Pocket Watch Mechanisms

Pocket watch mechanisms have evolved over time and purpose, some for ease and simplicity and others for particular use, such as railway watches where it was essential that the time could not be altered by accident.

Here is a quick overview of the main types and how they differ.

Stem-wind, stem-set movements

The first stem-wind, stem-set movements were sold at the Great Exhibition in the year 1851, with the first owners being Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  An example of this type of watch is the 1950 Omega pocket watch.

The idea behind this style of watch was to remove the need to have a watch key in order to operate the watch.  They are one of the most common types of watch movements and are found in both vintage and modern pocket watches. Our Woodford watches are all stem and set watches

stem wound stem stet pocket watch

Stem-wind, lever-set movements

In around 1908 this pocket watch enabled the user to set the time by opening the crystal and bezel and locating the setting-lever which can usually be found at the ten o’clock or twelve o’clock position and pulling.  Once the lever had been pulled the time could be adjusted easily and pushing the lever back in would close the crystal and bezel.  This was a preferred method of time setting for both the American and Canadian railroads as it was impossible to adjust the time by accident. You can see the lever just under the minute hand on the side of the case.

Stem wound  & lever set
Stem wound & lever set

Stem-wind, pin-set movements

Similar to the lever-set movements this style of pocket watch movements has a small pin to the side of the watch which had to be depressed before you could turn the crown and set the time.  The pin would be released once the user was satisfactory with the time set.  The stem-wind, pin set movement is also commonly known as “nail set” due to the need to use the nail on your finger to depress and set.


So as you can see, not all the pocket watch mechanisms are as easily set as our range today, however in early eras, knowing and keeping time as more precious than today. Today, if you suspect you have accidentally altered the time of your watch, then the correct time is very easily obtained to correct it.  Keeping your personal time-piece correct was a real concern for the wearer, setting it by a known clock before leaving and keeping it wound daily was essential.