The Complicated History of Wristwatches

Dec 07, 2012

Wristwatches have come a long way to become the beloved art form and status symbol that they are today. While varying methods of telling time (sundials, water clocks, hourglasses) have been around for centuries, the development of the wristwatch has been fairly recent. Older clocks were used for navigational purposes or indicating prayer times.

The technology that started paving the way for portable timepieces was the invention of the mainspring, a tightly wound spring that serves as the power source in mechanical timepieces, back in 15th century Europe. Watches transitioned into wearable pieces in 16th century Germany when they were made to be fastened to clothing or worn on a chain as a necklace. But as these watches were a middle size between clocks and the watches we know today, we imagine that their large size gave more of an albatross around the neck effect. These timepieces were also notoriously inaccurate.

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The development of waistcoats in the 17th century led men to start keeping these portable timepieces in pockets, but women’s watches remained nothing more than necklaces until the 19th century. Up until this point watches didn’t have minute hands, but they start appearing on watch dials in the later part of the 17th century. The following century sees massive developments in watch technology with the addition watch complications as well as the balance spring, chronometers, the escapement, and many more.

It’s not until 1868 when Patek Philippe puts all of the parts together and makes the first watch to be worn on the wrist. Called “wristlets” these watches did not make as big of a splash as Philippe probably hoped. Most men seeing these watches as feminine, would rather be caught dead than wearing a wristwatch.

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Louis Cartier designs a distinctly masculine wristwatch in 1904, but wristwatches don’t become a significant favorite among men until World War I in 1914. It was far more convenient to check your wrist for the time in the trenches rather than dig out a pocket watch. Also, the design of the watch became standardized which led to advances in materials and production methods.

After that developments quickly snowballed and timepieces became the watches that we know and love today.

Established in 1912, the King family has owned and operated King Jewelers for five generations while building an outstanding reputation steeped in quality, value, and first-class service. Today, King Jewelers has brick-and-mortar stores located in Aventura, FL and Nashville, TN, both of which have won numerous regional and national awards of distinction. Offering a magnificent selection of fine jewelry collections including the hottest Italian designs, estate jewelry, colored gemstones and fancy-colored diamonds, as well as luxury European timepieces, King Jewelers prides itself in being one step ahead of the trend. In addition, King Jewelers offers on-site jewelry and watch repairs, custom design services, appraisals, estate buying, and corporate gift programs. For more information, visit


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