistol properly could result in the gun jamming and failing to work properly. The simplicity of the revolver meant that most civilians and police-forces stuck with the older firearm for longer, before updating to automatic handguns.

Colt M1911 pistol. One of the world’s most famous and recognisable automatic handguns

In situations where firepower means winning, revolvers were more quickly phased out and replaced with the newer handguns. The Colt M1911, one of the most famous automatic pistols in the world, developed…as the name suggests…in 1911, was the standard-issue sidearm for soldiers and officers in the U.S. Army for nearly 90 years! The Colt 1911 was finally replaced in the 1980s and 1990s by the Beretta 92, however, it continues to be used in various areas in the U.S. Army as well as in some professional police-forces. The fact that the Colt M1911 is now almost 100 years old and still in popular use says something considerable about its design and practicality.

The big problem about writing an article about firearms is that it’s such a vast topic. So far, I’ve covered the development of gunpowder, early firearms and the development of multiple-shot handguns. That’s as far as this particular article will go, however. Additional articles on various other aspects of firearms history may surface in the future.


Battle of the Dauntless – A Short Story

Been a long time since I added anything to the ‘Creative Writing’ area of my blog. This is a short, 2,500-word piece that I finished recently and which I thought I would share with everyone:

Battle of the Dauntless

July, 1804
Northeast Atlantic, west of Spain

Timbers creak and waves slosh gently against a bobbing hull, like so many mothers’ hands reaching to comfort a crying baby. Sunlight, fresh and warm, beams down on white sails, furled for the time-being, and on ropes and rigging, some taut and which creak from tension, some slack and limp from lack of use. On the deck, I watch the men at work, coiling ropes, scrubbing decks and doing general maintenance. I head through one of the hatchways towards the back of the ship and knock on the door of the Great Cabin.
“Come!” a voice calls out. I open the door and step inside.
“Ah! Good morning, Mr. Colton!”
Captain Christopher Peale sits at one end of a table. Capt. Peale is a tall man, some six foot two inches in height and of solid build, with long, dark blond hair done up in the back in a rough ponytail to keep it out of the way. I smile at him in a way that exists between friends.

“Good morning, Christopher,” I said. Behind closed doors, I had decided to indulge in my social rather than professional relationship with the captain. The captain smiled and beckoned me to sit down. Next to the captain, a man in his late thirties, was another man of a similar age. Dr. James Frost. I have known Christopher Peale since we were a pair of ‘snotties’, midshipmen, both aged some twelve years old. Dr. Frost has been our ship’s surgeon these past five. We say ‘surgeon’ but he is both physician and surgeon and so much the better.

“Any news?” Christopher asked. I shook my head.
“Everything is as it should be,” I said.
“Excellent,” said Christopher. “Well Jack, James, I fancy we can help ourselves to the first drink of the day”.

Being First Lieutenant and a close friend and colleague of both the captain and surgeon always brings certain privileges with them, which I was happy to take advantage of. Our morning drink was interrupted when someone knocked on the door.

“Come!” Christopher called out.

Second Lieutenant Arthur Collins or ‘Artie’ as we called him, opened the door.

“Sail ahead, sir!” he said, “You’d best come see!”

Christopher nodded. “Very good. Thank you, Collins. Doctor, back to your quarters; Jack, close the windows and then join me on the foredeck”.

The men left the cabin and I leaned out to close the windows in the ship’s stern. Looking down, I read the large, white letters which spelt out the word ‘Dauntless’ on the stern. I closed the cabin door and headed up on deck.

“You see?” Christopher asked. He pressed a spyglass to my hands. I extended it and observed a ship several yards away. I could make out the red, white and blue French flag flapping in the wind and then I noticed a bright, white flash. The sun glinting off a spyglass lens!

“He’s spotted us!” I said. I handed the glass back to the captain.
“So he has, the dog! Lieutenant Colton, alert the officers, beat to quarters and clear for action!”
“Aye sir!” I said, nodding. “Mr. Collins! Mr. Barkley, Mr. Shears! Beat to quarters and clear for action! Quickly, now!”

Soon, all was a flurry of activity as orders were shouted hither and thither. Piercing notes from the bosun’s pipes squealed and warbled through the air and voices yelled out loud and full of conviction.
“Mr. Jones, run up the colours! Midshipman Bell, two points starboard!” the captain shouted. I rushed below. A marine, dressed in his distinctive red and white uniform stood rapidly beating a drum, setting the pace for action. Men raced towards the gun-decks.

“Cast loose!” I and the other officers shouted and the gun-crews undid the ropes restraining the cannons to the hull of the ship.
“Run out the larboard battery!” yelled the captain, “Roundshot! Carronades and chase-guns to be loaded with grapeshot and case!”

“Run out!” I yelled. My friend Arthur yelled out the same. I bent down next to the nearest gun-crew and helped them to run out their gun. The Dauntless was a 5th Rate Ship-of-the-Line with forty-four guns: Twenty 18-pounders, twenty 12-pounders, four 6-pounder chase-guns as well as eight 18-pounder carronades, not counted in the ship’s armaments.

