WickedCoolWatches is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Fob Watch Meaning: A Comprehensive Guide

Fob watches, also known as pocket watches, have been an essential timekeeping accessory throughout history. These watches are typically attached to a waistcoat or pocket with a chain, ribbon, or short strap to prevent loss while still providing a stylish appearance. The popularity of fob watches peaked before World War I when the wristwatch started to make its way into mainstream fashion. However, with the recent resurgence of classic and vintage styles, the fob watch is once again finding its place in the world of fashion and timekeeping.

Originally designed for men, fob watches served as both functional timekeeping devices and symbols of wealth and status. As time progressed, the design and use of fob watches have evolved to include intricate detailing, various shapes, and even the addition of precious metals and gemstones. Fob watches have played significant roles in various occupations, such as railroad workers and medical professionals, due to their reliability and accuracy. Fob watches are often used by nurses. They have also been used to symbolize different elements in storytelling and art, adding depth and meaning to the narratives.

Key Takeaways

  • Fob watches are a time-honored accessory with historical significance and unique design features
  • They have played essential roles in various occupations and have been symbols of fashion and societal class
  • The contemporary revival of fob watches showcases their timeless appeal and versatile functionality in modern times

History of Fob Watches

The fob watch has its roots in the 16th century when the first timepieces to be worn were created in Europe. These early devices were transitional in size between clocks and watches, eventually evolving into the pocket watch. The term “fob watch” comes from the German word “fuppe,” which means a small pocket, and became prevalent after the addition of glass to cover the watch face in 1610.

Fob watches gained popularity during the mid-18th century, especially in America and England. As pocket watches were designed for men and had to be carried in the pocket, a short ribbon or chain, known as a watch fob, was attached to the watch, allowing it to hang out of the pocket. This made the watch easily accessible and also served a decorative purpose. Some fobs had practical uses, such as a seal or a key to wind the watch.

fob watch meaning

In the 1770s, both women and men started wearing fob watches attached to their waist or belt. Over time, fobs became an essential part of a gentleman’s attire, and by the 1800s, society largely viewed them as a symbol of wealth and status. As gambling was a popular pastime during this period, gentlemen often used their fob watches to discreetly check the time during games without drawing much attention.

The prominence of fob watches began to decline with the onset of World War I, when wristwatches were invented. Military personnel needed a more practical way to tell the time, and the wristwatch proved to be a more convenient and accessible alternative. As wristwatches gained popularity, fob watches gradually fell out of fashion.

Over the years, the use of fob watches waned as wristwatches became more prevalent. Yet fob watches remain significant to this day as beautiful collectible items and symbols of a time when elegance and craftsmanship were highly valued. In recent years, however, fob watches have undergone a resurgence with designer like Annie Apple releasing gorgeous fob watches made specifically for women.

Structure and Design of Fob Watches


Fob watches are made from a variety of materials depending on their style and purpose. Common materials used in the construction of these timepieces include metal, glass, leather, and even fabric for the watch chain. Metals like silver and gold are often chosen for their durability and attractive appearance. Glass is used to protect the watch face and provide a clear view of the time. Leather and fabric may be used to make the watch chain or fob itself, which is meant to be attached to a vest, pocket, or belt loop.

Design Elements

The design of fob watches incorporates several key elements. One such element is the watch chain, which can be made of various materials such as metal, leather, or fabric. This chain is designed to secure the watch to clothing, ensuring it doesn’t get lost or damaged. The watch fobs themselves can be both functional and decorative. They can be simple and practical, or they may take the form of an elaborate ornament or medallion, often featuring intricate engraving or jeweled embellishments.

The fob watch’s case can vary in style, size, and material, but its primary purpose is to protect the delicate inner workings of the watch. High-quality fob watches often have durable, water-resistant cases to keep the internal mechanisms safe from damage. The face of the fob watch is typically covered by glass to protect it from scratches and to provide a clear view of the time.

In summary, fob watches are designed with a focus on function and style. Their unique combination of materials, including metal, glass, and leather, creates a durable and attractive timepiece. The watch chain and fob, along with the carefully crafted case and protective glass, ensure that the watch remains secure and functioning for many years.

Role in Fashion and Societal Class

The fob watch has long held a significant place in the world of fashion and societal class, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries. Fob watches were typically attached to a waistcoat via a ribbon or chain, serving as both a functional timekeeping device and an indication of status and wealth. Those who could afford fob watches often accessorized them with high-quality chains, precious stones, or ornate designs.

As fob watches became an integral part of men’s fashion, they were commonly paired with other symbols of elegance and status, such as top hats and canes. Dandies, who were known for their flamboyant style, often sported fob watches alongside elaborate waistcoats and trousers, adding an air of sophistication to their attire.

