Key Wound Watches

I've always been fascinated with the older, key wound, pocket watches. Many of these were made by hand, and the intricate workmanship is truly amazing. Although key wound watches quickly lost popularity when stem winding watches were invented [mostly because people kept losing the keys!], I really feel that a little of the spirit of watchmaking was lost in the process.

Although I own a number of different types of key wound watches, my favorites are the "fusee" style watches which used a very fine chain running from the mainspring barrel to a special truncated cone [the "fusee"] to regulate the force of the spring as it wound down. It is said that Leonardo DaVinci invented the fusee. The older fusees used a "verge" escapement which, because of its design, required the watch to be very thick. Verge fusees are usually not as accurate as their later counterparts, but they are almost always works of art, employing intricately engraved and hand pierced balance bridges [or "cocks"] and ornaments. In the early 1800's fusee watches began to be made with the newer "lever" escapement, which not only allowed them to be thinner but also made them more accurate. As the watches became more accurate timekeepers, however, less emphasis was placed on making them as artistic, and you rarely see much in the way of hand piercing or engraving on the later lever fusee watches.

More refined adjustment of the hairspring and balance wheel eventually obviated the need for the fusee in the mid 1800's, and the later keywound watches could be made very thin and very accurate. Watchmakers often used mass produced movements called "ebauches", and then spent most of their efforts making the cases, dials and hands very ornate. Many watches from the mid to late 1800's had very ornately engraved gold cases, sometimes ornamented with diamonds, pearls and/or enameling, and very frequently the dials themselves were engraved with various scenes.

If anybody has some additional information about these watches that they would care to share with me, please send me an e-mail and let me know!

Click on any image below to see additional pictures and information for that watch.

English verge fusee in hallmarked sterling silver pair-case. 46mm in diameter, including outer case. Movement is signed "Jos^h [Joseph] Brookes, London" and has an ornate hand pierced balance cock, squared "Egyptian" pillars, a hand pierced ornament near the fusee and the older "Tompion" style regulator. Ca. 1776.
Verge fusee in a sterling silver triple-case made expressly for the Turkish market by George Prior of London. Movement measures only 28mm in diameter! Keywind and keyset. Ca 1810-1820.
Another really nice old English verge fusee with a hallmarked sterling silver pair case. Key wind and set. Approximately 60mm in diameter. Movement is marked "Chas [Charles] Walford, Kidderminster" and has a hand pierced balance cock. Hallmarks date this one to 1821.
Wonderful old high grade fusee pocket watch made by M. I. Tobias of Liverpool, England. It measures 50mm in diameter, has a Massey Type II escapement, and is key wind and key set. The watch is housed in a solid 18K gold open-face case which bears English hallmarks dating to 1824.
Yet another really nice old English verge fusee with a hallmarked sterling silver pair case. Key wind and set. Approximately 55mm in diameter. Movement is marked "Jas Peters Cambridge No. 322" and has a hand pierced balance cock. Ca. 1827.
Yet another really nice old English verge fusee with a hallmarked sterling silver pair case. Movement is marked "J. Richens" and the hallmarks on the case date it to ca. 1830. This watch is distinguished by an extremely unusual dial that uses a central sun-moon wheel to differentiate between the A.M, and P.M. hours.
Very small English verge fusee, 40mm in diameter. Keywind from the front. Movement is marked "L. Leplastrier", "London" and "275". Case is solid 18K gold, and the fancy dial is gold as well. Ca. 1832.
Nice old English-made lever fusee center second "chronograph" watch with a start stop calibration feature. Hallmarked sterling silver case measures about 55mm in diameter. Key wind and key set and appears to have at least 11 jewels. Movement and dial both marked "E. WOLFE SUNDERLAND 58006". Ca.1882.
Another English chain-driven lever fusee "chronograph" pocket watch. Key wind and set. Probably has 17 jewels. Dial and movement marked "Palin Nantwich & Market Drayton". Hallmarked sterling silver case, 55mm in diameter. Watch has a center sweep second hand and a slide switch to start and stop the watch for calibration [a "hack" button]. Ca. 1884
Unmarked English lever fusee pocket watch, 50mm in diameter. Sterling silver case. Probably only 7 or so jewels. Very unusual, however, in that it has an up-down wind indicator. Ca. 1887
Swiss-made by "Bautte". 42mm in diameter, 15 Jewels, "Fine Silver" open-face case, key wind and set. Ca. early - mid 1800's.
Gorgeous M.J. Tobias pocket watch with gilt dial and an ornate 18k gold case. 45mm in diameter. Dial has an American eagle engraved on it. The Key wind, key set movement is a standard swiss ebauche dating to ca. 1830-1850.
Another simply gorgeous M.J. Tobias pocket watch with gilt dial and an ornate 18k gold case. 45mm in diameter. Dial and back of case both both have village scenes engraved on them. The Key wind, key set movement is a standard swiss ebauche dating to mid to late 1800's.
Key wind pocket watch with a rare "chinese duplex" movement. Probably Swiss made for the Chinese market. Silver case measures 2 1/4 inches in diameter. Ca. mid to late 1800's.
This is a very unusual Swiss-made keywind pocket watch from the late 1800's. It has a special 24-hour dial, and the hour hand actually takes 24 hours to revolve around the dial.
VERY early Waltham pocket watch. 18 Size, Model 1857, "Dennison, Howard & Davis". Key wind and key set. 15 jewels. Engraved hunter case is probably 18-Karat gold. Dates to about 1855, the company's fourth year in existence.
Another very old Waltham pocket watch. 18 size, Model 1857, "Appleton, Tracy & Co." Key wind and key set. 15 sapphire jewels. The watch is encased in a beautiful and very heavy solid 18 karat gold hunter case with wonderful engine turning on the front and back. The serial number is only 21772, which dates it to about 1860.
This pocket watch was made by the United States Watch Company of Marion, NJ. It is an 18 size "Marion Watch Company" model, "G.A. Read" grade, with 7 jewels. Has the distinctive "butterfly shaped" cut-out on the movement. Gold-filled hunter case. Ca late 1860's to early 1870's.
Early Pre-Elgin "National Watch Company" pocket watch. Size 10, Model 4, "Gail Borden" grade, key wind and key set from the rear, with 11 jewels. The watch is housed in a simply stunning 14K gold hunter case. Ca. 1873
VERY early Illinois pocket watch (serial number 7012). 18 size, Model #1, "Hoyt" Grade, with 9 jewels. Key wind and key set. Housed in a nice triple-hinged "Silveride" case. Ca. 1873.
This is a Size 18 Waltham Model #1877, "P.S. Bartlett" grade in a nice gold-filled open face case. It has 11 jewels and is key wind from the rear and key set from the front. The serial number of 1,656863 dates it to about 1882.

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