The History of the Watch


Before learning about watches you should be familiar with some of the terminology. The word horology has two meanings; it is the study or science of measuring time or the art of making clocks, watches, and devices for telling time.

Since the first appearance of man on the earth an effort has been made to measure time. The tracking of the sun's movement across the sky, candles that were marked at intervals, oil lamps with a marked reservoir, sandglasses (hourglasses) are some of the ways in which time was measured. In the Orient knotted cords and small stone or metal mazes filled with incense that would be burned at a specific rate.

Water clocks did not depend on the observation of the sky or the sun. The earliest water clock was found in the tomb of Amenhotep I who was buried around 1500 B.C. Greeks called them clepsydras; they were stone containers with sloped sides that allowed water to drip at an almost constant rate from a small hole in the bottom. Other clepsydras were cylinders or bowl shaped designed to slowly fill up with water coming in at a near constant pace. Markings on the inside of the bowl marked the passage of the hours. Though this was used primarily at night, it is thought they were used in the day hours as well. A metal bowl with a hole the bottom was placed in a larger bowl filled with water. It would fill and then sink in a certain amount of time.

Since water flow was not exactly predictable and difficult to control the flow accurately, timepieces that depended on water were very inadequate. People were drawn to develop more accurate ways of measuring and telling time.

The development of quartz crystal clocks and timepieces depended on the crystal size, shape, and temperature to create a frequency. Quartz clocks and watches continue to be popular. They work well enough for the price and although they tend to be slightly 'off' the correct time most people can afford them.

The first watches had a natural movement but no minute hand. They had to be wound every twelve hours. Watches were originally worn more for adornment than functionality. Timepieces worked with weights but these were not practical in portable timepieces.

Time measurement has been a goal of man from the beginning and a time line will help you understand how we got to where we are with watches. Watches have so many new functions. They have the date, the time, times across time zones and some have stop watches. Most watches have some kind of an alarm in them. The possibilities are endless and I can really see a Dick Tracy type of watch being real.

Here is a timeline of watch history. Some of the years might not be listed in chronological order but I got them as close to it as possible. It is very interesting to learn how watches have developed. It's amazing when I think of the minds of the people who had their hand in creating watches, how smart and technical they must have been!

Prior to 1600 - The main problem was the driving power the timepieces ran were balanced weights. This made it difficult to carry them around.

1524 - Henlien was paid fifteen Florins for a gilt musk-apple with a watch. This is the earliest date of watch production that is known.

1548 - Other watches appeared and were probably French or German in origin.

1575 - Swiss and English products began to appear. This was the period of the most advancements and innovation. First watch movements were made of steel and then later brass. They were straight verge watches with no balance and were highly inaccurate. The use of spiral-leaf main spring began. This allowed the power of a movement without hanging weights. These pieces were inconsistent in their accuracy.

1600 - 1675 - This was the age of decoration. Watches became more of a decoration and jewelry piece rather than being functional. The shape of cases changed from tambour cylinder with a lid, to a circular case with hinged, domed covers on the front and back. Champleve enamel and relieved case filled with colored enamel appeared.


1620 - The glass crystals were fitted to the cases as a typical alternative to metal opaque covers. The glass is translucent and allowed the owner to see the time without taking off the cover. In order to set the watch and see the time, the cover had to be removed.

1625 - Plain watches came about as the result of the Puritan movement.
After 1660 - Fancy shapes and adornments were seen mostly on ladies' watches.

1675 - The spiral balance spring is first used in watches. The accuracy now was measured in fractions of minutes as opposed to fractions of hours. This increased accuracy caused watchmakers to create a dial that had a minute hand and was divided by minutes.

1675 - Charles II introduced waistcoats with pockets. Men now carried their watches in their pockets rather than on a pendant.

1704 - Dullier and Debeaigre developed a method of using jewels as bearings.

1715 - Sully found out that creating a small sink around each hole would retain the oil because of the surface tension.

1725 - It was common to find a large diamond endstone in the cock.

1750 - The names of watchmakers never appeared on the dials of watches till now.

1761 - John Harrison made a clock that was so accurate it was used to measure longitude during sea voyages.

1775 - Champleve is now rare.
Purrelet began production of self-winding watches.

1780 - Rareguel produced these watches.

1800 - The pocket chronometer was a readily available and accurate watch.

1814 - Massey was the first who used a push or pump with a rack that operated by pushing the pendant that turn on a ratchet basic or going bowl.

1850 - The United States were the first to use mass production with mixed results

1900 - Advances were made in metallurgy. This was the introduction of the balance spring on the first verge watch.

1952 - Battery powered watches became available.

1970 - Electronic watches were very successful.

Watches today use quartz crystals, batteries, and there are even atomic watches. Time tracking has never been more accurate and advances in the field of Horolgy are being made all the time.

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