VERNET, Emile Jean-Horace
“…Nonetheless, my turn that way is in my veins and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist…” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Greek Interpreter.
The man Holmes refers to as “Vernet” [Pronounced: ‘Ver-nay’], is Horace Vernet, a French painter who lived from 1789-1863.
“…The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch chain, in memory of the occasion…” – Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia”.
In several of the Sidney Paget illustrations, and in the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett, one often finds long gold chains hanging around gentlemen’s waistcoats. What are they?
The answer is that they are watch-chains. One must remember that in the 19th century, a gentleman wore a pocket watch, not a wristwatch. The watch was clipped to the chain, which was then threaded through the buttonhole of a waistcoat and fastened in place by buttoning up the coat. The watch would sit in one of the waistcoat’s pockets. There were two kinds of chains used by gentlemen in the Canon.
The first of these is the most obvious, and is called the Double Albert. Named for Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, the Double Albert had two equal lengths of chain trailing away from a T-bar in the middle, sometimes with a shorter fob-drop chain in the middle. A watch was clipped to one half of the chain, a watch-fob (in Holmes’s case, a gold sovereign) was clipped to the middle chain and another item (anything from a match-case to a compass to a pocket-knife) was clipped to the other half of the chain, with the two longer lengths of chain going into corresponding left and right pockets. In older times, a watch-key was kept on one half of the Double Albert (see below for ‘Watch Keys’), but this function became redundant with the invention of crown-wind and crown-set pocket watches in the 1850s.
The second style of chain was the Single Albert, which had a single length of chain trailing off the T-bar. This style came about with the invention of keyless pocket watches where it wasn’t necessary to have another length of chain to hold the watch-key. Some Single Alberts still have a short fob-drop chain which a watch-fob could be attached to, for decoration.
“…Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the keyhole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the hole, marks where the key has slipped. What sober man’s key could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a drunkard’s watch without them…” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Sign of Four”
In this day and age of self-winding/automatic and stem-wind manual mechanical watches and battery-powered quartz watches, many people are clueless to the fact that prior to the 1850s, all watches were wound up with a key. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the Double Albert chain was created, to hold a watch-key. The key was used to wind the watch and set the time, usually the one key performed both functions. It would not be until the late 19th century that keywind watches finally disappeared, to be replaced by crown-wind pocket watches. This made one half of the Double Albert chain redundant, but people soon found other things to clip onto it. A watch and key are shown below:
“…’return ticket from Mackleton in the north of England’, said Holmes, withdrawing it from the watch-pocket…” – Dr. Watson, “The Priory School”.
A ‘watch pocket’ is any outer pocket on a waistcoat where a pocket watch is stored. Some people say that you should put the watch into the pocket that is opposite to your dominant hand, however, this isn’t a hard and fast rule.