From the beginnings of civilization, humans have been trying to perfect their timekeeping methodology and tools. The earliest dated timekeeping devices are sundials from the 4th millennium BC in Ancient Egypt. Since then, numerous technological advances arised in horology as water clocks, the hourglass, mechanical clocks, automatic clocks, digital clocks, and many more have been invented. Today, we will delve deeper into the history of mechanical watches and its impact.
Mechanical clocks first appeared as massive, weight-driven devices installed in churches and buildings. The oldest mechanical watch on record is the watch that was built into the Dunstable Priory in England in 1283. For centuries, the bell of these massive clocks sufficed as the only time-telling method for most people living in villages. Yet, by the 15th century, a smaller, more portable clock started establishing its prominence in the household due to its increasing accessibility. From here, the next natural progression was to create clocks small enough to carry around or wear: hence, the creation of the watch.
The first creation of the ‘watch’ is commonly attributed to Peter Henlein, a German locksmith. These watches are believed to have been created in the early 1500s for individuals of higher economic status. They were able to be made in such small sizes due to the addition of the genius invention of the mainspring. The mainspring allowed for energy to be stored by winding the knob which was used to power all the other gears and parts in the watch. Henlein’s watches could last up to 40 hours after winding. For centuries, the pocket watch was of common use by people for both personal and professional matters until the wrist watch superseded it during World War I.
During the era of pocket watch use, there were a few notable inventions and contributions that affected the design and development of the pocket watch. In the approximate year of 1660, British physicist Robert Hooke and Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented the balance spring. This addition, in collaboration with the balance wheel, created a harmonious oscillator that ensured oscillation at a precise period, which increased accuracy of watches greatly.
Furthermore, a great influencer of the pocket watch is Charles II of England, due to his introduction of the waistcoat that included a pocket specifically designed to store one’s pocket watch. Coupled with his influence, the inclusion of the lever escapement and screws into watches allowed for the accuracy to reach within one or two minutes a day and also be created in the flat shape that allows easy storing in the pockets. Thus, to this day, the pocket watch is widely known as a small, flat, portable clock worn in the waistcoat, which is an accurate depiction of its popular use for centuries.
Nevertheless, the pocket watch inevitably fell out of popularity as WWI called for the development of reliable wrist watches. Interestingly, the first wristwatch ever created was made for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868 by the swiss watch company Patek Philippe. As noticed, this is well before the beginning of WW1 in 1914, when the wristwatch was sprung into popularity. Although the design of a wrist watch was useful and harbored immense potential, it was primarily viewed as a feminine decorative piece for decades. Thus, wrist watches were reserved as expensive jewelry for rich women to wear as a symbol of status. However, the need for a measure of timekeeping at the hand, or the wrist, of soldiers was a crucial element in war. This allowed for time-oriented strikes to be planned and implemented while also ensuring that the soldiers will have as much mobility with their hands to operate machinery. Due to this introduction of masculinity and bravado embedded in the wrist watch, it started to gain momentum in the fashion industry.
Since then, there has been a variety of styles and designs that came in and out of style and it is interesting to see how they align with the fashion trends throughout the years. In 2020, touches of minimalism and blue designs are at the forefront of the trend.