The view of the sea from the open gunport was small, and running the cannon-muzzle out through the gunport was hard work. Even with the help of the ship rolling in the swell, it still took the entire five-man gun-crew to push out the piece on its gun-carriage or pull it out using ropes and pulleys. Then, the action started.
Nothing could possibly describe over twenty cannons firing in quick succession, one after the other, after the other, after the other! As each order of “Fire!” was given, the gun-captain pulled on the lanyard that operated the gunlock and the whole contraption would explode! White smoke, flames and a jet black iron cannonball would come hurtling out and off into the distance. The gun leaps back with a kick like a stubborn mule, making the gun-deck shake from the blast! Through the gunport I could see the shots smashing into the timbers of the other ship. We had now drawn alongside the enemy which was firing back at us. Heavy iron cannonballs smashed into the hull, showering splinters everywhere!

“Reload!” I shouted. I heard gun-captains yelling out orders which echoed in my ears, a confusion of incomprehensible sounds.

“Worm! Sponge! Cartridge, wad, shot, wad, ram! Prime! Run out! Level! FIRE!”

The gun-decks were filled with choking, blinding smoke enough to make one double over in coughing and sound enough to make one deaf to all things around him. The steady ‘thud!’ of the guns firing, the whistling and droning of shot and the inevitable shattering and splintering of wood and the screams of the maimed, wounded and the fading groans of the freshly deceased filled the air. Through the smoke and blood and splintered wood, youths of fourteen, twelve, ten and even younger, were jogging back and forth in a relay race of death. Slung over their shoulders were cylindrical kegs. These unfortunate lads were the powder-monkeys . A sudden cannon-blast hit the side of the ship! One of the boys was thrown back against a support-beam! He screamed and fell to the ground. I snatched up his empty keg and jogged through the ship.

“Mr. Collins! Mr Barkley keep them spitting! You boys, get a move on! Sharpish, now!”

I sprinted through the ship, sliding down the staircases and ladders until I reached a large, copper-lined room: The Magazine. There, the Ship’s Gunner helped me fill the powder-keg with cartridges before sending me back up to the guns. From there, I headed up on deck to witness the full fury of the action.

The deck was a mess of wood, smoke and bodies. The carronades and chase-guns were firing on the enemy ship while the captain screamed out orders. After taking in sail so that we’d fall behind the enemy, the captain had ordered all sails set and the ship turned hard a’larboard. This swung our ship left, so that it passed by the stern of the enemy ship.

“Mr Shears! Run out the starboard battery!” the captain yelled. We ducked as something whistled past our ears and wrapped itself around a mast! I reached up and untangled a length of chain-shot and held it up to the captain .
“Bloody frogs can’t shoot worth a damn!” he shouted over the roar of cannons. I laughed.
“Take that below and have one of the lads send it back to them proper-like!” he ordered. I passed the chain-shot below with orders to fire it back before helping one of the ship’s boys to carry a wounded man below.

The surgeon’s quarters were below, aft, a room below the captain’s cabin. The windows were opened and Dr. Foster and his Mate were working double-time to attend the injured, which was everything from cuts and scrapes hastily washed and bandaged, to amputations requiring the use of the tourniquet, rum, laudanum, the flesh-knife and the bone-hacksaw.

“Another one, doctor!” I called out, helping the man into the room and sitting him on a bench. The ship rocked from another cannon-blast! But it wasn’t that which was preventing the doctor from paying attention to me. The blood drenching the floor was getting intolerable. The doctor’s loblolly-boy was scooping out handfuls of sand from a sack and throwing it onto the floor to try and soak it up, but wasn’t having an amazing amount of luck. I left them to their work and headed upstairs.

“What’s happening?” I shouted to the third lieutenant.
“Raking fire!” he shouted, “Give us a hand!”
Raking fire was always Captain Peale’s favoured method of attack. Indeed it was probably every captain’s favourite method, given the opportunity. And at the moment, the opportunity was golden.
“Fire as you bear!” I shouted to the men. “With a will, lads! Come on!”
Cannons were run out on their carriages and one by one, the lanyards were pulled and the guns fired!
“Off with the rudder, now!” Arthur shouted, “Gun-captains! On the down-roll…FIRE!”

There was a sickening blast! Shot smashed into the lower hull of the enemy ship, disabling its steering.
“Reload!” I shouted, “On the up-roll boys!…Steady…On the up-roll, FIRE!”

The ship groaned! Cannon-shot smashed into the stern of the French ship, ripping it to pieces! Just then, Fourth Lieutenant Shears ran up to me.

“Captain wants you on deck! Mr. Barkley, you’re to be here and command the guns, Mr. Collins also! Mr. Colton, cap’n wants men to lead boarding-parties!”

