The traditional function of the watch chain was to simply ensure the security of watch from which it suspended. Many know this to be the ‘pocket watch’ which emerged in the 17th Century and the style grew in popularity when Charles II popularised the waistcoat in 1675.
Interestingly however, the watch chain arrived prior to the pocket watch. In 16th Century Europe, they were used to secure larger ‘clock-watches’ to the wearers item of clothing, these were a hybrid between a clock and a watch, hence the name. Often the watch chain was worn round the neck, giving the ‘clock-watch’ a pendant look to it.
Man Holding A Watch by Maso di San Friano; Renaissance Period. Circa 1560.
These early clock-watches were not worn to tell the time. Due to their primitive movements they were often very inaccurate and were made more as items of jewellery and novelties for the nobility, valued for their fine ornamentation, unusual shape, or intriguing mechanism - accurate timekeeping was of very minor importance.
The Introduction of the Albert Chain
Although the watch chain has been in circulation since the 16th Century, the Albert watch chain was introduced much later. During the 19th Century Albert chains were first seen named after a style of watch chain Prince Albert wore during the Victorian period (1837-1901). The chain would traditionally comprise of a T-bar on one end used to affix the chain to a vest button hole, referred to as the shape reflected that of a letter 'T'. In some rarer cases the T-bar also slides along the length of the chain making it more versatile for different jackets or waistcoats.
Prince Albert showcasing a fine single, belcher link chain circa 1860 - alongside our delicate barley corn link example.
The opposite end of the chain would be fitted with a swivel hook (or two depending on whether a single or double albert chain) or a large spring loaded bolt ring to attach a watch. The watch would then be placed in a vest pocket with the chain exposed and often adorned with a decorative fob or gold sovereign.
Single Albert Watch Chains
Single strand or link Albert chains are the entry level chain with a swivel clasp at one end and T-bar at the other. The swivel clasp allows the wearer to rotate the watch and keep the chain from twisting. In addition to the chain that links the clasp and the T-bar, there is another, smaller, chain that serves as a decorative drop, whereupon a fob, fraternity, lodge symbols, charm or mourning locket would hang. The smaller drop chain varies in length depending on the Albert chains, and can be connected at different points on the main chain.
A fabulous, heavy 18ct Trombone Link Single Albert Chain with its original price ticket!
Often worn by gentlemen of the working or lower middle classes in an attempt to keep up with the fashions of the time, these style of chains today make great shorter bracelets or necklaces which could be used either as charm bracelets, chokers or stacked with other items.
What is an Albertina Watch Chain?
An Albertina watch chain is very similar to an Albert watch chain, the only difference being that typically an Albertina watch chain is more decorative. An Albertina usually includes design motifs that were quintessential to the Victorian era, these include: tassels, hearts, fobs, and balls all of which were heavy decorated with chased gold work or deeper ornate engravings.
Delightful English Edwardian Silver Heart and Fancy Ball Link Ladies Albertina Bracelet, which can be warn as a bracelet.
In the Victorian era, Albertina watch chains were often used as pieces of decorative jewellery, rather than for their initial purpose of bearing a pocket watch. They would be made in either silver or gold and come in variety of different sizes.
Double Albert Watch Chains
L-R Edwardian 18ct Gold Trombone Link Albert Watch Chain, circa 1905 | Edwardian 18ct Gold Double Trombone Link Albert Watch Chain | Vintage 9ct Feta and Twist Link Albert Chain
The double Albert watch chain is characterised by having two equal lengths of chain attached to the T-bar. One chain was used to hold the pocket watch, and the other was, traditionally, used to hold the watch key to wind the movement. However, in more modern times it would seem that alternative accessories, such as a compass, a cigarette case, a vesta case, a fountain pen, and - for today’s gents - a USB stick would be suitable. In addition to the two chains of equal length, as with the single chain example, there is a shorter centralised chain, often referred to as the ‘drop’.
Typically, Albert watch chains are worn with a drape in the chain, as opposed to the chain between the pocket and the watch being pulled taut.
In the Victorian period, Albert watch chains were extremely popular, serving as a must-have accessory for any gentrified male. They declined in popularity with the rise of the wristwatch; however, the Albert watch chain remains a symbol of class and wealth.
Peaky Blinders & the Resurgence of the Albert Chain
Some of the cast of the BBC period drama 'Peaky Blinders' picture wearing single and double Alberts.
Thanks to the BBC’s hit TV series, Peaky Blinders, pocket watches are back in fashion. Many men are now seeing the appeal of adorning an antique Albert and we can see why.
Take a look at Tommy Shelby (on the right), played by Cillian Murphy and you’ll notice he usually wears his pocket watch suspended from a single chain, in the left pocket of his waistcoat. This is an example of the 'Single Albert' and previously mentioned. Arthur, played by Paul Anderson, however, sometimes sports a Double Albert. So men now have the tough choice of deciding single or double? Either way a reassurance of this fabulous accessory is something to celebrate.
Women and Albert Chains
The tradition of women wearing watch chains as necklaces originated when soldiers departed home for the battlefields of WWI, leaving pocket watches and chains behind with their wives. Women would wear these talismans around their necks keeping them safe and close to the heart.
Today the traditional purpose of the Albert chain may of changed but its timeless style and modern function as a statement necklace or addition to any collectors ‘neckmess’ continues the evolution of the Albert chain into the 21st Century.