These wristlets or wrist straps for pocket watches turn up occasionally. The general opinion seems to be that they were used in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, although Mappin & Webb adverts from the WW1 period say that they were used at the battle of Omdurman - 2 September 1898. This one is shown holding a small Borgel pocket watch (I had to get Borgel in somewhere!)
I have a couple of these straps and inside them is the legend "RD 217622". I recognised this as a reference to a Registered Design, so I went digging. This is what turned up first.
Aha, clearly on the right track. A bit more digging and this arrived yesterday.
The middle entry on this page from the Board of Trade register in beautiful copper plate handwriting is RD 217622. Date of registration 2 September 1893. The registrant is Arthur Garstin of Queen Square in the Bloomsbury district of London, a leather goods manufacturer. Queen Square seems to have been quite a posh residential area at the time and this was probably his home address.
The company of A. Garstin and Co. was established in 1871. Its address in 1922 is given as 159 Adgersgate Street, London, EC1 for Offices and Showrooms with a factory called Leatherville at Hendon. They appear to have been a manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of leather goods. During the Great War they made, inter alia, binocular cases for the British Army - one was advertised recently on a popular auction site carrying the legend "Case No.2 Prismatic A. Garstin & Co. Ltd. 1916".
So what is the significance of 1893? This was after the first Boer War, which was a short affair from December 1880 until 23 March 1881, and isn't what people usually mean when they refer to "The Boer War", but well before the second Boer War beginning in 1899,and before the battle of Omdurman in 1898. There were various South African Wars between 1879 and 1915, and it does appear that it was during these wars that British military men began strapping their watches to their wrists, so this wristlet (as they were referred to at the time) was probably designed in response to that demand.
I don't claim that this is the first wristlet, or that it was definitely designed for use in South Africa, but it is the earliest confirmed date that I have seen, and I feel that it probably was designed for use by military men in South Africa. Unfortunately Registered Designs don't carry any textual information to enlighten us further. Thanks for reading this far!
Regards - David