Up on deck, we prepared to board. I selected a brace of pistols and muskets and touched my hand to my side to ensure the security of my sabre. Again, it became a muddle of orders shouted out and begging to be heard, like drowning sailors in a sea of words.
“Boarders to me!”
“Reload! Case-shot!”
“Marines! Fix bayonets!”
“Grappling-hooks away! Bring forth boarding-planks! Handsomely, now! Make sure they’re secured!”

We charged across from our ship to the enemy’s. It was almost impossible to see anything. The smoke from the gunfire was as thick as a winter fog in London. Some of us swung over on grappling-hooks while others ran across the boarding-planks, jumping onto the quarterdeck of the enemy ship. I fired both my pistols scoring direct hits before shrugging my musket off my shoulder. Shoot, stab, swing, club! Move on! Sword, swing, stab, left, right! I am given a stark reminder of how hard it is to actually pierce the human torso, said task requiring quite an expenditure of strength on my part with the use of my bayonet. Behind me, I hear the captain charging forward with his men. I turned around for an instant and noticed two carronades on our ship firing caseshot onto the enemy quarterdeck to try and scatter and kill them. Two loud explosions nearby told me that Captain Peale was deploying his weapon of choice: a double-barrelled blunderbuss, a monster that was originally a coach-gun but which had been modified with a spring-loaded bayonet at the front for better use in close-quarters combat . Something black whistled over my head and hit the deck! The grenade rolled along the planking and clattered and bounced down the steps into the inside of the ship. It was followed by a loud blast and screams that alerted all around that it had hit its target!

“Jack! Lieutenant Colton! Take your men below and spike the guns!” the captain shouted as he held off two men with his sword. A dozen men and myself headed below. Spiking of the guns was not immediately necessary; the devastation wreaked by twenty cannons raking the enemy’s stern had already put most of the French guns wholly out of action. The few guns that needed spiking were already spiked by the French to stop us using them. We fought our way through the interior of the ship and then back up onto the quarterdeck where we were once again exposed to the full extent of the battle, with the crews of two ships fighting in a confined space. Men were thrown overboard, shot, stabbed, bludgeoned or slashed as British forces swept through the ship. Supporting fire from our still-active cannons soon gave us the upper hand. By degrees, we managed to corner the French until Christopher managed to get the enemy captain in front of him.
“Your name, Monsieur?” Captain Peale asked.
“Capitan Jacques Petard,” said the French captain. He was significantly older, probably in his fifties, with greying hair and scars from previous battles displayed like medals on his face.
“And do you surrender both your ship and your men to me?”
“Oui, monsieur capitan, and to whom do I have the honour of surrendering my ship?”
“Christopher Peale, Royal Navy, captain of His Majesty’s Ship Dauntless”.

Captain Petard unsheathed his sabre, and held it delicately between his fingers, handing it to Captain Peale, who sheathed it in his empty scabbard.

“Strike your colours,” Captain Peale said, “You and your men will be confined below decks until such time as we have made landfall. Lieutenant Shears, assemble some men to serve as a skeleton crew aboard ship, and half the full complement of marines to maintain order. Let us gather stock of these events and then proceed to repairs”.

The remaining French sailors were then confined to the lower decks of their ship, where marines were posted to guard them. Repairs were started almost immediately, by clearing and cleaning the decks and burying the bodies of sailors from both sides at sea. Each body was sewn up in its own hammock with a cannonball around its ankles to make it sink. The recovering wounded rested in the ship’s infirmary the ship’s carpenter proceeded to sound the vessel to check for damage.
“What orders, sir?” I asked as I directed the men in the repair of the ships.
“Once we’re underway, we’ll set a course East-Northeast”.
“East-Northeast…that would have us sailing to England, sir…”
“It would indeed, Jack. We’re going home. Alert Mr. Jones, will you?”
“Aye sir”.
By the next morning, with most important elements of the ship repaired, we set a course East-Northeast and sailed for home, with our captured prize no more than three ship-lengths behind us at any point during the journey.
“All in all, a very successful action,” Christopher said to myself and the other officers as we gathered in his cabin for our first proper dinner since we set our course for home.
“Indeed sir,” said Lieutenant Collins, brushing back his own blond hair and reaching for a brandy, “A most successful action indeed”.
“And what’s the butcher’s bill?” I asked.
“Fifteen dead, twenty wounded, five of them seriously so”.
“Define serious,” Captain Peale said.
“Two amputations, one concussion, two musket-ball wounds. I’ve removed the musket-balls but those two will have to be rested for a long time before they’re well enough to resume duties again, sir”.

Christopher sighed, “War’s a damnably messy thing, gentlemen. A hellish thing. But the action is done, so let us think of home and to our ships at sea”.

One by one, we raised our glasses and clinked them together.

“To our ships at sea” .

