When Were Watches Invented?

when were watches invented
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Hey there watch lovers! 

You’ve probably found this article because you were curious as to how this practical and stylish piece of accessory came to exist in the first place. 

You’re not the only curious person because right from the earliest times, man has always been obsessed and fascinated with the concept of time and its passing. This dates from as far back as prehistoric man up till our modern-day era. 

That’s right, the technological craze of the modern age just goes to show how much man is obsessed with figuring things out and also that desire to make our lives easier and better. The invention of the watch is just one of those instances. 

The world of watches has seen the creation of numerous and various devices developed to measure time. Some of the earliest examples of these technologies include water clocks and sundials. These ancient timekeeping technologies were commonly used methods to track time in ancient times.

This does not, however, answer our question. When were watches invented? Well, history tells us that watches were invented during the late 1200s. 

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A Brief History Of Watches

Wristwatches are among the most fascinating inventions in the history of mankind’s advancement in the area of technology. When you look at a wristwatch, it is as much modern as it is ancient.

According to history, the 1200s is not such an ancient era. However, considering the vast technological advancements that have occurred in recent centuries, the wristwatch could be considered a sort of antique item in some quarters. This is very fascinating indeed. 

Right from the beginning, it has served to be an item of outright necessity while at other times, it has simply been just a fashion accessory. The wristwatch has also been known to simultaneously carry out both functions beautifully as well.  

Despite the fact that we live in a digital era where you don’t even need a watch to tell the time, the wristwatch is still far from an obsolete item. If nothing, the fact that watch manufacturers continue to produce and sell more innovative and technologically advanced timepieces such as smartwatches proves the fact easily. 

For us to truly understand why wristwatches are so appealing, it’s important we take a look back at its origin and explore the various stages of this iconic item’s evolution. 

Between The 13th And 16th Centuries 

In the year 1275, in England, the first mechanical clock was invented. Salisbury Cathedral holds one of the oldest working clocks ever and it was completed in 1386. This clock announces time by striking the hours as it was created without a face. 

Moving over to Italy now, the early part of the 1300s saw the invention of three mechanical clocks. One served as an astronomical clock. The other rang a bell every hour. The third clock, on the other hand, made a note of the hours, the time the sun rose, and the days of the month. 

With the passing years, blacksmiths continued to construct clocks with even louder bells so that they could be heard all over town, including manor houses. And by the 16th century, the iron which was used in clocks was replaced with bronze, brass, and silver. 

Two centuries later, in the year 1540, John Calvin appeared on the scene. John Calvin was a reformer and believed people should not wear jewelry. This forced jewelers to turn to watchmaking as an alternative. This singular action gave birth to the Swiss watch industry as we know it today.  

Thirty-four years later, in 1574, the first pocket watch which had religious representations on the back and front of it was created. 

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Between The 17th And 19th Centuries 

1. The Pendulum Clock 

This invention was patented by a man named Christian Huygens in the year 1656. However, the study dates back to a man named Galileo. This was an improvement on previous inventions because it decreased the nonconformity in time to 15 seconds which was a huge improvement on the prevailing mechanical accuracy of 15 minutes a day.  

The movement created by the motion of the pendulum clock was discovered to amount to the force of gravity. 

A number of Scientists with Isaac Newton as one of them added the study of the pendulum to their work which ultimately helped to precisely measure the earth’s shape as a result of the force of movement. 

Ever since then, the pendulum has served not only scientific purposes but has also been completed in order for the most accurate time to be kept. 

2. The Pocket Watch 

Pocket watches were produced as early as the later part of the 16th century. However, when they were first made, they were only capable of displaying the hour. Eventually, the minute hands were added to clocks in 1680. 

The very first second hand showed up on the scene in 1690 even though it still didn’t gain widespread usage until much later. 

Pocket watches served as replacement of the old pendant time pieces with this transition happening after the introduction of waistcoats by Charles II of England. 

The introduction of the waistcoat into public fashion meant that people were now carrying their watches inside their pockets instead of keeping it safe inside a pendant. As a result, watchmakers started to make the edges of pocket watches curved and flattened. They did this to prevent sharp edges from bulging out and causing damage to clothing. 

In 1610, the face was covered using glass in order to protect a wearers’ hands from damage.

By the 1700 years, more and more people began to own clocks and manufacturers began to mass-produce clocks in a variety of shapes and sizes. Their designs ranged from decorative table clocks to grandfather clocks. 

As a result of the widespread demand, advances in technology naturally followed with the first self-winding clock mechanism created in the year 1770 by a man called Abraham Louis Perrelet. 

The year 1770 also witnessed another development by a man called Jean Antoine Lepine. He was the one who created the thinner movement which made room for watchmakers to create a thinner watch that was easier to conceal. 

In 1759, the lever escapement was invented and improved in the year 1785. It was used primarily in Britain because the Swiss watchmakers used cylinder escapements till the later part of the 1800 years. 

Bulk Production Of Watches

With the technology upgrades which occurred during the 19th century, watch manufacturers were enabled to improve their own systems needed to duplicate machinery and tools. 

