Watches were adapted to the wrist as early as the late 1500’s when Queen Elizabeth I was said to have been given one, but the wristwatch did not become popular until the jewelry industry began creating gem encrusted timepieces for royalty. Women began to embrace the wristwatch as an item of adornment toward the end of the 1800’s. Men tended to regard the wristwatch as effeminate so it did not enjoy widespread use until the 1920’s when the impact of war changed the dynamics of the timepiece. Military campaigns enjoyed the ability to read time at a quick glance rather than having to dig through pockets in the midst of battle, therefore by the First World War military organizations began demanding wristwatches.
As the need for these pieces in warfare grew, new inventions like the Chronograph and luminous hands were born. Automatic watches were created following the war but were unreliable until the 1940’s.
During the Great Depression, demand for wristwatches died down and many top companies went out of business. With the onset of World War II, they were unattainable in most countries and production ceased for all but military needs. Because of Switzerland’s Neutral position they continued making wristwatches to fulfill military orders. Because watches were developed for fighter pilots and underwater specialties the introduction of far greater water resistance technology came about.
After the war, civilian production resumed and many innovations were seen. In 1957 introduction of the first electric battery powered wristwatch was made by Hamilton Watch Company of America.
The Quartz Revolution:
Although Quartz crystals were long known to offer highly reliable frequency standards, the technology to allow their use in wristwatches had to await the invention of the integrated circuit in 1970. The Swiss were reluctant to pursue this technology since they viewed it as a threat to the Swiss dominated less precise, mechanical watch. Subsequently the commercial production of quartz watches fell to the Japanese who came to market with the first analog Quartz watch. By 1971 Seiko was offering Quartz wristwatches accurate to within five seconds a month or a minute a year. Next on the scene was America’s Hamilton watch Company who with the Pulsar with digital readout.
Early Quartz watches had short battery lives and required pushing a button to display the time. Soon, this was improved upon with extended battery life and continuous readout. Only about 13% of wristwatches today are mechanical.
One of the features that makes using wristwatches an effective device worldwide is the invention of Standard Time. This most enduring achievement of the Victorian era is attributed to Sir Sandford Fleming in 1876. The fact that he was the chief engineer of a national railroad company was pivotal in his desire for this invention. Misreading a timetable, and thereby missing a train, was particularly annoying.
Some wristwatch facts:
1914 – The first alarm wristwatch was made.
1925 – The first perpetual calendar was displayed on a wristwatch.
1930 – The smallest ladies watch movement to date was produced.
1933 – The first wristwatch made for children featured Disney character.
1945 – The first watch with a date display on the face.
1947 – The self winding wristwatch with a universal calendar was created.
1957 – The first electric watch is invented.
1972 – The first continuous readout watch showed up on the scene.
1987 – The first watch displaying both analog and digital displays is introduced… and so on…until the continual evolution of technology has brought us the timepieces we enjoy today.
Written by Wendy Adeler Hall
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