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The History of Women's Wristwatches

The History of Women's Wristwatches
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The History of Women's Wristwatches

It may come as a surprise that wristwatches were originally worn almost exclusively by ladies. Indeed, it was only after their usefulness on the battlefield was discovered that men started wearing them.

This means that, until the start of the 20th century this was a piece of jewellery that was generally only ever seen on the wrist of a lady. Until then, it was also seen mainly as a decorative piece due to the fact that they still weren't very accurate or reliable.

Things would change dramatically over the following years, but the appeal of a watch as an attractive piece of fashion is something that continues to this day.

The First Ladies Wristwatches

There is some debate over the date of the first ever lady's wristwatch. One strong contender was the timepiece gifted by Robert Dudley to Queen Elizabeth I in 1571, although this was described as an arm watch.

In 1810, the Queen of Naples received a watch from Abraham-Louis Breguet. Many people also claim this as the first ever proper wristwatch.

Other historians point to the watch made by Patek Philippe for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868. In fact, this is classed by the Guinness Book of Records as being the first verifiable wristwatch in the modern sense.

The 19th century saw many elegant wristwatches appear. Due to the extremely high cost these were fashionable items that were only ever worn by extremely rich ladies such as royalty.

Interestingly, it is believed that as much as half of the workers in the early Swiss wristwatch industry were women.

Another couple of steps forward – or rather several thousand strokes forward - were taken by Mercedes Glietze in 1927 when she swam the English Channel wearing a waterproof Rolex Oyster.

The first wristwatches for women were usually known as wristlets. It took men until the 1940s or 1950s to become accustomed to wearing wristwatches as much as women did, with many still preferring to use a pocket watch until then.

Better Looking and Better Time-Keeping

As with most inventions, the wristwatch underwent a number of important changes over the years. Among the most important of these came in the 1950s, when better mechanisms made watches more functional and accurate than ever before.

The 1970s was even more crucial, as the quartz watch quickly consigned the old mechanical wristwatches to history. This development also meant that watches were now sleeker and more attractive as well as far more accurate.

By now both men and women commonly used wristwatches and many of the best ladies timepieces were elegant and massively expensive, while lowering technology costs regularly pushed down the price of more economical models.

Since then, we have seen incredible advances in both the accuracy and looks of woman's wristwatches. This means that we have witnessed some unforgettable and highly fashionable models, and also some watches that look a bit regrettable when we now look back at them.

Celebrity Use

As with any interesting fashion trend, it is no surprise to see that celebrities all over the world were quick to jump on the wristwatch bandwagon. To start with, popular Hollywood actresses were among the very first female celebrities to be able to afford glamorous watches.

Stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren all helped to add a huge dollop of glamour to the idea of wearing a watch. In later times, icons such as Princess Diana and Madonna were among the ladies who helped keep fashionable watches in the public eye.

In more recent times, the latest and most beautiful models from Rolex and Cartier are among these frequently featured on the wrists of singers, models and actresses. Among the current female celebrities you will usually see wearing a classy wristwatch are Victoria Beckham, Rihanna, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aston.

Sports Use

As we saw earlier, a waterproof watch was worn by a woman swimming the Channel way back in the 1920s. After this, the improvements in design and practicality meant that just about every sportswoman would start to wear a wristwatch.

For instance, if you look at pictures of the infamous clash between Zola Budd and Mary Decker you will see that the American and many other runners were wearing watches. Strangely, Budd doesn't seem to have one on, although her left wrist appears to have the white mark left by regularly using a watch in the sun.

In the same way, we can see that most sportswomen have proudly shown off their timepieces while competing or while looking good away from their sport. The incredible accuracy and durability of modern womens wristwatches mean that they are worn by just about everyone from runners to swimmers and tennis players.

While the fashions have changed dramatically over the decades, there is no denying that wristwatches are as desirable as ever before. The combination of a beautiful design and a great deal of practicality means that these accessories are unlikely to go out of fashion anytime soon.

The History of Women's Wristwatches
It may come as a surprise that wristwatches were originally worn almost exclusively by ladies. Indeed, it was only after their usefulness on the battlefield was discovered that men started wearing them.