The End


Classic Bling – Buying and Owning a Pocket Watch

I’ll be honest…I’m not a fan of wristwatches. Never have been, am not now, and never will be. I find them uncomfortable, irritating, pedestrian and boring. Plus, I can never find a dial that I like. I’m a simple person and I hate trying to read a watch-dial that has tiny numbers, that has no numbers, or that has a million other things on it, like day, date, month, moonphase, stopwatch, heartrate-monitor and an inbuilt, nuclear-holocaust-grade gieger-counter.

Unfortunately these days, most watches seem to come in one of those three categories. To add to this, I do a lot of things with my hands: Writing, typing, playing the piano and handling heavy stuff. And when I’m doing stuff like that, a wristwatch just gets in the way. I used to have a really bad habit (according to some), of removing my wristwatch all the time and putting it into my pocket whenever I used it, and only taking it out when I wanted to tell the time. Well, after a few years of this, I gave up and decided that for my 21st birthday a few years ago, I’d buy myself a pocket-watch.

I love pocket-watches. Call me kooky and weird if you must, but I do. They’re a classic piece of men’s jewellery which, sadly, has been out of fashion for the best part of the last fifty or sixty years. The last commercially-produced pocket watches were made in the 1970s, and by that, I mean you found them in shop-windows or in magazines. These days? Not on your life.

I wear a pocket-watch on a daily basis. It’s easy to read, it’s classy, I don’t have some ugly manacle on my wrist all the time…and believe me, the pocket-watch is an amazing conversation-starter!

On watch forums, on history forums and just generally online, I’ve heard of people who want to buy pocket watches, either to wear, or to practice watchmaking on, or to give as a present to a friend or relation. Maybe they want to establish a sort of classic dress-style and want the watch to complete their look. Maybe they’re steampunkists looking for that finishing touch to their outfit. But then they start wondering: “Where the hell do I find a pocket-watch?”

The biggest problem with pocket watches is that, since they’re so rarely worn these days, finding one can be a challenge. This is my guide to shopping for a good-quality antique, vintage or hell, even a modern pocket watch! So let’s get to it. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful.

Where to Look?

This is probably the hardest thing. Where do you start looking? The days where you could mail-order a pocket-watch from a magazine or buy one in a regular shop are long gone. But there are still places you can go to find a pocket watch. Here they are:

Antiques Shops.

Duuuuuh! Pocket-watches in antiques shops are usually good quality, but keep in mind that these watches are being sold by professional antiques dealers. Their prices could be scarily expensive. And that’s without spending the money to get the watch serviced, as well! Unless you’ve got money to burn, it’s best to avoid these places.

Watch Shops.

Another rather obvious place. Some watchmakers’ shops do sell pocket-watches. Either modern ones or vintage and antique pocket-watches that they’ve bought, serviced and want to resell, or watches that people have sold or donated to them. Buying a pocket-watch from a watchmaker or a watch-shop is still going to be expensive, but you will at least have the peace-of-mind in knowing that you’re dealing with a professional who not only knows his stuff (hopefully!) but that you’re also buyinig a pocket-watch that has already been serviced, saving you a nice bit of money.

Flea-markets and watch-shows.

Flea-markets, bric-a-brac markets, watch-shows, junk-shops, thrift-shops and other dealers of second-hand junk are another nice place to look for pocket watches, however, these places can be fraught with various dangers, such as the quality of the timepiece, the knowledge of the seller, and of course…the fact that the watch is second-hand, being sold outside of a professional environment.

You might get amazingly lucky and buy a good-quality pocket-watch secondhand. But you still have to pay to get the watch serviced. You wouldn’t buy a car without having it serviced before driving it, would you? No. Neither should do that with a pocket-watch. They’re mechanical devices that require care and attention. If you do find a nice pocket-watch, then you have to deal with the seller. If the seller is ignorant of the quality of the watch, you could probably knock the price down pretty substantially before buying it, or, if the seller knows *exactly* what he’s selling, you might not get anywhere. The last factor is that you’re buying the watch second-hand outside of a professional environment. What do I mean by this?

By this, I mean that the watch most likely has not been serviced. Servicing means that the watch has been taken to a watchmaker, it has been examined, disassembled, examined, cleaned, examined, lubricated, reassembled, examined, timed for accuracy and then put back together into its complete state again. When buying any pocket-watch second-hand, remember that you will need to have it serviced and that you should factor at least $200 into the service-cost. So if you buy a watch for $100, it’ll cost about $300 (or more, depending on what needs to be done) to get the watch to a satisfactory, working condition.

Buying online.

Some watch-collectors or watchmakers or watch-sellers love selling stuff on eBay, and this can be a very nice place to look for watches, provided that you know what you’re looking for. As pocket-watches can be expensive, people aren’t likely to try and cheat you out of money, because if you buy a dud from them, they know that they’re probably never going to hear the end of it from you. Stick to online shops or sellers with high reputations.

Apart from eBay, there are also plenty of watch-sites online that sell new or used pocket-watches. These are also excellent places to search for pocket-watches, as each watch-listing will usually include all the important details about the watch’s manufacture, quality, age and service-history. Prices might be a bit high, so keep that in mind.

