Is the pocket watch really dead as disco? I certainly hope not. The best of them are beautiful, stylish timekeepers. In the original Star Wars, Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s light saber and then muses on the saber and the blaster that has supplanted it.
"This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon... for a more civilized age.”
And not to get all Obi-Wan Kenobi on you, but pocket watches are the light sabers of the watch world. Unlike so many of the gross, clumsy wrist clocks we’re saddled with today—they’re elegant watches from a more civilized age.
One of the finest American-made examples from the golden age of pocket watches—roughly 1870 to 1920 or so—was the 23-jewel Hamilton 920. In the golden age dials were enamel, not metal, and they were hand painted.
The 920 was called the “Masterpiece of Masterpieces” in Hamilton ads.
It was their top of the line watch throughout production, from 1911-1924. Prices ranged from $115 up to $200, depending on the gold content and style of the case. That was pretty spendy, considering a brand new Ford Model T cost around $300 when the Hamilton 920's production run ended.
I have a nice example of the 920 in my collection.
It’s a classic looking watch with a roman numeral dial, Breguet hands, and 14K solid yellow gold swing out case. It’s what collectors call triple signed; meaning the case, dial, and movement are all marked Hamilton. This is something to look for as many watches have been re-dialed or re-cased over the years. And it does affect value.
The 920 is a gentleman’s watch; smaller than the big railroad watches that made Hamilton’s reputation, but no less accurate. My 920 has gained an average of 2.9 seconds a day over the course of the past two weeks. That's well within modern Swiss COSC chronometer specs—which means between minus four and plus six seconds a day.
Chronometer is the industry term for a highly accurate watch. Or superlative chronometer, as Rolex prefers to call their watches. The standard is the same for all watches tested, but Rolex likes to gild the lily just a wee bit. Hey, they didn’t get to be Rolex by being modest.
So, a gain of 2.9 seconds a day isn’t too bad for my Hamilton, which was made in 1919. Hamilton's meticulous records show it went to the finishing department on April 18, 1919.
My 920 was the gold standard (literally) for a gentleman’s watch in 1919. Would Obi-Wan wear this elegant watch from a more civilized era? Maybe...but the odds are against it. After all, the light saber was a LIGHT saber, not a Civil War cavalry sword.
Perhaps he would consider something like this…
Tom Ford Breaks Bad
Leave it to Tom Ford to reimagine the pocket watch for the postmodern world. The architect turned designer and movie director—who outfits Daniel Craig as James Bond with beautiful clothes and accessories— can always be counted on to take classic styles and interpret them with a modern filter, in his own inimitable way.
That’s what Ford did when he took the new Apple Watch and made it into a pocket watch. New York Times reporter Matthew Schneier snapped a photo of it in London at a show (above) and shared it on social media. It's old school pocket watch meets Star Wars.
In an era when the multitudes would never dream of carrying an elegant anachronism like the 920, millions do carry pocket watches every day. It’s just that today they are called smartphones.
In that kind of crazy world, the stylish Ford pocket Apple Watch makes perfect sense. It’s also to classic pocket watches what the light saber is to cavalry sabers—and therefore, the perfect watch for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Q.E.D.