Easy DIY Georgian and Victorian Watch Fob: Historical Accessory Tutorial

I’ve got Fobs that jingle-jangle-jingle as I go walking merrily along…

Back in ye olden days (aka 2014), I attended a very chilly Georgian Picnic with my husband, Chris.

To dress up our outfits, I made him a simple Regency fob/watch string and I wore a portrait miniature of him on a fob of my own. Since then, I’ve made lots of such fobs for costuming purposes. They are great for displaying watches, trinkets, miniatures, jewels, and more for 18th and 19th century costumes.

Napoleon and Josephine Tea 169 ps

Photo by Decor to Adore

For Laura’s Napoleon and Josephine Tea, I wore Christopher’s miniature portrait again and got a few requests for a tutorial on making one.

In addition, I found an original man’s fob from the 1880s, and I just recently got a few pocket watches from my grandma, so I have proper watches to use as examples!

Two of the watches are pretty recent, but the rose gold one is circa 1900-1920. Only one of them runs (the big one), but since I carry around a cellphone, I don’t really need the watches to function so much as look the part!

This is the oldest of the watches and the Victorian ribbon fob I found.

Before purchasing your supplies, consider who will be wearing the fob and what they will be putting on the fob. For example:
An 18th century man has a fob pocket on his breeches under a long waistcoat. He would tuck his expensive watch in the pocket attached to a highly decorated watch string long enough to show from under his waistcoat.
A Regency man will have a fob with a watch on one end and trinkets like tassels, watch key, seals, etc. on the other. He wears his watch tucked into his fob pocket with the ribbon hanging out over his breeches, displaying the accessories. You’ll want to buy a few charms to gussy-up the end of your fob!
A Victorian man, on the other hand, may keep his watch in a vest pocket with the watch on one end and only a bar on the other end to secure the fob to a buttonhole or he might keep a very short ribbon fob with a charm on the other end to dangle out of his pocket. This is a great opportunity to use silk ribbon, display some embroidery, or add an initials charm (like my antique example)
A Regency lady will wear her watch on one end and pin the other end to her dress or drape it over a sash, displaying the watch out in the open.
This method also works well for making chatelaines, equipages, or simply displaying a hanging pendant. Get creative!

– SUPPLIES –

– Ribbon Findings (I used 22mm ones, ordered from Etsy)
– Ribbon (I used 1 inch wide velvet ribbon from Hobby Lobby)
– Jump Rings
– Hoop/Bar, Lobster, or Spring Ring Clasps
– Needle Nose Pliers
-Scissors
– Watch, charms, miniatures, etc. to hang
– Pin/Brooch *optional
– Chain *optional

– MAKING THE FOB BASE –

Cut your ribbon to a comfortable length. If find 3-4 inches to be a good length for Regency fobs. 8-10 inches, if you want to secure it by looping it over a sash or if a gent needs it to reach from their waistcoat buttons to side pocket.  Keep in mind that your watch and the clasp will add extra length. If it helps, you may wish to use a flexible tailor’s measuring tape to “drape” on your outfit to get a measurement goal (for example, from a vest buttonhole to the watch pocket).

Next, place the ribbon clasp finding over the end of the ribbon. Then use the pliers to gently chomp the alligator teeth down onto the ribbon. Don’t use too much force or you’ll flatten them! They need to bite the ribbon firmly to hold it in place. Repeat with the other end of the ribbon.

If you have a ribbon wider than your findings, don’t fret! You can get a nice effect by folding the edges of the ribbon in the back so it fits.

– CHOOSE YOUR CLASP CONFIGURATION –

Depending on how you plan to wear your fob, there are a few options for which clasps to use. For example, the Victorian original has two types of clasps on it: a spring ring clasp and a pinch clasp.

