One item of antique jewellery that has been converted by us for another purpose over the last 100 years or so is the fob or watch chain. Fob chains evolved out of the way that men carried their pocket watches. During the 17th century and into the 18th century, pocket watches were carried by men in a small concealed pocket in their breeches called a ‘fob’ pocket. A small chain or ribbon was attached to the watch so it could be pulled out of the pocket. Attached to the chain or ribbon could also be the watch key and a seal. At this stage, the chain or ribbon could be about 5 to 6 inches long.

Women also wore watches attached to a chain or ribbon but, in their case, the chain or ribbon was worn looped over their belts or attached to a hook hanging from a belt. The watch hook was to evolve into the equipage and then the chatelaine.

In the 19th century, while women moved towards using guard chains and watch hooks for their watches, men began to place their watch in a small pocket in their waistcoat and the chain, which became longer, was attached to a buttonhole with a T-bar. The chain became to be described as a vest chain, pocket to pocket chain, and then an Albert. Men continued to attach little objects in addition to their watch to the longer chain – seals, keys, charms and little decorative pieces. These little objects became known as fobs.

Vest chain, watch

Later in the 19th century and before WWI, the longer chain was replaced by a short wide ribbon, made of fabric, hair, leather or chains, which hung outside the waistcoat pocket with the watch attached. This variety was called a fob chain.

Antique niello fob chain

During the first world war, fashions changed again and the wristwatch took over as a fashion accessory and pocket watches and chains were no longer needed.

As mentioned above, in the 19th century, vest chains became known as Albert chains, in reference to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. This type of chain had a pocket watch held in a vest pocket attached at one end and it was passed through a vest button hole via a T-bar. Later this led to a longer vest chain, known as a double Albert. The T-bar of a double Albert then had two chains of similar length attached to it, both with swivel hook clasps, one for the pocket watch, the other for seals, watch keys, and so on which fitted into a vest pocket on the opposite side to the watch. Sometimes, medals and other attachments like a tassel hung from the T-bar. The double Albert was called a Dickens chain in the US.

Albertinas were more decorative Albert chains designed to be worn by women. They usually came with tassels and decorative slides. Nowadays they are often converted into bracelets.

Antique Albertina bracelet

The unwanted vest chains began to be used as necklaces. It is mainly the double Albert chain that has been converted to necklaces as they are longer than the Albert chain. The latter can be around 26cms while the latter can be as long as 41cms.  Some will have extra bits of chain added to make them long enough. However, it should be noted that many of the fob chains now being sold for use as necklaces were made since the 1920s so a lot of fob necklaces are vintage.

A good reference book for fob watches and chains is ‘How the Watch was Worn‘ by Genevieve Cummins.