Johannes Stradanus: Clockmaker’s workshop (The Invention of the Mechanical Clock), from the “Nova Reperta” series of engravings (New Inventions of Modern Times), ca. 1591

We’ve been hunting and finally found the Great Shrewsbury Clock (Or at least one we believe is most likely, and a second which has equal claim according to locals). Having solved at least satisfactorially for the moent that mystery, we move this week into the history of one of our most commonly used watches in the world, that of the wrist watch. Today, we have apple watches, and smart phone time telling pieces, but were there portable watches in Shakespeare’s lifetime? This week we explore the evolution of small, portable, clocks and their availability in England, by asking “Did Shakespeare have a wrist watch?”

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Wrist Watches Began in the 15th Century 

Wrist watches did not really become popular in England until after the intention of the waistcoat drove demand for a pocket watch, but there was such a thing called an “arm watch” which was available, at least for the significantly wealthy, during Shakespeare’s lifetime because we have record of a wrist watch which was given to Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley in 1571. 

Glass first started being placed over the watch to protect it during the 16th century, but the more common portable watch, or ancestor to the wrist watch, that was in existence in Shakespeare’s lifetime is a round pomander watch.

Here’s another episode you might like:

Sit down with our guest Ben Crystal as he introduces us to original practice. Ben is the co-author of Shakespeare’s Words (Penguin 2002) and The Shakespeare Miscellany (Penguin 2005) with his father David Crystal. In 2011, he played Hamlet in the first Original Pronunciation production for 400 years, with the Nevada Repertory Company. Press Play to join us at the table with Ben as we talk about Shakespeare’s OP.

There is one mention of the word pomander that I was able to find in Shakespeare’s works, in A Winter’s Tale when Autoclytus says:


I have sold 

all my trumpery; not a counterfeit stone, not a 

ribbon, glass, pomander, brooch, table-book, ballad, 

knife, tape, glove, shoe-tie, bracelet, horn-ring, 

to keep my pack from fasting: they throng who 

should buy first, as if my trinkets had been 

hallowed and brought a benediction to the buyer: 

by which means I saw whose purse was best in 

picture; and what I saw, to my good use I 



William Shakespeare’s Richard II IV.4

Pomander’s were incredibly popular, there are several portraits of Queen Elizabeth I wearing one and carrying it about. However, the novelty, or innovative design, which was coming into fashion in the late 16th and early 17th century was for the portable pomander to include a watch. 

In the year 1505, Paul Henlein designed a small mechanism which would allow the spring driven clock to be carried in one’s pocket. It is known as a pomander watch. 

This is the earliest dated watch known. It is engraved on the bottom: “PHIL[IP]. MELA[NCHTHON]. GOTT. ALEIN. DIE. EHR[E]. 1530” (Philip Melanchthon, to God alone the glory, 1530). There are very few watches existing today that predate 1550; only two dated examples are known–this one from 1530 and another from 1548. There is no watchmaker’s mark, although Nuremberg is considered the birthplace of spherical watches (called “Nuremberg Eggs”). A single winding kept it running for 12 to 16 hours, and it told time to within the nearest half hour. The perforations in the case permitted one to see the time without opening the watch. This watch was commissioned by the great German reformer and humanist Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). SOURCE

The Spherical Table Watch (shown above) is housed at the Walter’s Art Gallery in baltimore, Maryland, and claims to be the earliest dated watch known. That’s a lot of qualifiers there, considering Heinlen’s pomander clock is older than this one, it’s possible in official horological ciricles they are making a dinstinction betwene watch and clock that makes Mlanchthon’s Watch the earliest known watch, or even that the record I was able to find is given this description prior to the discovery of one of Heinlen’s watches, I am unclear. But either way, It is true that there are very few watches existing today that predate 1550; 

Nuremberg is considered the birthplace of spherical watches like Melanchthon’s watch, and they are (called “Nuremberg Eggs”). A single winding kept it running for 12 to 16 hours, and it told time to within the nearest half hour. The perforations in the case permitted one to see the time without opening the watch. This watch was commissioned by the great German reformer and humanist Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). So Melanchthon did not design it, but it bears his name because he requested it made for him. It was Peter Henlein (Who died in 1542, almost 30 years before Shakespeare was born) who designed and created these eggs for people like Melanchthon. These portable watches were a novelty and their accuracy was very limited, so that they only had a single hand, showing hours.

What this does show us, however, is that portable, small watches, were in existence during Shakespeare’s lifetime, although we don’t know whether the bard ever owned one personally.