Here are some other configuration options:

Loop and Bar/Toggle Clasp. The loop works great if you want to hang multiple things from the fob. Add lobster clasps to your suite of accessories to make them easy to clip on or remove at your leisure (or, for a more permanent attachment, use large jump rings to attach your accessories directly to the loop). Plus, there are tons of fancy designs to choose from, like heart shaped or twisted wire ones. The bar, if not used to secure the fob to a buttonhole, can easy be folded

Bar and Lobster/Pinch Clasp. Allows for easily taking a singular watch/accessory on and off. If you make your fob like this, you don’t have to add clasps to all your accessories or break out the pliers to remove jump rings every time you want to change out the watch.

Brooch and Clasp. For ladies, brooches are a great option for securing your fob to a waistline. Why use a plain sewing pin when you can jazz it up with a cool antique piece? Take those old jewels out for a spin! Many Victorian brooches have a safety chain on them. If yours does, simply use a jump ring to attach your fob to the loop! Otherwise, simply pin the fob on directly through the ribbon.
A less practical method is to add a small length of chain to slide through the pin of the brooch. This method is tedious to put on (you must nip the pin through your dress, thread on the chain, then nip the pin through your dress fabric again before securing it), but if you are using a ribbon you don’t want to put pin holes in, it’s a viable option.

Once you’ve got all that sorted, just pick out a watch or some charms you like and get your hoity-toity swagger on!

For a more in-depth examination of the history behind fobs/watch strings check out one of my other blog posts:

Keeping Track of Time: Georgian Watch Chains, Equipages, Fobs, and Chatelaines

Find of the Month: Early 19th Century Gilt Buttons

October 2016

My new favorite antique store, Maine Barn and Attic Antiques, has oodles of raw, dusty crusty buttons for 10¢ to $2 each, depending on the bin you dig them out of. Usually I paw through the enormous 10¢ button bin, but this past weekend, I ventured over to the smaller more expensive bins (50¢ each. Living the high life!) and was excited to find what I thoughts were 18th century buttons:

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All of them are smooth and plain except for this gaudy little guy.

They are very weighty! These would definitely have to be attached using the taped method used on men’s coats during the 18th and early 19th century. Taped buttons are attached to the coat by making an eyelet where the button sits, poking the shank through to the back of the garment, and threading a narrow ribbon or woven tape through the shanks to hold them down. American Duchess has an awesome guide for this handy technique here.

This is the best illustrated guide to the technique ever! Thanks, Lauren!

Attching buttons that way makes sure they stay flat, flush and firm instead of flopping around. That’s how all those enormous, ornate buttons you see on 18th century coats stay so neatly in place despite being so heavy!

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They have large, round “omega” style shanks.
Button Shanks Guide by Button Country
Guide to dating buttons by shank style: DAACS Cataloging Manual for Buttons

All of them have detailed stamps on the back with interesting sayings like “Orange Colour” and “Treble Gilt London.”

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In reality, they are not quite as old as I first believed. Research led me to lots of metal detecting and mudlarking websites where I learned that these buttons are commonly dug up across the English and New England countryside. My buttons date from about 1810 to 1840. The English discovered a process for gilding buttons in the late 18th century and by the 19th century the manufacture of gilded buttons was in full swing. For a more detailed account, I’ll direct you to this short, well-written PDF on the subject.

I tried to do a bit more detailed research on the individual button back stamps, but haven’t delved too deep yet (too busy prepping for Georgian Picnic!). Still, I took pictures of each button back so if anyone else finds one, we can compare notes. :)

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“B & BURNHAM – TREBLE GILT” with a chain design around the shank

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“—-GE (Probably “ORANGE”) COLOUR” with dotted borders
This is the back of the smaller engraved button.

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“TREBLE GILT – STAND (D) COLOUR” with dotted borders

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“STAND (D) TREBLE GILT – LONDON) with stamped sun design around shank.

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“WARRENTED – FINE GOLD SURFACE” with dots and sunburst/starburst design around the shank

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“BEST QUALITY” with eagle
I think this button may be later, closer to 1850-1860, judging by the font and styling. It is also the thinnest and lightest of the bunch.

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“LONDON GILT” with a laurel/leaf design and two rings of dots around the shank

Other Find of the Month posts you might like:

Find of the Month: English Silver-Gilt Button

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button