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Collecting of balance-cocks and watch keys

Balance cocks and pocket watch keys are also a fascinating field for collection within horology, although not yet so familiar.

First, a few words about balance cocks or balance bridges. From a technical point of view, the balance cock is the balance bearing opposite the clockface side. With pockets watches from the 18th and 19th centuries, great value was placed on finely working the visible parts. The bottom plate and, in particular, the cock itself therefore lent themselves to rich decoration. In verge watches the cock has decorative moulding practically throughout, which covers the whole balance. The movements of English pocket watches have one hinge, i.e. the cock is attached with only 1 screw, resulting in the highly decorative, typical form of English cocks. French, Dutch and Swiss cocks are in bridge form and fastened with 2 screws.

Rare balance-cock

Fusee Watch Balance Cock, 19th Century

Well decorated English balance-cock with diamond endstone

Well decorated English balance-cock
with diamond endstone

Where does the name “cock” come from? According to Tardy, “Les Coqs de Montres”, this name goes back to the wall clocks of the 15th century. These clocks were fitted with a balance arm (foliot) located at the top of the movement as a means of regulating it. The upper bearing, already then elaborately decorated, closed off the top of the movement and was named after the weathercocks which topped all church towers at the time.

On verge watches the cock had always been a work of art and, when the clock stopped working and was disposed of, it was removed and put aside as an independent clock part. Even in the early days, jewelry such as brooches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and cufflinks were made from them, or they were simply collected according to their motif and displayed as a picture, carefully mounted on velvet.

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English pocket watch with balance-cock, 1800

English pocket watch with balance-cock circa 1800

French pocket watch with balance-bridge circa 1820

French pocket watch with balance-bridge circa 1820

French pocket watch with "Dutch"-bridge circa 1800

French pocket watch with "Dutch"-bridge circa 1800

Newer Englich pocket watch with simple balance-cock, circa 1880

Newer Englich pocket watch with simple balance-cock, circa 1880

Some typical balance-cocks and bridges outside: French/Swiss, 2nd from outside: English, middle: "Dutch"

Some typical balance-cocks and bridges outside: French/Swiss, 2nd from outside: English, middle: "Dutch"

Let us turn now to pocket watch keys.
Between 1845 and 1860 Mr Adrien Philippe (engineer and co-founder of the famous watch manufactory Patek, Philippe & Co in Geneva) filed several patents for a crown winder for pocket watches and ultimately helped bring about the breakthrough. Until then, all pocket watches had been wound up with a key. The more simple everyday watches had simple keys, while the more costly pocket watches had keys decorated to match the watch, in a wide variety of forms and materials.

The only known, comprehensive publication on this subject is the book “Taschenuhrschlüssel” (Pocket watch keys) by Kaltenböck/Schwank, published by Nicolaus Günther, Münchenberg, Switzerland in 1982.

large watch-key on a chain

Large watch-key
on a chain

watch key on a chain

Watch key on a chain

Some pocket watch keys, the two in the centre are equipped with a ratchet arrangement to wind in one direction only.

Some pocket watch keys, the two in the centre are equipped with a ratchet arrangement to wind in one direction only. This kind of keys are named “Breguet keys”


Some pocket watch keys in various forms

Some pocket watch keys in various forms


Some pocket watch keys with coloured stones

Some pocket watch keys with coloured stones


Some simple pocket watch keys, in the center a multiple key

Some simple pocket watch keys,
in the center a multiple key


*The examples shown here of cocks and keys are from Werner and Elsbeth Moser collection.




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