From Pocket Watch to Wrist Watch

Those of us who enjoy watches (and you’re a member of this club if you read this blog) know that before the advent of the wristwatch, pocket watches were the way gentlemen (and yes, ladies) kept an eye on the time. In fact the pocket watch has existed since at least the early 1500’s, a fact that would surprise most non-watch nerds. Today most people are familiar with pocket watches in at least a passing fashion; they know they exist, but today the use of a pocket watch is rather rare. Unless you do something different with them, which watch enthusiast & Poor Man’s Watch Forum (PMWF) regular Johnny Torrez (aka JohnnyT) did.
After admiring several pieces for their movements and craftsmanship, Johnny obtained a few pocket watches from NAWCC meets and eBay. However, he found that as nice as they were, it was not really convenient to carry them in his pocket as intended. Around the time of his acquiring some of these pieces he found some articles on the web regarding the early history of converting pocket watches into wristwatches. After reading of this process he made the decision to undergo the process himself so he could enjoy his vintage pocket watches as more common wristwatches.
The first step was essentially done; he had acquired several examples to work with during the process. In order to actually make the conversion Johnny reached out to two other people: one was a gent in Johnny’s local NAWCC chapter who supplied a few cases, and the other a fellow PMWF member, Dave Murphy, who was to actually become Johnny’s partner on the project. Dave was the guy who was able to take Johnny’s inspiration and ideas and apply his own machinist & watchmaking skills to put them together. What seems on the surface like a fairly simple idea – recasing the movement and dial into a new case – actually involves several components.
To begin with they had to consider what kind of pocket watch they were dealing with. Hunter style cases, with the crown at 3 o’clock, require finding a case to fit the movement and then modifying the stem and crown to fit the case. The Waltham pictured here is an example of this (and was actually the first mod of the project). The slick part about this modification? With just a couple minutes of work the watch could be reassembled as a pocket watch.
Other modifications involved taking the original pocket watch case and manufacturing lugs for use as a wrist watch. Consideration was given to the case material and the placement of the lugs so as to allow for the crown at 12 to remain operational.  Give the standard case size some flexibility was present allowing for different movement/dial/bezel combinations.
The other conversion types relied upon pre-made cases and the modifications were made to the pocket watch movement. Dave and Johnny would try different cases and then figure out which parts were needed to secure the movement. They also looked at which dials would fit, how to best secure the dial and any modifications to the stem. Two examples from this process can be seen below.
Taking it a step further, the previously mentioned NAWCC member took a Hamilton 917 movement to Hong Kong and had one of his sources manufacture about 20 cases to fit the movement. This allowed for Hamilton calibre’s 917 and 921 to essentially drop right into the cases. Some of the watches from this run had conventional lugs and therefore required special dials, which were made in black and white, retaining a vintage look to match the movement inside.
Some of the cases had unique swivel lugs with the stem hole at 12 between the top lug. With this configuration they were able to use the original dials, which produced a very desirable end product. Oh, and the straps? All hand crafted by Johnny himself. The craftsmanship between Dave and Johnny resulted in all these amazing, unparalleled pieces.
The watches created by the partnership of Johnny and Dave have been sold off to appreciative watch enthusiasts around the globe, with the exception of the final creation. The case, dial and hands from this watch were procured from Wilson Watch Works, and a beautiful Hamilton movement is cased inside. Truly a wonderful piece as part of a very creative and successful project.
Although the twenty-five watches created in this project are all sold, one never knows what may pop-up on the sales forums or who may respond to a WTB post. If nothing else, we at least have some wonderful eye-candy to admire Johnny & Dave’s work. To see more, visit the Pocket Watch Conversions forum on the PMWF.
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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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