Why Nurses Tell Time Upside Down – History of The Nurses Fob Watch

History of the Nurses Fob Watch

Everything about being a nurse centres on organisation. Quality patient care revolves around a carefully planned and executed schedule, thus keeping track of the time is the pulse of the nursing profession.

It’s not only a matter of knowing the hour, but nurses also need to time certain and ensure that 

In modern times, smart devices, have in some ways eliminated the need for the traditional timepieces, however, the history of the nurses fob watch means that there's always a place for one as part of any nurses uniform. 

But where did the nurses fob watch begin its journey to healthcare necessity, and who's still using them today? Here, we take a look at the history of the nurse fob watch and why they're still as popular today as they were when they first became part of the uniform. 

It all started in 15th century Europe...


History of the Fob Watch – The First Watches


Credit goes, by most accounts, to Peter Henlein, a German craftsman, but (as is often the case) there were others working on the same idea at that time.

Humanity had enjoyed some form of time management since the Greek sundial, earlier if one counts the casual sun observer as a "time manager."

Transitioning the awareness of time from watching the sun’s position in the sky to a body-worn timepiece was a matter of thousands of years of evolution, and the overnight invention by Henlein.

What he did was invent the mainspring—a serial torsion spring of steel ribbon, which stored energy, released by turning the cogs of a timepiece until the stored energy demanded the user rewind the timepiece.

The first portable versions were not wrist worn, but pendants, not much different from a conventional nurse watch. Watches would retain this basic engineering until the 20th century, and many antique pocket watches such as these are in high demand today. 

Transition to Nursing



It is not known exactly when nurses began to don the fob watch as part of their uniform. The first portable watches were a toy for the wealthy, as high-quality, hand built watch movements were very expensive. 

The difference in the watch worn by nurses, and those worn by fashionable dandies back in the day, was that the nurse's fob needed to be accessible without hands. This is where the history of the nurses fob watch comes to life.

As a matter of practicality, not so much sterilisation, nurses couldn't fumble a watch. Not only would reaching into a pocket for a watch soil the watch face, it would take time and a free hand. Nurses' hands would likely have fluids on them, and the open-face pocket watches and white dials simply weren't up to the task.

They needed a simple solution.

Some clever nurse discovered that the common pocket watch, when pinned upside down to the lapel of a tunic, made for a perfect hands-free reading device whenever needed. Watchmakers soon caught on, and the evolution of the nurses fob watch continued apace. 

Rites of Passage


Again, it's difficult to say when, but at some point, fob watches turned into the perfect gift for nurses, and a stainless steel brooch watch became a rite of passage for many aspiring nurses. 

Like the prestige of gifted writing instrument to the graduating law school student, the fob watch moved from functional accessory to a symbol of accomplishment.

Quality counts too—or at least it used to. The same way a quality pen can lend an upwardly mobile office professional more confidence, a classic Swiss timepiece serves the same purpose.

Reliable fobs have fuelled not only the careers but the confidences of ambitious nursing school grads for centuries.

The New History of the Nurses Fob Watch

Advancements have moved the nurse's fob watch far from Henlein’s first pocket watch.

The manufacturing of consistent reliable parts is no longer an art but a matter of production. Inexpensive fob watches are easily replaced, even on a tight budget.

That said, like the pen before it, there is a vein of tradition running through the fob watch that stitches together the years like a tapestry.

Nurses and other medical professionals who appreciate history wear traditionally fashioned fobs as a nod to those who paved the pathway before them.

However, advancements in digital technologies are slowly taking the place of the historical nurses fob watch. Today, you are just as likely to see a nurse wear and smartwatch on their wrist, and smartfobs are also beginning to make their way to market—giving nurses a huge range of tools at their fingertips. 

The history of the nurses fob watch then, is about to enter a new chapter. Now, nurses can monitor their own health as they work as well as their patients. They can take messages and calls directly from their watch, while also ensuring they stay on schedule with push-notifications and other calendar features. 

Additionally, nurses fob watches can provide important information and resources at the tap of a button or touchscreen. The future of the nurses fob watch, looks very bright indeed. 


Regional Variances


While, Australian and British nurses tend to keep the tradition of the fob, nurses in other parts of the world do not. They may not even know what constitutes a fob watch.

In the United States, for example, the tradition of the fob watch is hardly observed. However, it wasn’t always that way.

The U.S. Navy Nurse Corps General Uniform Instructions from 1917 read:

"No ornaments or jewellery other than a plain watch fob to be worn while on duty. Plain wrist watches are permitted to be worn except when centre-indicated by professional duties."

Nurses in the States may own a fob, mostly likely gifted at graduation, but they won’t likely wear it as part of their uniform. There are, of course, exceptions to this.

The good news for new nurses and their families is that in this modern world, even quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune. One can purchase a lovely, classically-styled nurses fob, without draining your bank account.

Alternatively, there are plenty of no-nonsense silicone fob watches which do the job well with a little colourful fun to boot.

Whereas a nurse from the sixteenth century might be fortunate to own one carefully guarded timepiece, today’s nurses may have one to go with every pair of scrubs.

One thing hasn’t changed. The job still rides on the shoulders of a meticulously organised person.

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