As a result of this, bulk production of watches flourished in the United States, mainly in Connecticut and Massachusetts. 

The availability of cheaper materials also facilitated the bulk production of pocket watches which meant they could be purchased by everyday folk for the first time. 

The increased production also meant the demand for the method of winding pocket watches increased from the year 1860. Also, keyless winding replaced key winding which meant pocket watches evolved to getting wound by the use of a crown. 

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The Invention Of Wristwatches

The creation of the first wristwatch occurred in the year 1812 specifically for the wrist of the Queen of Naples. Prior to this, wristwatches were introduced in 1570 but were known as arm watches. 

Women were the ones who primarily wore wristwatches because the watches were susceptible to damage by the weather. This is also another reason why men were more likely to wear pocket watches. 

It was in the military that wristwatches became more popular by male wearers. 

Constant Girard of Girdard Perregaux in the year 1880 produced a large number of wristwatches (about 2000 of them) to be worn by German Naval Officers. 

But it wasn’t just Constant Girard who popularized wristwatches among the male folk. Alberto Santos Dumont was a Brazilian aviator.  At a point, he decided he needed a watch that would allow him keep both hands placed on the controls while he timed flights. To do this, therefore, he reached out to his good friend Louis Cartier to design an alternative.

Louis Cartier worked closely with his watchmaker Edmond Jaeger in order to develop this special wristwatch for Santos Dumont and they were successful.   

Santos Dumont was the one who popularized this wristwatch by wearing it while he flew. 

World War I Watches

Pocket watches worn during World War I meant that soldiers trying to keep their eye on the time could not carry every single piece of their much-needed equipment. In order to ensure their hands stayed free, the military supplied them with wristwatches referred to as “trench watches.”

These initial wristwatches were designed with pocket watch movements with some brands placing the crown at the 12 o’clock mark and others placing the crown at the 3 o’clock mark. 

The wristwatches were worn on leather straps which allowed the solders accurately coordinate attacks and maneuvers. As a result of this, the wristwatches were added as a part of a soldier’s kit to be used in the war front. 

These wristwatches were mandated to have unbreakable crystal and a luminous handset. It was also mandated that the watches be purchased by the soldiers themselves instead of the military supplying them. 

The resulting effect of the soldier’s being required to buy their own watches led to an increase in advertising. As a result, more people got exposed to wristwatches and this helped in the successful commercialization of wristwatches.   

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Modern Advances

Even though the stopwatch was originally invented in the 1770s, the Breitling Watch Company patented the stopwatch in the year 1930. 

A chronograph measures time while also recording increments in time and is similar to the way a stopwatch works. 

In the 1950s, electric watches were introduced into the market. Electric watches work the following way. The hands are powered mechanically while the balance wheel is powered by a solenoid. 

A solenoid is a thin wire which is wrapped around a metallic core which produces a magnetic field whenever electric current passes through it. 

The quartz watch is foreshadowed by electric watches and works with batteries instead of electricity. Quartz watches are more shock absorbent and are able to maintain better accuracy without any oiling or cleaning. 

Quartz watches run on a battery-powered circuit as opposed to a self-winding movement. They also use a digital counter instead of a wheel train in order for beats to be added up when tracking the time. This mechanism still functions in modern-day quartz watches. 

Today, luxury Swiss brands still manufacture non-quartz watches. These watches are still created by hand and still feature hand-polished surfaces from the smallest screws right down to the dial. This is an accurate art form of watch production which not many companies replicate. 

What’s In Store For Watches In The Future?

Gold, silver, stainless steel have all been commonly used as part of the materials used in watch production. 

Different watch manufacturing companies have also carried out experiments using materials like carbon fiber, aluminum, titanium and platinum in their casing designs.

In the last few years, high tech materials such as ceramic and silicon have been used to manufacture watches with the materials not restricted to watch movements but also in the casing. 

Rolex even has an in-house foundry that makes the gold it uses for its watches. For more about that, click here to read Why Are Rolex Watches So Expensive?

Like we mentioned at the beginning of this article, technological advancements, inventions and watches have always gone hand in hand and this has been demonstrated for all to see in the last few decades with the invention of electric and quartz watches. 

In most recent times, with technological advancements prevalent in the mobile phone and computer industries, manufacturers have ventured into creating smartwatches. 

It’s also interesting to note that these watches are not reserved for only watchmaking companies as software companies are also spending a considerable amount of time researching how micro-technology can be used effectively.  

For example, tech giant Apple introduced the iWatch. Android users are not left out with the introduction of Android Wear and the Google watch. 

In order to keep up with smartwatches like these, several luxury watch brands have started to introduce their own smartwatch technology such as IWC which have released information concerning their product IWC connect. This technology works by being worn on the strap instead of it being built into the watch itself. 

Another big brand, TAG Heuer has announced its collaboration with Intel and Google in order to create a smartwatch. Other brands such as Frederique Constant, Montblanc, Mondaine, Movado and Alpina also have made smartwatch release announcements. 

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With the release of the quartz watch and its attendant popularity, the mechanical watch almost died. However, despite the rate of technological advancements, mechanical watches will be around for a while.  

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