During this time, various styles of fob watches emerged to cater to the tastes and needs of different social classes. Wealthier individuals might have carried gold or silver fob watches adorned with intricate engravings, while others opted for more modest materials, such as brass or copper. The type of chain or ribbon used to secure the watch to one’s waistcoat also varied depending on social standing, with some individuals opting for simple leather cords or fabric ribbons, and others choosing expensive metal chains.

The development of the wristwatch in the early 20th century marked the decline of the fob watch as a fashionable accessory. However, in certain social contexts, fob watches continued to be a symbol of class and refinement. For example, they remained part of formal wear, such as the traditional morning coat ensemble where a fob watch could still be worn with a matching waistcoat and bowler hat.

Fob watches have also experienced a resurgence in recent years, often incorporated into modern fashion as vintage-inspired accessories that convey a sense of nostalgia and charm. Today, some enthusiasts still opt for fob watches as an alternative to wristwatches, appreciating their unique style and connection to a bygone era. While the fob watch may no longer be a ubiquitous symbol of social class, its rich history in fashion and its enduring appeal to collectors and fashionistas alike ensure that it retains a special place in the world of style.

Fob Watches in Occupations

Healthcare Professionals

Fob watches have been an essential tool for healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, for many years. A nurse’s fob watch is specifically designed to be pinned to their uniform, allowing them to easily check the time while keeping their hands free and maintaining hygiene. Since wristwatches are not typically permitted in healthcare settings due to infection control concerns, a securely pinned fob watch ensures that the risk of contamination is minimized.

Why do Nurses wear fob watches
Why do Nurses wear fob watches

In some hospitals, particularly in the UK, a fob watch is a required part of a nurse’s uniform, with specific dress codes stating that wristwatches must not be worn. The use of fob watches in nursing is not only practical but also has historical significance. The design of these fob watches has evolved over the years, offering various options in terms of metal finishes and watch faces. Additionally, some contemporary fob watches feature silicone clips rather than metal pins, providing another level of safety and durability.

English Gentlemen

Fob watches also have a notable history among English gentlemen, who wore them as a symbol of class and elegance. These pocket watches were attached to a waistcoat by a chain or ribbon, allowing the wearer to easily access the watch while keeping it neatly tucked away. Unlike the functional nurse’s fob watch, the design of fob watches worn by English gentlemen was often ornate and more focused on aesthetics than practicality.

Overall, fob watches have played a significant role in various occupations and continue to be an essential accessory for healthcare professionals. While the design has evolved and modernized, the purpose of these watches remains crucial for those who rely on them in their day-to-day work.

Symbolism and Metaphorical Uses

Fob watches have long been associated with various symbols and metaphorical uses. One such symbol is the timekeeper, which signifies the importance of punctuality and time management. A fob watch’s key is crucial in winding the watch, symbolizing the unlocking of potential and accessing future opportunities.

In literature and art, fob watches are often used as metaphors for life’s fleeting nature and the limited time humans have on Earth. For instance, imagery that includes the fob watch, such as a ship sailing towards the horizon, can allude to the passage of time and the inevitability of one’s eventual departure from this world.

Another prevalent metaphor associated with fob watches is the idea of cherishing time and not squandering it. The act of “fobbing off” someone, or cheating them, can be a reminder of how essential it is not to “fob off” time by wasting it on trivial, non-essential matters.

Fob watches are sometimes also depicted in scenes where a camera captures an image, providing a snapshot in time. This connection implies that every individual has the power to learn from the past, live in the present, and look forward to the future.

Moreover, the fob watch can be a symbol of sophistication and class, especially when part of a club or elite group. The image of a finely crafted fob watch represents a mark of distinction that sets its wearer apart, much like an exclusive club or a cap awarded for a particular achievement.

However, it is important to note that fob watches can also signify deceit or false appearances. A fob watch’s seal, originally used to authenticate letters and documents, may sometimes symbolize hiding the truth from others. This aspect of the fob watch serves as a reminder to remain vigilant and discern the genuine from the counterfeit.

In conclusion, fob watches encompass a variety of symbols and metaphorical uses, ranging from the importance of time management and the passage of time to the ideas of sophistication, distinction, and deceit. These powerful associations continue to make the fob watch a significant and enduring emblem in the realm of symbolism.

Contemporary Usage and Revival

The fob watch, once a popular accessory for men in the 1800s, has experienced a revival in recent years. Despite advancements in technology, such as smartphones, there remains an appreciation for the elegant design and craftsmanship of these timepieces. The fob watch is often seen as a symbol of luxury and sophistication, appreciated by those who value tradition and style. Fob watches are again popular in Australia, the UK, the US and in other countries.

In British English, the term “fob” is still commonly used to describe the chain or cord that attaches to the pocket watch. However, it is also frequently used to refer to the pocket watch itself. This is likely due to the development of the wristwatch after World War I, which largely replaced the pocket watch as the standard for timekeeping.

