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What was the Art Deco style originally known as?

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In the 1920s and 1930s the Art Deco style influenced everything from art and architecture, interiors and furnishings, automobiles and boats to the small, personal objects that were part of everyday life: Featuring high-quality photography and vintage illustrations and ephemera, this book brings these objects to life in exquisite detail for the first time. The objects in this themed book encompass the Deco style at its most alluring, as well as the modernity, excitement, and social revolution of the Jazz Age.

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French Art Deco Geometric Brooch

Arresting Time
by Bob Brooke


During the 19th Century people used pocket watch holders, often referred to as a watch hutches, to put their pocket watches in overnight to protect them from loss or damage. These watch holders also converted any pocket watch into small table or mantel clocks in a room that usually didn't have a clock. They also made perfect bedside clocks, before the advent of alarm clocks.

The French called them porte montre, meaning “watch stand.” Parisian artisans fashioned ornate watch holders for wealthy travelers visiting Paris on the Grand Tour. Pocket watches were a necessity during this era and fine shops along the Palais Royal specialized in selling unusual and whimsical accessories to house family pieces at the end of the day.


Pocket watch holders spanned all decorative styles, from Neoclassical to Regency and on to the opulence of Napoleon III. After the 1860s, watch holder makers explored the styles of the day, such as Rococo Revival and Renaissance Revival. As the new century dawned, artisans created beautiful renditions in the styles of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts—and by the mid-1920s, Art Deco.

By the late 19th century watch holders could be found in a vast variety of shapes and forms. Champlevé enamel work was especially popular. Champlevé is an enameling technique in which craftsmen carved, etched, die struck, or cast troughs into the surface of a metal object, then filled these troughs with vitreous enamel. They then fired the piece until the enamel fused, and when cooled, polished the surface of the object. The uncarved portions of the original surface remained visible as a frame for the enamel designs. The name, champlevé comes from the French for "raised field," or background, though the technique in practice lowers the area to be enameled rather than raising the rest of the surface.


During the second half of the 19th Century, cast iron was the most common material for making pocket watch holders. Artisans covered these unsightly cast pieces with gilded bronze to simulate gold. Artisans sculpted the original designs to represent forms in nature, such as vines and leaves or figural representations of country life. Mounted on a marble base and standing between 7 and 8 inches tall, they were quite heavy.

Each holder featured either a round frame with a metal pocket in which to place the watch, or a metal hook from which to hang it. Fanciful designs often featured Baroque cherubs.

Craftsmen cast less expensive versions in spelter, a heavy zinc and lead alloy, over which they applied a bronze wash or brightly colored paint. They sculpted the originals of animals or single figurines. One example shows a peasant girl carrying a garland wreath. Another depicts a young girl in a sheer, swirling dress which swirls in front to form a tray for cufflinks, watch chain, or coins. Still another example, depicts a parrot either about to land on or take off from a branch and painted a bright chartreuse and red.

Parisian Artisans
However, Parisian artisans created some of the most elaborate pocket watch holders. Resembling a larger version of the famed Limoge porcelain box, these became known as a casque porte montre, or pocket watch casket.

Developed in the late 19th Century, these little gems usually often featured a beveled glass box mounted on sculpted brass legs. While some had an eglomise, or back painted view of Paris, most were clear glass.

One fine example is a French cristal d' opale rose “hortensia” or “gorge de pigeon,” hand embellished with raised enamel flowers and gilt accents. The rich iridescent pink “hortensia” opaline glass is beautifully supported by delicate ormolu mounts.

The bourgeoisie of Paris in the 1860s, during the reign of Napoleon III, loved all things mythological and Greek inspired. Classic elements of mythology appeared in design motifs on small items such as watch holders, as well as larger pieces of furniture.

One of the more unusual examples of a watch casket originated during the gilded age of Napoleon III. Made in the form of a soldier's helmet which sits on a white marble base, its hand cut gilded brass is meticulously tooled to form the front and back of the hat. The crown of the helmet is of white opaline, with a gilded brass finial. It has a hand tooled gilded mount at the bottom. The helmet top opens to reveal a pocket watch holder mounted with a gilded brass frame. A "U" shaped hook at the top holds the watch while the interior, lined with red velvet, is typical of this opulent period.

Another example depicts a French Vernis Martin style enameled metal miniature sedan chair, with beveled glass windows, adorned with Putti angels. .

Still another fine example begins with a very fancy gilded brass/bronze frame. The upper frame has a repeating egg and dart pattern. At the bottom two winged gryphon raise their paws towards a central flaming urn. The very fine and intricate detailing to the creatures depicts muscle structure, feathers and facial details. Above this flowers and leaves fill two cornucopia, crossing at the center bottom. A large circle frames a concave medallion for the watch to rest upon.