What to Look For?

Now you know where to look, the next thing to know is what to look for. Don’t forget that pocket watches have been around for about five hundred years. There were literally hundreds, if not thousands of watchmakers, making everything from the sensible, to the sensational, to the senseless! Making…er…sense…of all these watches and the varying qualities is important, so that you know what to look for.

Wanting to buy a pocket-watch is only half the battle. Knowing what makes quality is the other half. As most pocket-watches these days are ones that you’ll be buying second-hand, keep an eye on the following:


Pocket-watches have been around for centuries. There are millions of pocket-watches out there made by thousands of watchmakers. How do you know what’s good quailty? A general rule of thumb is: Never buy a pocket-watch if you can’t type the name of the watch-company or watchmaker into a Google Search, and find information on it. If nobody’s bothered to write about this company or watchmaker and post it online, there’s probably a damn good reason. The two main reasons are: Rarity (which means if your watch breaks, you can’t find parts for it!) or poor quality (which means you’re wasting money having it serviced!).

Stick to well-known watchmakers. Companies such as: Waltham, Hamilton, Elgin, South Bend, Rockford, Illinois, Patek-Philippe (if you can afford it!), Breuget (again, if you can afford it!), Tissot, Ball and Omega, to name just a few. All these companies made watches of good quality which are worth looking at.

General Condition

Never…ever…buy a broken pocket-watch. Buying a nonfunctioning watch is fine, but not a broken one. What’s the difference?

A ‘nonfunctioning’ watch is a watch which is in perfect mechanical condition. It just won’t run. This can be remedied by a trip to the watchmaker. Once it’s cleaned and reassembled, it should work wonderfully! So if you find a watch that’s in good condition but which doesn’t run, buy it and send it to the watchmaker.

A broken watch is…a broken watch. One with damaged components, one with missing components (even worse!) or one which is being sold ‘for parts’. If you’re unlucky enough to buy a broken watch, depending on the brand of watch, it may be possible to get the watch fixed and working, but this could mean a higher servicing-bill. Keep that in mind.

The next thing to look for in buying a watch is general condition…

Case and Caseback

In the strictest term, a ‘watch’ is the movement, the mechanics inside the case. The case around the watch is just something to keep it safe. Watch-cases are made up of various components:

– Bow. (Pronounced like ‘throw’). The bow is the round metal ring or loop on the top of the watch-case. This is where you clip your watch-chain to. A good bow should be centered properly and not too loose or likely to part company with the case.

– Bezel. The bezel is the metal securing-ring around the crystal. A nice bezel should be free from brassing, scratches and dents.

– Crystal. The crystal (some people like to call them the ‘glass’) is the circle of glass, plastic or crystal over the watch-dial. Crystals should be free from scratches, chips and cracks.

– Caseback. The caseback is the back of the case (duh!). Some casebacks have small cartouches or blank, empty spots on them. These were there for people to engrave their monograms or initials on. A good caseback should be free from scratches, dents and brassing.

– Crown. The crown is the round, corrugated knob at the top of the watch, above the pendant and below the bow. The crown is used to wind the watch, and in most cases, set it to the right time. A crown shouldn’t be too loose and wobbly. It should turn smoothly and evenly when you wind the watch and it should pop out smoothly and click back down smoothly when you set the time.


Watch-dials should be clean and easy to read, without any hairline cracks or chips or faded lettering and markings. A small note: A hairline crack does NOT damage the whole integrity of the dial: Dials were placed on metal backing-plates which secured them to the watch-movement, so a crack on the dial doesn’t mean that it’s going to fall to pieces.


A pocket-watch typically has three hands. Hour, Minute and Second. In most pocket-watches, the second-hand is a tiny thing which spins around the ‘seconds subdial’, which is a smaller, inset dial at the bottom of the watch, at the six o’clock point. Make sure that all the hands match and that they’re proportionate to the size of the watch.


The ‘movement’ is the mechanics inside the watch. Check for cracks, rust, missing screws, wobbly bits that shouldn’t be, and stationary bits that shouldn’t be. Most importantly of all, check the balance. The balance is the the heart of the watch. It’s the bit that swings back and forth, making the watch go ‘tick-tock’. Balances can be pretty delicate, so don’t touch it, just look at it. Check to see that the balance-spring (more commonly called a ‘hairspring’) is perfectly coiled. If it’s tangled up or if it’s off-center, that will need to be looked at by a watchmaker.

While you’re looking at the movement, search for the following features…

If you’re buying an American-made vintage or antique pocket-watch, look for the serial-number. The serial-number on the movement can tell you how old the watch is, how many of this model were made and how long they were made for. Also look for words like “Jewels” and “Adjusted”. Good quality pocket-watches always had jewels in them. These are typically rubies or sapphires which are used as bearings to cut down on friction. Cutting down on friction means that the watch runs smoother and keeps better time. Aim to buy a watch with at least seven jewels. The traditional jewel-counts for quality pocket watches started at seven, and then went up to nine, eleven, fifteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one and lastly, twenty-three jewels. A seven-jewel watch will give you decent timekeeping. A watch with more jewels should give you better timekeeping, but don’t expect quartz-watch accuracy…that’s not going to happen. Ever.

