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Monday, April 8, 2019

19th Century Bling ~ Watch Chains & Fobs

My maternal grandmother was a pack rat. We discovered this years ago when, at her insistence, the family began cleaning out her home and readying it to sell.

After three days of sorting, my sister, mother and I sat down to go through her jewelry boxes. The memories were fun – the bird and flower and dragonfly pins she always wore when teaching because her kindergarten and first grade students loved them. [The articulated owl was my favorite.] We found several cameos. And pearls, of all lengths. Seems GGG-Great Grandmother Grace loved pearls.

In a box marked “Keepsakes” we found hat pins and buttons and old marbles. And a watch fob. The card with it says it belonged to GGG’s father, my Great Grandfather Ole, a Norwegian wheat farmer from North Dakota.

The chain is nothing fancy but there is a bit of bling on it that brought a wonderful surprise. The square gold locket fob hanging from the center held an old photo of my Great Grandmother Julia.

The find got me thinking: what kind of bling would you find on a gentleman’s dressing table in the 1800s?

A fancy button waiting to be sewn back onto a vest. We found a few of those, military coat buttons mostly, carefully pinned to cards identifying the owners.

Cufflinks of gold, perhaps declaring the gentleman's membership in an organization like the Masons.

The most common bit of bling would likely be a pocket watch and chain, that extra little something that showed a man's taste, his position, and sometimes offered a glimpse into his life.

The pocket watch has been around since the 1500s. Originally a status symbol only the very rich could afford, by the 19th century most anyone who wanted one could buy one.

Attached to the pocket watch would be a chain, one end secured to his clothing, the other to the watch. Most commonly, the chain would hook through a button hole on his vest or coat, leaving the chain to drape across his middle to the pocket containing the watch. The chain was functional--it kept his watch attached to his person should it accidentally slip from the pocket--but it could also be jewelry.

My Great Grandfather's watch chain was made of human hair. I assume the chain was braided by Julia for Ole--perhaps it was a gift for him when they were betrothed. I can imagine him, all spiffed up and looking proud, with that chain and fob adorning his vest.

What is a fob, you ask? Fobs are medallions that would hang from the end of a gentleman’s watch chain. Their purpose was to help pull the watch from their vest pocket.

They could be made of the same material as the chain: gold, silver, hair, etc. Here's a good example - the fob is the small length of braided hair chain hanging by the button finding.

Do you see the loop at the end? From there the gentleman could hang almost any bit of bling he wished. The fob could display the family crest.

Or be covered with gold and jewels.

It could be a locket, like Great Grandfather Ole's.

Or perhaps a cameo.

There were Double Albert chains, named for Queen Victoria's husband, with a fob hanging from the center.

And the fob wasn't an exclusively male piece of jewelry. Women commonly wore very ornate little fobs such as decorated balls or baskets of flowers or lockets.

In Victorian times, garment clip chains were worn by women on the pocket of a blouse or waist band of a skirt and were worn by men clipped directly on the trouser pocket or vest pocket.

Women also wore their watches on long chains, or slides. The slide was a very long chain with a slide in the middle that could be adjusted to the length that looked best with the lady's garment. The slide itself could be engraved, or decorated with seed pearls or small gemstones.

Or perhaps she preferred to wear a pin.

The possibilities were only limited by the wearer's taste and financial means.

What's the most unusual watch fob you've seen?


  1. I had a watch chain from my great grandmother at one time. Not sure where it is. You've brought back so interesting memories. Doris

  2. I've not come in personal contact with watch fobs. The bling my dad collected was the decorative sliders for string ties.