Antique & Modern

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A Simple Timeline

How the humble watch has evolved over the centuries


Lets go back to the beginning…

15th Century – Apocryphal accounts of timepieces being made to be worn on the body.

15th Century - Leonardo da Vinci draws designs that include using springs in clocks instead of weights to run them.

1504-8 – Peter Henlein creates what SOME believe to be the first pocket watch. This is disputed by many scholars, stating that it was only his fame that brought him to the attention of the history books.

1550 – The use of screws began to take over the previous design of tapered pins and wedges.

1571 - Queen Elizabeth I receives a working "wristwatch" from her life-long friend and possible beau, Robert Dudley.

1657 – A massive leap forward was to happen in this year, with the development of the BALANCE SPRING. The invention of this device was either by Robert Hooke (of “cells” fame) or Christiaan Huygens (of “pendulum” fame).

1675 – Thanks to Charles II, and his introduction of the waistcoat, the design of the pocket watch began to change.

1680 – As watches became more accurate (losing about 10 minutes per day), this allowed a minute hand to be added to the dial.

1759 – Thomas Mudge is responsible for inventing the LEVER ESCAPEMENT. It would take several decades for this to become popular with the general population.

1759 – John Harrison invents the marine chronometer. This helped to establish longitude on board ships.

1785 – Josiah Emery “improved” the designs of Mudge’s escapement.

1780 – Abraham Louis Perrelet invents the first self-winding movement, utilising the oscillating motion of a weight inside the watch.

1780 - Louis Recordon, a friend and business associate of the world famous Abraham Louis Breguet, obtained a patent for a self-winding watch.

1782 - Marie Antoinette herself owns a self-winding watch, probably made by Breguet.

1786 - Bregue begins to manufacture his "perpetuelles" in more than single digit numbers.

1780-1790 - Breguet further develops the tourbillon, improving earlier designs used in pocket watches by the English watchmaker, and very close friend of Breguet, John Arnold.

1848 – A watchmaker by the name of Louis Brandt opens up a workshop… This would eventually become the Omega Watch Company.

1868 – Patek Philippe manufactures the first wrist watch (wound with a key). Patek Philippe were responsible for developing the perpetual calendar, the split-second hand, the chronograph and having minute repeaters in watches. These watches were primarily used as a form of jewellery for stylish women.

1880 – Kaiser Wilhelm I (of Germany) ordered the manufacture of 2000 wristwatches for German naval officers. Notable for being the first commercialisation of wristwatches (Although many researchers now believe this to be somewhat of an exaggeration, as not a single one of these watches has been found, despite their number).

1891 - Francois Borgel of Geneva patented his version of a waterproof (or impermeable) watch. This watch has often been pooh-poohed as it did not have a waterproof crown, but it has since been proven to be surprisingly waterproof, as an article from The Tatler magazine, dating from 1915 stated that such a watch spent several days in the Modder river (South Africa) during the second Boer War. The watch was recovered and found to still be functioning!

1900s – Women start wearing “wristlets” – small pocket watch-style watches worn on the wrist. Men have been quoted as saying they would “sooner wear a skirt than a wristwatch”!

1904 – Asked by his friend, Brazilian aviator Alberto Dumont, Louis Cartier (and his master watchmaker, Edmond Jaeger) came up with the idea of the Santos wristwatch.

1908 – Hans Wilsdorf starts up the Rolex Watch Company.

1914-1918 – Trench watches were developed during the First World War. They had pocket watch movements, which meant they were quite bulky, and in fact by the 1930s they were completely out of fashion and wristwatches totally outnumbered them.

1921 – The first “simple” quartz movement is invented and is later used in clocks.

1923 - Englishman John Harwood patented the "bumper" self-winding watch, which utilised a pivoting weight to wind the mainspring when worn.

1926 - Paul Perregaux and Georges Perret were granted a patent on their screw down case to provide the "first" fully waterproof and dust proof wrist watch.

1927 – Charles Lindbergh wears a Longines watch on his transatlantic solo flight, and Brighton-born Mercedes Gleitze wore the Rolex Oyster Perpetual whilst crossing the English Channel.

1931 - Rolex used and improved on previous technology to introduce the world to the Perpetual rotor - the first to rotate a full 360 degrees.

1932 - Omega produce the first officially titled diving watch - the Omega Marine. Omega avoided the issue of Rolex's patented screw down crown by entirely encasing the whole watch in a secondary covering.

1957 – The electric watch (a watch powered only by electricity) is produced.

1963 – Seiko develop quartz technology for battery powered chronometers.

1969 – The first quartz actual watch is developed. This allowed the constant frequency of quartz vibration (measured in Hertz) to be used to measure seconds and minutes. This would again revolutionise the watch industry, and make watches much more affordable.

1969 – Neil Armstrong – probably the most famous astronaut – wore an Omega Speedmaster on his journey through the atmosphere to reach the moon.

1970 – The Pulsar watch, developed by Hamiliton Watch Company, is introduced to the world. It is the first watch to use LED technology.

Circa 1974 - English Watchmaker George Daniels invented the actually revolutionary CO-AXIAL escapement. This development was the biggest thing to happen to watchmaking for a very long time. The escapement essentially eradicated the friction of the pallet stones.

1980 - The co-axial escapement was patented by George Daniels.

1983 – Swatch is responsible for introducing the first plastic “fashion” watch to the world, leading to plastic watches of hundreds of designs being made, some of which now fetch high prices.

1990 - Junghans are responsible for introducing the world's first radio controlled watch.

1999 – Watches again follow technology as they utilise titanium and carbon fibre in their case designs.

1999 - Omega are the first to use the George Daniels co-axial escapement in a mass-produced watch.

2000 – More high tech materials, such as silicon and ceramic, are used in watch case and straps.

2000 - Citizen teamed up with IBM to create a "smart watch". Although the project had high hopes, it eventually ended up as naught by 2002.

2013/4 - These days, Smartwatches seem to be de rigeur, with many software companies spending a lot of money researching how "micro" micro technology can be.

2015 - The likes of the Google Watch, the iWatch and Android Wear have now transformed the watch from simply a time-telling device into an invaluable multi-functional marvel.

2016 - Razer brings out the Nabu Watch, a dual-screen watch, which combines a simple time-telling device with a health tracker. Many slated this watch, as it is cumbersome and somewhat over-designed, but everyone has to start somewhere!

Other companies, such as Asus, Pebble, Huawei and even TomTom have brought out their own versions of the Smart Watch, each with their own "unique" take.

2017 - Apple release their 3rd generation Apple Watch. This "watch" has myriad functions, from a heart monitor, to an altimeter, to a mini mobile phone.

It would seem that the days of Science Fiction are very quickly becoming the days of Science Fact!