If you find the word ‘adjusted’ inside your watch, you might find extra words like “Adjusted to *X* positions”.

There are eight possible ‘adjustments’ that can be made to a watch. Adjustments for position (there are six of these) meant that the watch was expected to keep accurate time, no matter how you held the watch: upside down, right side up, flat on a table, flipped upside down on a table, on a stand on its side…anything. Then, there are two other adjustments: Isochronism and Temperature.

Isochronism (say that six times fast! Pronounced ‘eye-sock-row-nism’) is the ability of the watch to keep time regardless of the mainspring’s level of tension. All watches should be adjusted for this. If you find ‘Temperature’ engraved on the watch-movement, it means that the watch has been adjusted to keep time in extremes of temperature: Freezing cold and boiling heat (from about 0 degrees celsius to about 45 degrees, or 32 degrees farenheit and about 115 degrees).

Buying a highly jewelled, adjusted watch in good condition will assure you of good timekeeping once it’s been serviced by a professional. Don’t bother buying a mechanical pocket-watch without at least seven jewels in it…it’s not worth it. Watches like that were designed to be used until they broke, after which, they were meant to be thrown out. Don’t waste your money on that.

Buying your Watch

Now you know where to look, and what to look for. Antiques shops, watch-shops, flea-markets, eBay, online shops. What to check for on a good quality watch. Now you want to buy a watch. What do you do?

How much does a pocket-watch cost? This is probably the first thing you’re asking.

That really depends. I could go out right now and buy a mechanical pocket watch made in China for $15 (and yes, I have actually done that, a long time ago). But that $10 Chinese-made piece of junk isn’t going to last you any, and it’s not gonna look nice when you wear it. So how much should you expect to pay for a quality watch?

Modern Pocket-Watches

Modern pocket-watches are usually quartz pocket watches with plated watch-cases. A simple quartz pocket-watch can be had for about $10. It’ll last forever, it’s easy to maintain, and…that’s it. But when most people think about pocket watches, they imagine those old-timey wind-up things that you see in old movies. How much does one of those cost?

Antique & Vintage Mechanical Pocket-Watches

A word of warning: When buying mechanical pocket watches, newer is not always better. A modern, good-quality mechanical pocket-watch might be a nice thing to buy, and some of them are indeed great quality and worth the money, but remember that these days, most pocket watches are manufactured as showpieces and decoration…not as practical timepieces.

If you want a mechanical pocket-watch, it’s better to buy a vintage or antique watch from a famous watch-company. Why? Because back when these watches were made, quality-control, testing and general manufacturing standards were a LOT higher. This is because they had to be…they were the only watches around, so they had to be good quality. Unlike today when everything is a throwaway affair, back then, you bought a pocket-watch to last you your whole life, so quality was much better.

A watch like that can be had for anywhere from a hundred dollars (not including servicing) to around $500 or more, depending on quality, case-metal, reputation of the maker and of course, the functionality of the watch. Solid gold and silver watches are very hard to buy cheap. Unscrupulous people love buying watches like this…and they rip out the movement…they take off the crystal, they remove the dial…and they melt the watch-case down for scrap. Because of this, solid-gold watches or solid silver watches are getting increasingly expensive. Unless you have a lot of money, forget about owning one of those. Whatever you pay for your pocket-watch, be it $100 or $1,000, always remember to factor in another $250 for the servicing that the watch will have to undergo before you can use it!


If you want a gold watch, the best thing to go for is a gold-filled watch. Vintage and antique gold-filled watches are more common, they cost less and they looked just as nice. But just to clarify: Gold-filling is NOT gold-plating.

The Difference?

Gold-filling is done by getting two sheets of gold and sandwiching them either side of a base-metal (brass) and welding them together nice and solid. This creates the appearance of solid gold without the heart-attack-inducing price-tag. Because it was cheaper to produce but just as pretty, most watch-case companies made cases like this. They lasted a long time and they looked pretty. When checking a case for gold-content, gold-filled cases are usually marked “Gold filled” or “Guaranteed to wear for 5/10/20/25 years”. The longer the case is guaranteed to ‘wear’ or last for, the better the gold-filling and the better the quality. Gold-filled cases were usually 14kt, but this can vary.

Gold-plating is done by immersing a base-metal watch-case (made of brass) into a solution and electroplating it with gold. This is also cheaper and gives the appearance of gold. But unlike gold-filling, which will last for decades, you’d be lucky if gold-plating lasts a year. The gold-plating is often so thin (only a few microns) that enough rubbing and handling of the watch-case will soon rub all the gold right off. On the other hand, it takes decades of heavy use to do the same thing to a gold-filled case.

