By the late 1780s fashionable gentlemen had been wearing two watches for about ten years, when finally the ladies caught on (what took you so long?). According to The European Magazine and London Review, at Queen Charlotte’s birthday do in December 1787 for the ladies: ‘Two watches were universal, unless a picture was substituted for one of them, or a fancy setting.
Gentlemen usually only displayed the strings and trinkets attached to their watches, while the watches themselves were more or less securely held in little ‘fob’ pockets just below the waist. (I wonder whether some men just pretended to have watches and something else kept their watch string in place?) Women tended to wear watches in a different way: as part of what was then called an equipage, but is now usually called a chatelaine. (I know this is confusing, but this type of ornament continued to be very fashionable in the 19th century. From the 1830s it was called chatelaine and somehow this new name also stuck to 18th century versions.)
An equipage consisted of a hook, which would have been invisible when worn (I’m not quite sure what it hooked into, maybe the top of the petticoat? And yes, I am fond of brackets). Attached to this hook were one or several, often highly ornamental, plaques, from which dangled not only watches, but also various trinkets or ‘toys’, such as containers for thimbles, scissors, bodkins and such like (tassels were also popular). Have a look at this equipage/chatelaine from our own collection and you will see what I mean.
A fashion plate published in January 1787 in the Journal des Luxus und der Moden shows a lady in a ‘Robe à Feston’, or gown with festoons, proudly displaying two ornaments hanging from her waist. We rarely have the detailed descriptions that would have originally accompanied the fashion plates, so I am not quite sure what these ornaments are. They don’t seem to be watches and might be the ‘fancy settings’ mentioned above. Or, maybe, the lady was in fact wearing her watches like a gent, with only the strings and toys on show. In December 1788 it was reported that Parisian ladies accessorised their ball dresses thus: ‘At the girdle hang two golden chains, belonging to two watches in two little fobs.’
Have a look at another fashion plate, this time from the Magasin des Modes Nouvelles, Françaises et Anglaises from March 1787.
Even without the description it is evident that the lady on the right is dressed in distinctly masculine garb, maybe a riding habit. Show-off that she is, she seems to display not two, but three watches. I suspect she is wearing two so-called ‘macaronis’, another confusing term that I am not convinced was used for this type of ornament during the 18th century.
The distinguished scholar and jewellery collector Dame Joan Evans (who donated part of her collection to the Museum) wrote in 1921: ‘Soon after 1770 the Macaronis [highly fashionable young men] introduced a chatelaine of a new kind. Instead of terminating in a hook, it ended in an ornamental medallion, from which hung tassels and charms, while the supporting chains were slightly longer. This must have been held in place by the waistbelt so that the watch and the tassels both hung down.’
It is quite likely that not all three watches of our lady were ‘real’. Joan Evans continued: ‘Fobs were also worn, one end hung with a watch and the other with a heavy seal, a dummy watch, or fausse montre’ [fake watch to you and me]. We have an 18th century fake watch equipage in our collection. It is quite peculiar and deserves an entry on its own.