The evolution towards the wristwatch
Just as the rest of fashion, the way we chose our accessories for indicating the time of day underwent constant changes, adapting to the wearers needs in time of peace and war, becoming ever more precies as well as transforming from being merely reserved for the novelty towards the wide aray of price ranges being covered today.
A change with pitfalls
The first instance of the transition from clocks into fashionable as well as portable watches occurred around the beginning of the 16th century in Germany, where the fittingly called “clock-watches” were first constructed. The Nuremberg clockmaker Peter Henlein is oftentimes credited as the inventor of the watch, which in the transitional period between the Middle Ages and modern times consisted of heavy drum-shaped cylindrical brass boxes that were engraved and ornamented. They lacked the bigger minute hand which can partly be credited to their poor accuracy as errors of perhaps several hours per day were not uncommon.
Despite them practically being useless they were popular as jewellery and novelties among the nobility, who wore them on a chain around their necks or fastened them to clothing. Later in the century, the shape evolved into a rounded form and became known as Nuremberg eggs and trends towards more unusual designs like books, animals, fruit, stars, flowers, insects, crosses and even skulls began to emerge.
Time hanging by a thread
In the 17th century styles changed as men moved on towards wearing their watches in pockets instead of as pendants, which remained the usual type to wear watches for women until the 20th century. Pocketwatches became fashionable when Charles the second of England introduced waistcoats that allowed the watches to be stored away safely and therefore to be protected from the harmful elements.
To fit into the pockets their shape evolved into the now well-known shape, rounded and flattened with no sharp edged as well as covered by protecting glass. In the 1800s this design was then completed by the “Albert chain” accessory, named after Prince Albert who introduced this device to secure the pocketwatch to the man's outergarment.
War as a precondition for progress
In contrast to the aforesaid pocketwatch, the wristwatch as it is widely used today was first almost exclusively worn by women until the late 19th century. According to various sources the first wristwatch was created by Abraham-Louis Breguet for Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples, in 1810, while other sources date back the origin till the late 16th century. But for certain is that in the mid nineteenth century most watchmakers produced a wide array of wristwatches that were advertised as bracelets for women.
The potential for military use due to the importance of synchronising manoeuvres during war was discovered due to pocket watches being impractical to use during the heat of battle or while riding on a horse back, which resulted in officers strapping watches to their wrists. These early models were essentially standard pocketwatches fitted to a leather strap, but by the early 20th century, manufacturers began producing purpose-built wristwatches.
Popular brands like Rolex formed as other clients like the emerging aviation industry called for specialised products. The impact of the First World war dramatically shifted public perception on the propriety of the man’s wristwatch and opened up a mass market in the post-war era. Service watches produced during the war were specifically designed for trench warfare and featured upgrades like luminous dials and unbreakable glass.
By the end of the conflict, almost all enlisted men wore a wristwatch and after they were demobilised, the fashion soon caught on and even though many technological innovations like the electric or quartz movements the longer the more replaced the masterfully created mechanical movement, the wristwatch prevailed and is here to stay.