The Evolution of the Wristwatch: A Brief History

April 2, 2019 By swj-eric

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Have you ever thought about why you wear a watch on your wrist? How did “timepieces” evolve from sand slowly sifting through an hourglass to a small, circular “face” with numbers and an adjustable wristband?


Today’s watches are as much a fashion or status statement as they are a way of keeping track of time. We can even call people through our high-tech wristwatches as if we’re straight out of a futuristic Star Trek episode!


Time-tested praises for women, soldiers, and aviators


Surprisingly, we can credit the humble beginnings of today’s wristwatch to women, soldiers, and aviators. While this unlikely triad isn’t responsible for inventing the “arm watch,” they are the ones who popularized it.


The precursor to the wristwatch was the gentleman’s pocket watch. Before World War I, it was quite unmanly to wear a watch around your wrist as many of the female aristocracy did. In fact, the first wristwatch was made for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Patek Philippe, a Swiss watch manufacturer, in 1868. (Although, some reports suggest that the Queen of Naples wore a wristwatch in 1812.)


Before the 20th century, only women wore watches — and much more so as ornamentation than for the purpose of punctuality.



The impracticality of the pocket watch


When soldiers went to war, pocket watches became extremely impractical. Imagine attempting to keep an enemy at bay while constantly having to pull a watch out of your pocket so you can execute orders in a timely manner! Throughout the world, a pocket watch on a WWI battlefield just didn’t cut it, and soldiers began strapping their timepieces to their wrists out of necessity.


(There is some anecdotal evidence, however, that long before WWI, Napoleon Bonaparte became quite frustrated at having to take his watch out of his pocket during the French Revolution.)


Europeans watchmakers wind up wristwatch production


While it’s not completely clear when the first men’s wristwatch was manufactured, we do know that the watchmaker, Constant Girard, of Girard-Perregaux, supplied two-thousand of these “timepieces attached to bracelets” to the German Imperial Navy in 1880.


Then, in 1917, Louis Cartier created the iconic Tank watch, after being inspired by the tanks he saw when he was a soldier. The rectangular Cartier Tank watch — adored by celebrities and royalty, including Greta Garbo, John F. Kennedy, and Princess Diana — is still available today in 41 variations, including combinations of yellow, white, and pink gold, and steel. You can own one yourself for a base price of around $1,900.

Cartier is also credited with making the first pilot’s watch for an aviator friend who desired a simple clock he could easily see while flying. The round shape of the aviator’s watch mimicked the look of the dials on the instrument panel of an airplane cockpit. Like the Tank watch, classic aviator-style watches with leather bands are still popular today.


Time for a watch upgrade?


If you’re looking to sell a watch, the expert team at Southwest Jewelry Buyers in Scottsdale, Arizona, can appraise your luxury watch and offer you the best price in complete confidentiality.


Since 2000, our highly trained jewelry and watch appraisers have been purchasing high-end watches from clients in Scottsdale, Phoenix, and the surrounding communities. We even buy lesser-known watch brands which we appraise for their value in gold or silver.


Get in touch with Southwest Jewelry Buyers to schedule a no-pressure watch appraisal, today. If you like our offer, we pay you instantly. Or, if you need more time to consider, there’s no obligation. We stand behind our award-winning customer service and our A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau for every client.

We also expertly evaluate gold, silver, diamond, platinum, and coins, so you can bring all your jewelry to one, convenient appointment.