To lie in watch there and to think on him? 
To weep ‘twixt clock and clock


Cymbeline, II.4

Henlien’s designs kicked off an entire Nuremberg “neck-watch” industry. He is recorded to have sold a “gilded pomander for all purposes with a clock-mechanism” for 15 gulden on 11 January 1524. Of the “pomander watch” type (Bisamapfeluhr), only two specimens are known to survive, one dated to 1505 and attributed to Henlein, the other dated 1530 (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). Source

An antique clock-watch (taschenuhr) in Philadelphia Memorial Hall, USA, made in the 16th century by Peter Henlein of Nürnberg, Germany. This is believed to be the oldest clock-watch in existence (National Geographic magazine, Vol.92, 1947, p.422)


Telling the actual time was not important

These ‘clock-watches’ were fastened to clothing or worn on a chain around the neck. They were heavy drum-shaped cylindrical brass boxes several inches in diameter, engraved and ornamented. They had only hour hand. The face was not covered with glass, but usually had a hinged brass cover, often decoratively pierced with grillwork so the time could be read without opening. The movement was made of iron or steel and held together with tapered pins and wedges, until screws began to be used after 1550. Many of the movements included striking or alarm mechanisms. They usually had to be wound twice a day. The shape later evolved into a rounded form; these were later called Nuremberg Eggs. Still later in the century there was a trend for unusually-shaped watches, and clock-watches shaped like books, animals, fruit, stars, flowers, insects, crosses, and even skulls (Death’s head watches) were made.

These early clock-watches were not worn to tell the time. The accuracy of the clock movements was so poor, with errors of perhaps several hours per day, that they were practically useless. They were made into jewelry and novelties for the nobility, valued for their fine ornamentation, unusual shape, or intriguing mechanism, and accurate timekeeping was of very minor importance. Source

Portrait of a Man, Possibly an Architect or Geographer,Peter Paul Rubens Flemish

This sensitive portrait on copper is one of Rubens’s earliest known works. The square and dividers may refer to architecture or geography, while the watch is a reminder of mortality.
(Cassidy’s Note: the watch he’s holding is an example of a pomander watch).

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me; 

For now hath time made me his numbering clock

My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar 

Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch

Whereto my finger, like a dial’s point, 

Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears. 

Now sir, the sound that tells what hour it is 

Are clamorous groans, which strike upon my heart, 

Which is the bell: so sighs and tears and groans 

Show minutes, times, and hours: but my time 

Runs posting on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy, 

While I stand fooling here, his Jack o’ the clock


Richard II

Richard II, V.4

I was intrigued by this reference to a Jack of the Clock and wanted to know what mechanism might have been referring to here with that reference. Apparently, Shakespeare is punning not only on Jack in terms of a fool, but he’s also referring to the developing languaeg around the parts of the clock which had just come into existence:

As Wendy Beth Hyman describes it for her paper, ‘For now hath time made me his numbering clock’: Shakespeare’s Jacquemarts

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘jacquemart’ appears first in the early sixteenth century, a curious amalgam of the working class moniker ‘Jack’ with the French word for hammer, ‘marteau’. An articulated automaton that struck a clock bell, a jacquemart is a metallic embodiment of an ideology that conflates physical labour with dehumanization. Little considered, Shakespeare’s named and self appointed ‘Jacks’ — Falstaff, Jaques of As You Like It, and Richard II represent ‘rude mechanicals’ subject to the agency of more powerful political figures. Yet the automaton jack is not merely a pawn of history; he is also associated with the inventive Vulcan and models of early modern poetry as built, fabricated, or machined. Richard II’s ‘hammered’ thoughts or Falstaff’s multiplying buckram men help reveal the capacity for creative making within these dispossessed characters’ seeming mechanicity.

Hyman, Wendy Beth. “’For Now Hath Time Made Me His Numbering Clock’: Shakespeare’s Jacquemarts.” Early Theatre, vol. 16, no. 2, 2013, pp. 143–156. JSTOR,

Where you can learn more

Addtionally, to my ears, the word “numbering” sounds a great deal like “nuremberg” suggesting it’s possible Shakespeare is referening the famous Nuremberg eggs here as fashionable watches for the nobility, considering it is Richard II who is speaking the lines.

That’s it for this week here at Did Shakespeare, I’m Cassidy Cash, That Shakespeare Girl, adn I hope you learn something new about the bard. 

See you next week!


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