Pocket watch holder makers also produced dramatic designs drawn from Nature. On one example, an eagle with its wings outspread and perched on a festoon of arrows and laurel leaves, holds an elongated hook. The top of the piece has a very large cartouche made of two curved cornucopia and a central swan, with neck curved downward, perched on a fleur de lis. A half-moon festoon of laurel leaves flow from one cornucopia to the other.

Also originating in Paris is cast bronze watch holder, designed by 19th-century French artist, Emile Joseph Carlier, featuring a little bird alighting atop a cascading vine of leaves which spill onto the base of the bottom mount. The detail of the little bird—its feathers, sweet expression, and outstretched wings give him a very lifelike appearance. In his beak he holds a curved stick onto which to hang a watch. A half-egg shape bowl, ornamented with leaves and berries, which could hold coins or other jewelry items, rests below him.

Yet another, made of bronze/metal, features painted detailing to give the effect of fine porcelain. The chubby little body of a cherub with his hands outstretched stands on a cradle made from an egg. He has delicate wings and wears a quiver around his waist, as well as delicate detailing to his fingers and toes and the feathers of his wings. His bow serves as the support for the pocket watch, which hangs beautifully within the sculpture design.

For the Ladies
While artists created the majority of pocket watch holders to hold the larger watches carried by men, they also designed a number of them specifically for women.

A fine example is a 19th-century French vanity perfume caddy, with pocket watch holder and pin dish. Composed of gilt bronze or brass metal. Decorative framework encircles a ceramic Sevres style pin dish hand painted with a colorful bird trimmed with pink border. A pair of perfume bottles are of rich cranberry glass, topped by gilt bronze ornamental collars and hinged lids, opening to reveal original tiny glass stoppers. A holder for a pocket watch and three decorative metal tassels or dangles finish off the piece.
This multipurpose vanity or dresser trinket most likely originated as a whimsical Parisian souvenir from one of the many exquisite boutiques that lined the Palais Royal.

Another unique watch holder could have been used by either a man or a woman. Exquisitely hand made by a genteel Victorian era lady in 1880 is a beadwork pocket watch holder, intended for her husband to place his prized pocket watch in when retiring for the evening. Hung in a man's dressing room, he would undress for the night and place his watch into this hanging pocket for safe keeping till morning. It has small glass beads intricately stitched, onto a deep wine red wool cloth made for the purpose, into a delicate floral pattern. The glass beads are clear, white, silver, gray and yellow. Beadwork surrounds the edges with a wreath design at the top with flower at the center. On the body of the pocket lie three flowers with large leaves on either side. A looped fringe hangs from the bottom half.

Many Victorian women wore chatelaines and hung their diminutive pocket watches from them. Most were about 8 inches long, with a top central portion fixed to a belt hook on the back and a traditional watch hook on the front.

Souvenirs of the Grand Tour
Specifically designed and carved as souvenirs are a group of pocket watch holders from towns in the 19th-century "Black Forest" area of Switzerland, Germany, parts of France and Italy, where they pleased travelers on the Grand Tour. These hand carved treasures range from whimsical small bears to large watch holders and wall plaques showing the most realistic anatomical studies of stag, fowl, and "fruits of the hunt."

Travelers on the Grand Tour would have also visited England where they would have discovered delightful pocket watch holders made the potteries of Staffordshire. Featuring miniaturized figures similar to those on larger Staffordshire pieces, these watch holders often featured women and children in folksy scenes, much like their larger counterparts. One features a child climbing a tree to get bird eggs from nest while the mother bird sits on top. At 11 inches high, these Staffordshire pieces were somewhat larger than those made in Paris.

Another shows a boy, his hair is coifed in powdery white curls, wearing a black tri-corner hat, a long purple coat with green cuffs along with a white vest and blue pants, sitting and holding up the watch holder.

One of the most important French artists of the 1920s, Maurice Frecourt, known for his animal sculptures, produced watch holders in the sleek style of Art Deco. After the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925, designers embraced the geometric style of Art Deco. One of his watch holders features a stylized bird standing at the edge of a bowl with its wings up and touching and mounted on a black and green veined piece of octagonal marble. He engraved this piece with detailed feathers both in front and in the back.

Some pocket watch holders imitated other clock cases, only in miniature. Each evening the pocket watch owner placed his watch into the hole where the clock face would be.

All the pocket watch holders mentioned in this article are for sale from various dealers at RubyLane.com for prices ranging from $60 for a simple cast-iron holder to $975 for the painted cast-iron parrot.

To read more of my articles, please visit my Web site.

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