A fob can be defined as a short strap attached to an object to make the object easier to handle. The watch fob is a good example. Small decorative objects attached to the strap are also called fobs. Sometimes they are used to identify the object; key fobs are a good example of this use. Today, small devices attached to keys are sometimes called fobs.
Before World War I, when wristwatches became available, personal watches were carried in pockets. They were attached to short straps that could be leather, ribbon, or metal chain. The strap made it easier to remove the watch from the pocket and easier to handle the watch securely.
Men usually carried their watch in a small pocket on the waistcoat, called a fob pocket. Around 1775, waistcoats had several pockets, and for a time it was fashionable to carry a watch in each pocket. Sometimes only one watch was functional, while the others were merely decorative. The fobs hanging from each pocket became quite elaborate, and small personal seals were often attached to the free end.
As chain-style fobs began to be made of jewelry quality metal such as gold, silver, or even platinum, they began to be called watch chains or fob chains. These were valuable objects in themselves. During the Victorian period, fob chains of human hair were quite popular. Many Victorian wives were happy to braid a lock of their own hair into a fob for their husband’s prized watch.
The small, decorative objects that dangled from these chains are highly collectible objects today. Some of these fobs were very simple objects such as a thimble or a pierced coin. Others were finely crafted pieces of jewelry. One gold and platinum fob made around 1915 showed the mask of tragedy on one side and the mask of comedy on the other, with tiny diamonds and sapphires for eyes.
Fobs might have a personal meaning for the wearer. Sometimes they were decorated with an organization’s logo, such as a Mason’s symbol, and would only be worn by a member of the organization. Some fobs commemorated public events. One from 1904 shows an engraving of the Palace of Liberal Arts at that year’s World Fair.
Today, most people wear wristwatches, and the use of watch fobs is rare. The use of key fobs, however, is increasing. Tiny electronic devices allow the wearer to lock and unlock a car, turn its lights on or off, and even start the engine from a distance. Other key fobs act as security devices, sounding loud sirens when triggered. Small vials of pepper spray can be carried as key fobs as well.