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The Interesting History of Wrist Watches

The Interesting History of Wrist Watches
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The Interesting History of Wrist Watches

As strange as it may seem to us now, people haven't always looked at the back of their wrists to find out the current time.

In fact, the arrival of the wristwatch into the world is a relatively recent phenomenon. So, how and when did humans decide that the wrist was the perfect place to check the time?

It Begins in the 15th Century

You might be surprised to see that the story begins in the 15th century, although it is clear that historical figures such as Louis XI, Henry VII and Joan of Arc never rocked a Swatch or a Rolex. However, this was the century in which mechanical advances meant that timepieces could be liberated from their big boxes and carried around for the first time.

Perhaps we can thank Peter Henlein for this, as the Nuremberg clockmaker is widely credited as being one of the first people to create big clock-watches that could be worn as pendants. We like to think that this led to many 15th century Germany citizens wandering around like Flavor Flav from Public Enemy.

The 16th Century

The earliest surviving watch to still be around dates from 1530 and belonged to Philipp Melanchthon. If you are ever in Baltimore then it is worth making a trip to the Walters Art Museum to see it.

At the same time that Philipp was bringing the bling to the Protestant Reformation, other people were also getting hooked on the habit of wearing watches. The German cities of Nuremberg and Augsburg were the centres of the watch industry and people there wore heavy brass boxes somewhere in-between the size of clocks and modern day watches.

Interestingly, these early watches only had an hour hand and were pretty poor at giving the owner an idea of the time. Even at this early stage in their development novelty designs were rife though, with flowers, insects and skulls among the weird shapes on show.

1571 possibly saw the first ever wristwatch slipped onto a dainty royal wrist. Robert Dudley presented something called an arm watch to Queen Elizabeth I in this year and we are sure that it looked absolutely fabulous, darling.

The 17th Century and Pocket Watches

The 17th century brought about incredible advances in science, culture and exploration. Perhaps more importantly, it was also a pretty good century for any guys who wanted to look smart while not losing track of time.

This is because this century saw the arrival of pocket watches designed to fit into a waistcoat pocket. The advent of the balance spring in the mid 17th century also helped to make portable watches far more reliable than ever before.

Women soon moved on to using wrist watches but classy pocket watches remained hip for the smart dude about town until well into the 20th century.

The 18th and 19th Centuries

The following centuries saw other advances turn the watch into far more impressive and reliable timepieces. The biggest change of all happened in the mid 19th century, when mass production saw watches become a lot more commonplace.

During this period, Abraham-Louis Breguet created a wristwatch for the Queen of Naples. This happened in 1810 and it is regarded by some as the earliest example of a true wristwatch in history.

A huge breakthrough in the history of watches came towards the end of the 19th century. This is when they started to get used by military personnel to help synchronise manoeuvres and presumably to find out when the next Oscar Wilde show was due on at the local theatre.

In 1893 the Garstine Company of London got a patent for their excitingly named Watch Wristlet. Wristwatches were also widely used in the Boer War and other military campaigns.

The introduction of railroads and the expansion of factories in the late 19th century meant that more people had a need to know what time it was in a convenient way.

20th Century

By the 20th century wristwatches now looked more like the models we are used to. Among the most exciting developments in this period was the design by Louis Cartier of a watch for aviation purposes.

Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred David, set up a company in 1905 that would become known as Rolex. You might have heard something about the watches they make.

Again, warfare had a big impact on the spread of wristwatches, as the First World War saw an increase in demand for tough watches that could give the time reliably and easily while having a display light for use at night. Once the war was over the trend continued in Europe before moving across to the USA.

Essentially, the war turned wristwatches from mainly a woman's accessory into something that every man wanted to wear.

It is reported that by the 1930s there were 50 men's wristwatches to every pocket watch. The self-winding wristwatch had also been created by then.

Electric watches made their arrival in the 50s and the 1960s saw the Russians take the first wristwatch into space. Around the same time, fashion trends saw cool and groovy wristwatch models of all sorts spring up, with the customer now having more variety than ever before.

By the early 1970s quartz watches were highly sought after, as they were regarded as being by far the most accurate watches around. This virtually killed off the mechanical watch and made timepieces accessible for everyone.

As for the classic LED display that many of us remember fondly from our childhood, this first appeared in the early 1970s. Technological advances also meant that watches were playing an ever bigger part in sports, as it was now possible to run, jump and swim with one on.

The 1980s saw the addition of games, calculators and funky beeping tunes. From the trenches of France and Belgium to Pac-Man in less than a century, the speed at which wristwatches had advanced was incredible.

By now, almost everyone wanted a watch and the variety on the market was staggering.

The 21st Century

The current century has seen one of the biggest changes of all, as smartwatches have arrived with a bang. Suddenly wristwatches have touchscreens, fitness trackers and a range of other modern features that have nothing to do with telling the time.

However, the classic wristwatch design remains as popular as ever. The selection of great looking wristwatches for sale makes choosing and wearing a timepiece and much fun as it has ever been.

Well, maybe with the exception of when those 15th century Germans starting hanging clocks round their necks.

The Interesting History of Wrist Watches
The arrival of the wristwatch into the world is a relatively recent phenomenon. So, how and when did humans decide that the wrist was the perfect place to check the time?