What if you want a silver watch-case instead? If you can’t afford real, sterling or coin-silver, then you’ll have to settle for silver-plate, or you could do the next step down and buy a watch with a nickel case. Nickel might sound cheap, but it can give a nice, silvery look to a watch at a fraction of the price.

Another thing you should consider is the case-style that you want. This won’t be too hard, there are only two. The first case-style is the ‘open-face case’. This means that you have the case and the bezel and the crystal and the dial, with the crown at 12 o’clock. The other case-style is the ‘hunter-case’. A hunter-case pocket-watch is one with a lid that closes over the watch-dial. This can be a useful feature for some people, who want to prevent the watch-crystal from getting scratched, cracked or chipped. A hunter-case watch is opened by pressing down on the crown, which releases a spring-loaded catch inside the watch-case to open the lid. Closing a hunter-case watch should be done by pressing down on the crown, closing the lid and then releasing the crown to keep it shut. Just snapping the case-lid shut can damage the catch and the metal on the edge of the case.


On most pocket-watches these days, setting the time is pretty easy. You pull out the crown, turn the hands and then pop the crown back down. Vintage pocket-watches, however, had about four ways to set the time. Knowing which one of these applies to your new antique or vintage pocket watch is important…doing it wrong could mean your watch has to go back to the watchmaker!

– Key-set.

Key-set watches are the oldest of the oldest pocket watches. These watches were set by using the watch’s winding-and-setting key. Watches like these were obsolete by the second half of the 19th century, though.

– Pendant/Crown-set.

The most common kind. You pull out the crown and turn it to set the hands and then push it back in. If your watch-crown doesn’t pop up neatly when you tug on it to set the time, don’t force it! It could be one of the following…

– Lever-set.

A lever-set watch (which was mandatory for ALL railroad-quality pocket-watches) works by unscrewing the bezel, pulling out the small, metallic setting-lever and turning the crown to set the time. Once the correct time is set, the lever is pushed back in and the bezel is screwed back on.

– Pin-set.

Pin-set watches are similar to lever-set watches, only, instead of pulling something out, you push something in. In this case, the setting-pin. On watches like this, the setting-pin is located near the watch-bow. You press down the pin and that allows you to turn the crown to set the hands. Once the hands are set, you release the pin and let the watch run.


Pocket-watches are rarely sold with their necessary watch-chains. Normally, you’re going to have to buy them seperately. A pocket-watch must be worn with its chain. Not only does it look nicer, it’s also a security feature. The chain catches the watch and prevents it from becoming abstract art on the pavement, if it should fall out of your pocket. The annoying thing about watch-chains is that they can be even MORE expensive than the watches themselves!

Solid gold watch-chains cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. The cheapest I’ve found is $400. On the other hand, you can get a nice gold-filled chain for a fraction of that price, and a nice, polished brass watch-chain for even less! My brass Albert watch-chain cost all of $20 and it looks great!

When buying a chain, you want to make sure that it’s got a decent length (at least 10-14 inches long), that it’s strong and that the swivel-clips work. The clip is, after all, what holds the watch to the chain, so examining its integrity is vital.

There are four main types of watch-chains around today: Albert, Double Albert, ring-clip and belt-clip.

The Albert and Double Albert (named for His Royal Highness, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria) are the most iconic of watch-chains. They feature a swivel T-bar at the end of the chain and were designed to be worn with jackets and waistcoats.

The ring-clip chain was designed to be worn with a pair of trousers. You put the watch into your watch-pocket and clipped the chain to your belt-loop.

A pocket-watch with a ring-clip chain

The belt-clip chain was also meant to be worn with trousers, where you put your watch into your watch-pocket and clipped the chain to your belt.

Wearing your Pocket-Watch

This is probably one of the most confusing things about pocket-watches in the 21st century. You’ve bought a nice, good-quality pocket watch. A 1902 Ball railroad watch with 21 jewels, eight adjustments and a pretty, gold-filled case and a nice, long watch-chain. Only…now…you don’t know what to do with it.

If you have absolutely no desire to actually wear your pocket watch, then another thing you can do with it is buy a pocket-watch stand. They’re cheap and easy to get online and you can put your watch (with the chain) onto your stand and use it as a clock on your desk or your dressing-table! That way, you can use it without using it…if that makes sense.

However, if you actually bought your watch and chain to wear it, but don’t know how…read on.

Now, a rather irrelevant piece of information is that I work as a volunteer in a charity shop. While helping out a customer there last week, she commented on my watch-chain and wondered what was on the end of it. I showed her, and this sparked a conversation between her and her friends about the pocket-watches that their fathers and grandfathers used to wear. She then asked me if you HAD to have a waistcoat (which is what I was wearing at the time) to wear a pocket watch?

