History of Watches: A Quick Timeline

Watches have been around for a long, long time. But what is the actual history of watches? Ever asked yourself, “When was the watch invented?” Or wondered how they’re made?

Watches today are not what they used to be. Take a look at a smartphone for example. What we know is that it can take calls, send texts, track fitness data, and carry out scores of other functions. At this point of highly advanced technology, it is interesting to look back throughout history and understand where watches came from in the first place. Below, we briefly go over the history of watches from when were watches invented to now.

History of Watches A Quick Timeline_Infographics Vertical

Invention of the Clock

Before we talk about watches and the invention of them, we must go over the history of timekeeping devices. Though early civilizations used primitive time-telling devices, such as sundials, the first clock was invented by the English in 1275. In the beginning, they were so basic that all they could do was ring a bell at every hour. Still, engineers and blacksmiths collaborated for hundreds of years and eventually were able to build clocks that looked roughly like the mechanical ones we have today. They also started to experiment with metals outside of the traditional material, steel. That included silver, bronze and brass.

front view of an old clock

Pocket Watch History

When was the pocket watch invented? These were such primitive times that the famous religious figure John Calvin actually banned the wearing of jewelry in Switzerland. This opened up a massive opportunity for anybody in Switzerland that could create pocket watches. Historically, the first of them was produced in the late 1500’s and like the earliest clocks, only had an hour hand. As the utility and popularity of pocket watches became apparent, the industry was further funded and advanced. The result was more reliable pieces, the inclusion of minute and second hands and a growing consumer base.

different styles of pocket watches

Widespread Adoption

In the 19th century, the industrial revolution had taken hold and every industry was experiencing massive improvements. Many changes took place, but the most prominent were superior products, lower prices and mass production. One sector that was swept up in this wave of productivity was pocket watches, and they finally reached the mass market. Before this, only the wealthy could afford such expensive and luxurious timepieces. Now, commoners could afford them too.

The Wristwatch History 

Though wristwatches had been around for centuries, their use was not widespread. In fact, they were primarily worn by wealthy women. The reason was that at first all watches were too expensive for common people. Then, after the prices fell, there were still very few people wearing them because they were considered a women’s style, and not many women chose to wear watches. What shifted this trend was the adoption of men using wristwatches in the military. This began in 1880 when Constant Girard decided to outfit his German naval officers with wristwatches. In the following years, doing so became more and more popular.

Rolex Lady Datejust watch on the wrist

Use on the Battlefield

We’re talking about the history of watches, but watches have a history with history itself. Though WWI had many massive implications, one of the less significant ones was the use of military wristwatches. What happened is that soldiers in the trenches did not want to take a watch out of their pockets every time they needed to check the time. They opted for the more functional wristwatch, which could be checked immediately and did not require the soldier to take one of their hands off their weapon. Beyond convenience, having the time handy was a critical factor in making military maneuvers. The reason is that different groups of soldiers could coordinate attacks even if they could not communicate. Instead, they would agree to attack at a particular time and use their watch to confirm coordination.

Wristwatches Take Over

After the war, it was now acceptable and trendy for men to wear wristwatches.  Watch company marketing departments began to use depictions of soldiers wearing wristwatches to sell them to other men. Additionally, men who had worn them throughout the war had become accustomed to doing so and wanted to continue that habit. The result was an explosion in the popularity of wristwatches, which allowed them to nearly take over the entire pocket watch market.

Omega Seamaster black dial watch on the wrist

Technological Developments

Once watches became a massive industry, money came pouring in for research and development. This led to added features such as chronographs, quartz movements, useful bezels, and more. The result was a diversification of the functions watches could carry out, which further expanded the market for them.

Watches Get Smarter

In the last twenty years, computers have been getting smaller and smaller. First, they went from the size of entire rooms to personal computers. Next, we developed laptops and smartphones. Now, in the modern age, we can fit advanced computers in tiny compartments that fit on our wrists. The result is smartwatches like the Apple Watch. There is still a large market for vintage style watches, but smart innovations are changing the watch industry in rapid fashion.

Apple watch on the wrist

When you go shopping for watches online, most of the pieces you come across are vastly different than timepieces were throughout history. The reason is that what you see today is the accumulation of hundreds of years of advancements. Now, whoever you are and whatever you are looking for, there is a piece for you. You just have to go find it.

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