Humanities urge to know time predates recorded history. We have looked to the skies for answers, using the sun, the moon and the stars to calculate time and predict the changing of seasons and events vital to our survival.
As civilisations grew our need to track time and co-ordinate activities became even more important and the first ever 'clocks' were developed using the sun's rays to denote the hour of the day using sundials and time sticks. Just like today's wristwatches, the sundials were simple object to begin with but quickly developed into highly ornate and elaborately decorated devices. As these devices relied heavily on a clear bright sky, societies search for more accurate methods of telling the time continued with many inventions following such as the hourglass and the Chinese water clock.
Just as ancient civilisations fell and western society rose, the pursuit of accurate timekeeping seemed to lose it's way as there appeared to be no means or foresight to built any sort of complicated machines that could relay the time. It wasn't until the 14th Century that mechanical clocks made their debut in Europe.
Once again with the invention of a portable device there appears to be many who claim to be the first. From a German named Peter Henlein who created a pocket watch with a single hour hand in 1511 to italians who claimed to have invented similar in the late fifteenth century.
The issue encountered by all when developing a portable timepiece was what would be the power source. At this moment in time these large clocks were powered by weights which were by no means portable. The development and manufacturer or small, oiled springs would eventually take the place of weights allowing for smaller and smaller clocks to be produced.
These small clocks quickly grabbed the attention of royalty and became hugely popular, with a watch set in a bracelet presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1571. This fashion for wearing portable watches as pendents, rings and around the wrist was adopted by lady aristocrats, however men came to wearing there's attached to a chain and kept in their waistcoat pockets, creating the term 'pocket watch'.
Watches at this time only had an hour hand until the invention of a spiral spring onto the balance in 1675 created what we now know as the hairspring, allowing for much greater accuracy and the addition of a minute hand.
Everything changed when a certain Abraham-Louis Breguet, arguably the greatest watchmaker of all time, started to create his own watches in 1780 using his own inventions such as the overcoil balance spring to produce timepieces that were both beautiful to the eye and remarkably accurate. This resulted in an explosion of watch manufactures across Europe in the early nineteenth century, with a majority being found in Switzerland. At the time watches were still being made by hand until Swiss engineers Georges-Auguste Leschot and Pierre Frederic Ingold created machinery capable of manufacturing interchangeable watches parts, revolutionising the industry.
Many innovations followed with the watch managing to do more than just tell the time of day accurately. 'Complications' as they became known, would display display different measurements of date such as the date, power reserve or even the phases of the moon. With the introduction of the second hand, manufactures began to introduce the ability to stop it, as a means of timing. This would later be known as a chronograph. The first true chronograph was designed in 1844 by Adolphine Nicole, with the contemporary three pushed system not used until 1862.
The need for accurate timekeeping was heavily influenced by the industrial revolution. People, for the first time, had a need to be at work for a certain time of day, with employers wanting to keep track of output, as well as the new means of transportation such as the train relying heavily on tightly kept schedules. At the end of the of the 18th Century about 400,000 timepieces were made annually which were primarily pocket watches. The wrist watch was primarily worn by woman as a fashion accessory and not some men at the time would be seen wearing.
This all changed in the late 19th Century due in part to soldiers. They discovered the usefulness of the wristwatch during wartime when it became much easier to glance at ones wrist than search for a pocket watch. Girard Perregaux appears to be the first manufacturer to make wristwatches in any great quanitity for men in 1886, equipping the German Imperial Navy. World War I had a huge effect on the popuarlity of wristwatches for men, with allied troops routinely issued withe wristwatches. When the war ended and the soldiers returned home, they had become accustomed to wristwatches and quickly refused to return to pocket watches. The sight of war heroes favouring the wristwatch helped to quickly shed their feminine image in the eyes of the general public. After the war, Louise Cartier created a design known as the Tank, which he presented to the American general John J Pershing, commander of American troops in France. This watch, on the market in 1919, was a huge success and quickly became a design classic and one of the most emulated designs in watch history.
Where once watches were sought after by the bourgeois due in part to their association with royalty, the wristwatch became hugely popular due to their association with adventurers and athletes. The first company to find great success with this form of marketing was Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd, later known the world over as the Rolex Watch Company. In 1927, a British secretary swam the English Channel wearing a Rolex wristwatch, proving it was waterproof, a huge invention at the time. Wilsdorf made sure photographers were present to photograph the watch and the event gaining huge publicity for his watch model he called the 'Oyster'. To this day it still remains one of Rolex most popular models.
Utilising the system designed by Englishman John Harwood, Rolex once again brought to market and popularised the innovative selfwinding wristwatch. Accurate, water resistant and self-winding the wristwatch quickly began to out sell pocket watches and were adopted by adventurers the world over and publicised as such through greater marketing initiatives.
By 1950, about 40 million watches were being manufactured a year, with greater complications and designs continuously being developed. The wristwatch had swept the world as more than just an accessory but a necessity for modern life.