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The history of watches from the clock watch to Must-have accessory for professionals. Read how advancements in science and technology affected style and fashion.


  1. Who Invented the First Watch?
  2. Why Did Pocket Watches Become Popular?
  3. When Were Wrist Watches Invented?
  4. At What Time Did the Mass Production of Time Pieces Start?
  5. When Did the First Battery-Powed Wrist Watches Become Available?
  6. Who Invented the Quartz Watch?
  7. Special Editions for Fundraising
  8. The Age of Smart Watches
  9. What Are Today’s Directions in Watch Design?
    • Minimalist Style
    • Products from Recycled Material
    • Vegan Wrist Bands
  10. Thoughts on the History of Watches


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Who Invented the First Watch?

As often in human history, when the time is right for an invention, several people have the same idea. Typically, Peter Henlein, a clockmaker from Nüremberg, receives the credit for building a clock watch in the 15th century. Actually, it was a spring-driven clock worn on a chain around the neck. Clock watches had only an hour hand. Their accuracy had often errors of several hours per day.


Henlein clock watch photographed by Витольд Муратов CC3.0
Henlein clock watch. Photo by Витольд Муратов. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported



Why Did Pocket Watches Become Popular?

The early mechanical devices were very sensitive to shocks, knocks, and other impacts of wear. To avoid damage and malfunctioning, the solution was to put the device on a chain into a pocket. Consequently, coats with little pockets became fashionable. Still today, pocket watches are in style for men, however, with modern technique.


important survived pocket timepiece in the history of watches
This jeweled pocket watch (ca. 1645-48) was presumably made for the young King Louis XIV. It depicts him on horseback, the arms of France and Navarre, as well as the Orders of Saint Michael and the Holy Spirit. From: Met Museum Public Domain



When Were Wrist Watches Invented?

Therefore, many historians date the invention of watches in the 16th century. At that time, the advancements in physics made the first mechanical wrist watches possible. Winding a mainspring that turned gears to move the hands, powered the device. A rotating balance wheel served to keep the time. Many historians name Robert Hooke and/or Christiaan Huygens as the inventors.

Because the device acted like a harmonic oscillator, the accurarcy increased; the error decreased to about ten minutes. As a result, watchmakers added a second hand accounting for minutes in the late 17th century.

Despite the invention of the wristwatch, men wore pocketwatches until the early 20th century. Women have worn their watches either on a chain or on their wrist.

At What Time Did the Mass Production of Time Pieces Start?

Prior to the 19th centory, all time pieces were hand-made. Various inventions for cutting metals, and mass producting of tools as well as machinery, among other things, plowed the road for industrial production. The first industrial production of timepieces started in 1755, 1773,1843, and 1851 in Switzerland (Vacheron Constantin), Denmark (Urban Jürgensen), Great Britain (British Watch Company), and the US (Aaron Lufkin Dennison), respectively.

In Switzerland, using a decentralized assembing system increased the production from 200000 pieces in 1800 to 2200000 in 1850. Over the same timeframe, the British production increased only marginal from the 200000 produced in 1800 despite their industrialization.


When Did the First Battery-Powered Wristwatches Become Available?

In the 1950s, the first battery-powered time pieces hit the market. They worked with an electric-powered oscillator that mechanically moved the handles via a wheel train.


Who Invented the Quartz Watch?

In 1959, Seiko started the development of the first quartz watches. They came on the market in 1969. A battery-powered oscillator circuit drove 8192 Hz quartz crystal resonator. Accuracy and power demand increased with the number of crystals. Instead of handles for hours, minutes, and seconds, a display showed the time in digits.

Later radio and atom clocks sent the signals to keep time.


Special Editions for Fundraising

In the 1990s, cheap labor in many Asian countries, and currency exchange advantages/disadvantages permitted inexpensive prices. As a result, many special editions served for fundraising in Germany to restore buildings destroyed/damaged during WWII. Herein, pieces of the building served as dials or decoration. For more on such fundraisers read a watch dial made from the roof of Cologne Cathedral.


The Age of Smart Watches

A smart watch is a computer. Steve Mann presented the first of these devices in 2000. Apps on smart watches that track health data, calories intake, steps-walked, etc. are popular among people striving for a healthy lifestyle.


What Are Today’s Directions in Watch Design?

The world-wide growing consciousness about the environment has led to various directions in the design. Using recycled material for packages has become almost a standard.


Minimalist Style

Some companies like Nordgreen have chosen a minimalist design and sustainability approach. Minimalist style keeps everything to just the needed essentials. Consequently, such designs save resources, and reduce the environmental impacts from mining, and production.


various minimalist watch designs
Examples of minimalist design as available at Nordgreen. Photos from their site


Products from Recycled Material

Like in the textile industry waste recycling some small business in the timekeeping industry set on reuse. For instance, JORD rescues much of the wood for their designs from the waste cycle. Think wood from trees downed in storms or retired furniture.


Jord wooden watches from waste wood
Examples of JORD wooden watches made from used furniture or fallen trees are unique as the wearer and use renewable resources


Vegan Wrist Bands

Vegan fashion is a big trend among animal lovers. Since the development of faux leather, cheap wrist bands consisted of this material. The recent vegan trend made faux leather wrist bands popular, and often sell for prices as high as leather bands.


Thoughts on the History of Watches

Progress in sciences and technology advanced the development of personal time pieces since the 15th century. Watches were first jewelry of the Rich and Aristorcats. However, the Industrial Revolution has permitted mass production. Consequently, the small middle class could afford a watch. In the mid 1970s, timepieces became a favorite gift for kids for religious events in Europe.

Today, we use our cell-phone to check the time. Consequently, watch became an accessory for professionals to convey the message that they take deadlines seriously. The style of the piece states the wearer’s opinion regarding sustainability, recycling, and other environmental issues.

Overall, during all times, the style of clothing, and the watches adapted to the trends.



Clutton, C., Daniels, G. (1979) Watches : A Complete History of the Technical and Decorative Development of the Watch. Sotheby’s publications. Buy here.

Dohrn-van Rossum, G., Dunlap, T. (1996). History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders. Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 121. ISBN 0-226-15510-2.

Kendall, J.F. (1892) A History of Watches and other Timekeepers. Bod Third Party Titles. Buy here.

Treasures of Vacheron Constantin. A lecacy of watchmaking since 1755. Yale University Press. Available here.


Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2022 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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  1. Lucy Bertoldi

    Fascinating! I love your history posts!