The answer is ‘no’. I’ve been wearing a pocket-watch for the past two years, but I only bought a waistcoat a few months ago. Sadly, there is a HUGE misconception that you MUST own a three-piece suit, or at least a waistcoat, to wear a pocket-watch, and this tends to put people off. Maybe they don’t have a suit or a waistcoat, maybe they don’t want to wear it, but they feel that they have to. This simply isn’t true. Granted, the three-piece suit isn’t as prevelant today as it was sixty or seventy years ago, but you can still wear a pocket watch with modern dress. You just have to be creative.

Pocket-watches can be worn in a variety of ways; wearing one with a waistcoat is simply the most common one. There are a few ways you can wear a pocket watch, and here they are:

Suit-jacket breast-pocket.

Most suit-jackets or suit-coats will have a buttonhole in the left lapel. That’s not just there to look weird or to put a flower into…it’s also where you put your watch-chain! Inserting the T-bar of an Albert-chain into the buttonhole from the front will keep the T-bar out of sight and keep the chain securely in-place. Your watch and the rest of your chain sits snugly in the jacket’s breast-pocket. You can, if you like, hang the rest of your chain out of your pocket, if you don’t want it cluttering up your breast-pocket and making it look too bulky.

Trousers watch-pocket.

Not many people are aware of this, but often when you buy trousers or jeans, they come with enigmatic little pockets, usually on the right side, near the hip. Useless for keys, mobile-phones, coins and condoms, these were actually added to jeans to serve as…you guessed it…watch-pockets!

Due to the “designer” fad of jeans at the moment, not all fifth-pockets will accomadate a pocket-watch, but most of the traditionally-styled jeans should present no problem at all. Just slip your pocket-watch into your trousers or jeans watch-pocket and then clip your ring-clip chain to the nearest convenient belt-loop, or slide your belt-clip chain over your belt. This latter chain is best clipped onto the belt from behind the belt, instead of in front, so that the clip doesn’t snap off the belt accidently when you pull on it. You may notice that the watch will sit in the pocket rather snugly – this is because you’re not meant to shove your fingers in there. Instead, pull on the watch-chain to slide the watch out instead.

Waistcoat pocket.

Last but not least, the classic way: Wearing a pocket-watch with a waistcoat. To do this, you’ll need an Albert or Double-Albert chain. A pocket-watch can be worn with a double or single-breasted waistcoat and in any one of the two (or four) pockets. It’s really a matter of personal choice. Which-ever pocket is selected, the chain should be inserted into a buttonhole so that the top of the chain is in line with the top of the watch-pocket.

Caring for your Pocket Watch

Now that you have your pocket-watch, how do you look after it?


A pocket-watch should be wound once each day, either when you wake up, or when you go to sleep. Winding it more than once a day is not damaging to the watch, but it serves absolutely no purpose. A functional pocket-watch should be wound at least twelve turns. If it doesn’t, then it needs to be checked by a watchmaker. A pocket-watsh should be able to be wound right up and let to to run. If it’s wound up tight and it doesn’t run, it needs to be serviced. ‘Overwinding’ is a misnomer. It doesn’t mean that the watch has been wound too tightly and won’t run, it means that it’s been wound fully, but that the watch is too dirty internally, to run properly. This can be fixed with a routine servicing.

Storing your Watch

When you’re not wearing your watch, you should keep it in a clean, dry, dust-free place. In a jewellery-box, on a watch-stand or on a table where it won’t get bumped. Laying your watch on its back on your bedside table when you’re not using it (such as before going to bed) is perfectly fine.

My two pocket-watches sitting and hanging from their watch-stands on my desk, in company with my other great passion…my fountain pens!

Caring for your Watch

The caseback of the watch should be opened as rarely as possible, to prevent dust from getting inside the movement. Never try any of your own mechanics on your watch unless you’re actually studying watchmaking. The only exception to this is moving the regulator to get the watch to keep better time.

Keep your watch away from water, heights and dust. Antique and vintage pocket-watches are not waterproof or shockproof and both water and a significant-enough jolt are enough to send them back to the watchmaker. Keep the watch dust-free by keeping the caseback closed at all times unless you really need to open it.

Servicing your Watch

In the old days, a pocket-watch had to be serviced every two years. These days, you should have it serviced every five years (if you use it regularly) or every ten years (if you don’t). It’s important to find a watchmaker who will do a good job servicing your watch. If he charges less than $100 for a servicing…find another guy. If he promises to have the watch back to you quicker than two weeks…find another guy. If this person’s idea of a watchmaker is someone who changes batteries, does engraving and puts on watch-straps…find another guy.

Pocket-watches are delicate, fine machines that only an expert watchmaker should service. Servicing will cost at least $100-$200 (sometimes more, if the watch is exceptionally fine or exceptionally terrible!) and should take about 2-4 weeks. There’s over a hundred tiny little components inside a pocket-watch and they all have to be checked for integrity and quality, so servicing a pocket-watch takes time. Don’t expect it to be done in a hurry.