Saturday, April 22, 2017

Watch Strings or Ribbons

     The Gray Horse has partnered with Michael Halbert to offer reproduction ribbon watch strings! They are made with vintage ribbon, charms, seals, keys, and/or tassels, etc.  There are lots of variations.  So, what is a watch string, you ask?

Original with Ribbon
(Courtesy of the Victorian and Albert Museum)

     Watch strings were usually made with ribbon or woven tapes.  They were worn fairly early starting in the 17th century, sometimes around the neck and/or at the waist on a sash/belt. We also see them worn in the 18th century at waist level.  The ways in which they were worn up into the 19th century emulate the earlier fashions, sometimes with a twist (including seeing chains wrapped around a woman's neck in the Regency and Victorian periods that was connected to their watch and then said watch was hung or put into a watch pocket).  The Pragmatic Costumer wrote a blog post in 2014 which shows lots of lovely examples and useful information as well.

Original with Woven Tape
(Courtesy of the Victorian and Albert Museum)

     I have written posts about equipage/chatelaines over the past year or so that you can read here and here.  Further research has been done that suggests that they were also called an "equipage," "hanger," "string," or "chain with spring swivel."  This includes the watch and accessories that is now known as a chatelaine, but that term wasn't used until 1828 when the French magazine, The World of Fashion, announced a new accessory called the "La Chatelaine."  What a great marketing scheme!

     So what else have I found out about how they were worn?  

     Men would have had a fob (or pocket) sewn into their breeches to put their watch into.  It had a chain or "string" attached to it.  The chain/string hung down outside of the breeches and usually held a seal, key, charm, dangle, pendant, etc., of their fancy.  Men also may have placed their watch inside of their weskit (or vest) pocket, and if they did, then the chain/string would be hanging outside of said pocket.  

     As we get into the 19th century, the watch chain gets more elaborate and in some cases connect to the weskit with watches stretching outward, and being placed into a weskit pocket on each side.  My past articles show more examples in portraits and prints; however, below is one of William Wollaston, ca. 1759.  The weskits and coats were longer, but you can just see the seals/charms/keys peeking out from underneath.  As weskits get shorter, you can see more of the chain/string hanging down.

William Wollaston, ca. 1759, by Thomas Gainsborough
(Wikimedia Commons)

John Cockburn Ross, 1780
(Wikimedia Commons)

     Then we must talk about the women.  The general way in which women attached their watches was by using a hook.  The most common had a tongue style hook on the back that was pushed into and behind the waist band of the petticoat.  It had a number of chains hanging down with items they may have used when working. Some of these items were extremely elaborate, and others not so much.  Another style was specifically for the watch - which also included seals, charms, keys, pendants, dangles, etc.  This style was made with chain/string just as the men's were.  I have also seen them made of pearls that hang down from or over a sash as in the portrait of Margaret Sutherland dated 1792 or Marie Antoinette.  The sash or ribbon around the waist was a trend that started in the late 1770's and continued on and off into the late 19th century.

Margaret Sutherland dated 1792 
(Wikimedia Commons)

Marie Antoinette and her two children walking in the Park of Trianon (center) 
my reproduction of her watch strings on each side (both sold)

Blue and White Roller Print Gown, possibly for a young girl 
with lined watch pocket at the high waist dated 1820
(How the Watch was Worn)

     The chain/string also may have been worn within a pocket sewn into one of the two pockets which were worn tied around one's waist UNDER the petticoat (sometimes there was only one).  I have personally found it easier to have my pockets in between the under and outer petticoat for ease of reach of whatever I put inside. The watch itself would be in its own pocket inside the pocket.  The chain/string may have been hidden within the main compartment of the pocket in which to protect it instead of hanging outside of the petticoat. There is also an example shown above a pocket sewn into the top band of the petticoat for the watch to sit into.  I have seen one for an 18th century pocket, but it is eluding my search as of this writing, but there are pockets in petticoats all throughout the 19th century - but in the 18th it was common for the watch to hang down the front of the petticoat.

     Another way in which a chain/string could have been attached was possibly from a "stay hook."  I am not familiar with what a stay hook looks like, so when it was mentioned by Cummins (How the Watch was Worn), I was intrigued.  I think that stay hooks were generally on the front of a pair of stays and often of silver, steel, metal, or decorated with gemstones and/or paste.  Cummins mentions that the watch chain/string was hooked to the stay hook.  Supposedly the stay hook was "a waist hook with front plaque and smaller linked plaques most likely for a watch that we now call a watch chatelaine."

     I decided to do a search on-line and found a currently deaccessioned pair of stays for sale with Sarah Elizabeth Gallery Antiques showing bird and stag figural hooks.   I do not think this is what they they mean to hang a watch from; however, if these pair of stays had a stomacher front, I could see hanging my watch chain from the hook on the side to hang down in front of my gown.  Or, were these hooks added later?  I am intrigued enough to do more research on this.

Sarah Elizabeth Gallery Antiques

Side view showing sewn in hip pads
(Sarah Elizabeth Gallery Antiques)

     I have found reference to stay hooks within advertisements, so they were a "thing."

Stay Hook mentioned for sale
Boston Weekly News-Letter, 29 March 1750

     Now to the watch strings that I have in my shop!  They are really awesome, and I cannot wait to see everyone wearing them!  They measure about 9 inches long, come with a ring and swivel hook on one end, and the other has seals, charms, keys, and other adornments.  They are made with vintage and new ribbon and a tape style version.  

     For the women, I can add a shepherd style hook on the end so that you can hang it from your petticoat, and move the swivel clip on the other end for your watch (or not as many of these don't really need the watch and were worn for decoration) if doing 18th century.  

     The trade card below is from Marie Anne Viet and Thos. Mitchell, Jewelers, 1742.  It mentions all sorts of curiosities "in gold, silver, mother of pearl, tortoise shell, agat, amber, ivory...equipages after the newest and silver chains, strings for watches, seals, pendants"...notice the awesome detail of the card!  I've included it in original size so they can be seen. On each side of the clock are strings hanging with all manner of items - the bows remind me of those in my Georgian bow earrings - but I digress!

Marie Anne Viet and Thos Mitchell Jewelers, 1742 
Trustees of the British Museum

Hugh Douglas Hamilton, R.H.A., Arthur Hill, 
2nd Marquess of Downshire 1785-90
(Wikimedia Commons)

     The watch strings will be available in my on-line shop starting mid-May, but I will have them for purchase at the Fort Frederick Market Fair in Big Pool, Maryland from 27-30 April, and again at the Mount Vernon Battle Reenactment from 6-7 May 2017.  

Galerie des Modes, Figure 6e, 1779
(Wikimedia Commons)

Fashionable Spring Walking Dresses, fashion plate, hand-colored engraving on paper, 
published by John Bell in La Belle Assemblie, London, June, 1808 (the ribbon is hung over the sash on her gown)

     Prices start at $40 for some of the plainer styles, and up to $75 for the silver set.





1.  How the Watch was Worn, A Fashion for 500 Years by Genevieve Cummins, Antique Collector's Club, Ltd., 2010

2.  Sarah Elizabeth Gallery Antiques, on-line

3.  The History of Underclothes by C. Willett Cunningham, Dover Publications, 1992 (taken from a 1951 edition)

4.  Wikimedia Commons