The influence of the fob watch extends beyond the sphere of timekeeping, as key rings and other accessories inspired by the original fob watch design have emerged. These items often feature decorative embellishments reminiscent of the charm-like fobs worn on pocket watch chains. The use of fob-inspired keyrings, which may hold an array of items such as keys, USB drives, or even a nostalgic pocket watch, offers a fusion of tradition and modern functionality.

Doctor Who

In the long-running British sci-fi series “Doctor Who,” the fob watch takes on a deeply symbolic and narrative-driven role, especially in episodes featuring the Tenth Doctor. Unlike a typical time-telling device, this particular fob watch is a Chameleon Arch, a Gallifreyan device that stores the essence, memories, and Time Lord characteristics of its user. When the Doctor or another Time Lord seeks to adopt a fully human persona, either for protection or subterfuge, their original identity is ensconced within the watch, waiting for the right moment to be awakened. Its mere presence on screen is often a harbinger of profound identity struggles, lost memories, and the dichotomy between the Doctor’s human and Time Lord natures. This fob watch, thus, transcends its temporal function and embodies themes of identity, metamorphosis, and the tension between one’s past and present.

Flavor Flav

Flavor Flav, an integral member of the pioneering hip-hop group Public Enemy, is unmistakably recognized for the oversized fob watches and clocks he wears around his neck. Beyond its obvious ostentatious display, the clock carries deeper meanings. Flavor Flav has mentioned that it represents the importance of recognizing time and its fleeting nature, a constant reminder to be aware of the “time” we’re living in. The clock also serves as an emblem of his unique style, setting him apart in the music industry and establishing an iconic image. In the larger context of hip-hop culture, where jewelry and accessories often bear significant symbolic and status-related weight, Flavor Flav’s clock stands out as a distinctive and memorable emblem, intertwining both personal philosophy and individual branding.


Some phone manufacturers have also taken inspiration from the fob watch, producing smartphones with a modern twist on the classic pocket watch design. These devices, often adorned with intricate detailing, provide a subtle nod to the elegance of the fob watch while incorporating the benefits of the latest technology. Additionally accessories are available to turn the apple watch into a fob watch.

In conclusion, the revival of the fob watch in contemporary culture can be seen as a testament to its enduring appeal and timeless design. As a symbol of refinement and sophistication, it continues to captivate modern audiences who appreciate the charm and craftsmanship of these classic timepieces.

Video – Properly wearing a Fob Watch or Pocket Watch with A Kilt

In this official video from USA Kilts and Celtic traditions, wearing a pocket watch (fob watch) is explained. At 0:50 you can see a diagram for wearing a the watch as a fob watch or as a pocket watch. You will also find out how to wear a fob watch with a kilt or with blue jeans. They also explain the meaning behind the phrase “men wear watch in which hand.”

Wearing a fob watch video

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a fob watch?

A fob watch is a type of pocket watch that is attached to a waistcoat or other garment by a chain or ribbon. The purpose of a fob watch is to make it easily accessible and visible while still being securely fastened. Fob watches were particularly popular before the development of wristwatches and were often used by men who needed a portable timekeeping device.

How do medical professionals use fob watches?

Medical professionals, such as nurses and doctors, use fob watches to keep track of time without having to wear a watch on their wrist, which can harbor bacteria and spread infection. The fob watch can be easily attached to their uniform and allows them to time procedures and monitor patients’ vital signs accurately, while maintaining a sterile environment.

What distinguishes a fob watch from a pocket watch?

A fob watch is a type of pocket watch that is specifically designed to be worn with a chain or ribbon, which is fastened to the wearer’s clothing. The key difference between a fob watch and a pocket watch is how they are worn and secured, with the fob watch being easily accessible and visible compared to a pocket watch, which is typically kept in a pocket.

What is the history behind fob watches?

Fob watches have a rich history that dates back to the early 16th century when portable timepieces were first invented. Initially, fob watches were designed for men and gained popularity as a practical and fashionable accessory. Over time, fob watches evolved, with artisans and watchmakers creating intricate designs and decorations. The popularity of fob watches declined with the invention of wristwatches during World War I.

How should a fob watch be worn or carried?

A fob watch should be attached to a waistcoat, jacket, or other garment using a chain or ribbon. The watch itself can be kept in a pocket or hung outside the pocket, depending on the wearer’s preference. The chain or ribbon should be secured to a buttonhole or other fastening point on the clothing, ensuring that the watch remains easily accessible and visible while being securely fastened.

What factors affect the value of a vintage watch fob?

Various factors affect the value of a vintage watch fob, including its age, brand, condition, rarity, and design. Other aspects, such as the materials used (such as precious metals or gemstones), the mechanical movement, and the provenance of the watch, can also influence its value. Collectors and enthusiasts should consider these factors when assessing the worth of a vintage fob watch.