The History and Evolution of Watches | Cristian Cole – CRISTIAN COLE

Posted on by Shelleah Pedersen

Whether you believe time to be a socially constructed measurement that numerically defines the past, present and future or an illusion, it has always been a source of fascination and is a continuously perplexing scientific study.

Time has captivated humankind since, well, the beginning of time as we know it and will remain a mystery until quantum theories of the phenomenon prove otherwise.

The first records of time were done so by prehistoric man on stone and would eventually be replaced by sundials and water clocks. In 1275, the first mechanical clock was invented in England, paving the way for the future of time-telling. In the early decades of the 1300s, Italy introduced their first mechanical clocks.

Now, if you were to guess how long watches have been around, would you guess decades? Centuries?

If you guessed centuries, then you are correct!

In 1524, the first known watch was invented in Germany by Peter Henlein, who is nowadays referred to as "the father of watches". However, it would be half a century until pocket watches featured glass. Additionally, it would be an entire century until pocket watches featured a minute hand as they had been originally invented with only an hour hand. Now that's minimalism!

In 1602, renowned astronomer and scientist Galileo would begin his study on pendulum watches which would later be patented by Christian Huygens in 1656. Over the next 200 years, clocks, pendulums and pocket watches would reach even the farthest corners of the Earth.

Known previously as "arm watches", the first wristwatch was designed and invented in 1812 for the Queen of Naples. Following their market debut, wristwatches would be primarily worn by women while pocket watches would continue to adorn the coat pockets of men. 

In the 19th century, the demand for pocket watches skyrocketed prompting mass production and most importantly, a reformation in how to wind them. In 1880, the first mass production of wristwatches for the Naval Officers of Germany was completed by Constant Girard. In 1904, the Santos wristwatch was invented by Louis-François Cartier, founder of the French jeweler and luxury good conglomerate, Cartier.

During World War I, pilots and soldiers were given wristwatches in place of pocket watches so that they could keep track of time hands-free. At the time, they were called "trench watches" rather than wristwatches.

Moving forward, the stopwatch, originally invented in the 1770s, was patented by the Breitling Watch Company in 1930. In the 1950s, the first electric wristwatch was invented and less than two decades later, the quartz watch. At the time, the quartz watch had changed watchmaking as it was known. The moving parts of all preceding mechanical wristwatches were replaced by a simple battery which reduced the need for consistent maintenance and care. Also, it was no longer necessary to self-wind a pocket or wristwatch which boosted the appeal and popularity of quartz watches.

Another breakthrough in watch-making occurred in the 1970s, with the release of the first digital electronic watch by Electro-Data and the Hamilton Watch Company. From there on out, the wristwatch would continue to undergo improvements and advancements until 2013, when the world's first smartwatch, the Pebble watch, was released. In 2014, tech-giant Apple announced the late-2015 release of their smartwatch which, arguably, changed the future of wristwatches.

Since then, watch-makers have either adapted to this new revolution in time-telling or they've preserved the traditional wristwatch and have branded themselves on that preservation.

What's so extraordinary about watches are that they have simultaneously evolved alongside humanity and have adapted to both mechanical and technological advancements. It can only make us question about the future of wristwatches and even, time telling.