The history of watches

Updated: Apr 27

Watches were a luxury in the early days of its birth. Pocket watches were worn by kings around their necks. But the pocket watch as we know it was invented during the reign of King Charles I when he introduced waistcoats. Waistcoats provided a place where you could keep the watch safely, protecting it from harsh outside elements that could ruin it. Though still, at the time, if you pulled out a pocket watch, you had to be someone as powerful as the emperor or his assistants. To afford it meant that you were an aristocrat. From that time onwards, humans became obsessed with timekeeping. The age of pocket watches had now truly arrived.

The wristwatch, prior to World War 1 was only used by women. Around the 1900s, pilots also started to use their pocket watches on their wrists using the pocket-watch wrist enclosure, as shown in the image above, but it was very uncommon for a man to wear a wristwatch back then. During World War 1, soldiers started to sew their pocket watches on their trench coats because they got tired of taking them out from their pockets constantly during the war as bullets fired away. These were known as trench watches. Some companies created huge leather straps for them (the one used by pilots at the time). People also soldered fixed lugs on their pocket watches and used a single pass strap to wear them on their wrists. After this, companies started to make proper wristwatches. Pocket watches were now out of fashion.

The wristwatches were a man’s most prized possession. He took it off before bathing, washing hands, swimming, cycling, etcetera. These were precision instruments. Watches helped you be on time. They were status symbols and the representation of who you are. In the 1950s, the early electronic watches came into being. They required a battery instead of the metal coil/ mainspring, but the rest remained the same. They did not require winding, but they were costly. Personally, I'm not too fond of the electric or quartz watches as I like the notion of winding the watch yourself. It just helps you form a connection to your watch, how you plan your day to be, and the feeling of a relaxed life. In modern times also, they offer you peace of mind and a break from the fast-paced and fast-evolving electronic world. Just seconds of watching the seconds hand dutifully ticking away from the energy your body provided it with calms you down, even if for a short span of time. Then, Seiko released the first truly quartz watch. Watches became cheap. People bought them in bulk, swapping them every day, the charm totally evaporated. Those once prized possessions (and heirlooms for you) of your ancestors either became dust collectors or were thrown in the bin. Quartz, a soulless robot/cyborg, became normal as people got irritated with the daily winding ritual. Once considered as a status symbol were now worthless.

Now coming to the current scenario, watches are no more than fashion items. People do not even bother to have a new battery installed or wind it as they wear it only to look good. When asked, they either wear an apple watch to check the time or their phones. When you ask people wearing watches as to what time it is, instead of using their watch, they swish their phone out and tell the time. The irony here is that the reason wristwatches replaced pocket watches was that they had to be taken out every time someone had to check the time, and their real purpose has now been defeated.

As a matter of fact, several children born after 2010 cannot read the time on an analog clock!

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