The Musical Pocket Watch

The Musical Pocket watch, sometimes incorporated a repeating function inside the mechanism that told the time either on demand or at certain points of the hour. Invented by the Swiss in around 1725, musical watches never really caught on until after the 1800s. Many famous composers like Haydn and Mozart wrote musical scores especially for the musical watch and other musical time pieces.

In the earliest musical pocket watches, teeth were plucked by a rotating steel disc but this was improved on in around 1775 by the use of a rotating cylinder with pins that played individual notes on a comb-like series of teeth. It is considered that the invention of the rotating cylinder and comb mechanism is creditable to the French clockmaker, Antide Janvier.

Cylindrical barrel of Swiss made Musical Pocket WatchOne thing I find amazing about musical pocket watches is how the rotating barrel had the tiny pins located in exactly the right places so that the musical tune was pretty much perfect every time. There were devices invented to assist with the correct placement, notably by the Swiss, but at the end of the day it was down to the skill of a musician to indicate exactly where the pins should be placed. The locating device was similar to a typewriter that the musician would strike at the right time, leaving a small indent in the cylinder. Holes were then drilled and pins placed at the correct positions.

Swiss automaton musical pocket watchEven more complex examples are those that play more than one tune. In order to achieve this there has to be a way to move the cylinder across so that a second set of pins is correctly aligned. Most musical pocket watches can be played on demand by pressing a small button on the outside of the watch case. The example shown here on the right is a modern reproduction of a musical watch and you can clearly see the button on the left hand side.

You might not be surprised to know that musical timepieces are definitely not cheap. Today they are very sought after by collectors and prices reaching five-figures are commonplace for good examples. There is also a good market today for modern examples of musical watches, especially pocket watches. Good quality examples can be picked up for much less than pre 1900 examples, the only caveat is that the watch must be fully mechanical - no quartz please!

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All images reproduced with the kind permission of Pieces of Time

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