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The Changes Of The Wristwatch

Nov 16, 2007
The wristwatch has certainly passed the test of time. As early as 3500 BC, mankind has been obsessed with time keeping as way to make life more calculable and more productive. The wristwatch reflects evolutionary ingenuity at its finest, taking wrist watches from being women's jewelry to man's necessity.

In the height of Geneva's 1541 Protestant Reformation, Calvin banned many forms of entertainment, dancing, theater and wearing lavish jewelry. However, because portable clocks (aka the pocket watch) were needed for practical use, they were the one item that endured.

Jewelry makers slowly collaborated with watchmakers to include jewelry on the pocket time pieces. This longstanding tradition of jewel inclusion would aid in the eventual popularity of the wristwatch for the upper class.

Pocket watches enjoyed continued success throughout the 1800s with the common man, notably railroad workers. After an 1891 accident caused by a railroad operator's watch stopping and subsequently killing 11 people in Ohio, designs by the Ball Watch Company became the reliable Cadillac of the watch industry. Their accurate ones were so popular the phase "get on the Ball" was coined, referring to using a Ball watch to keep time.

In the 18th Century, the pocket models were as fashionable and distinct as cufflinks for men or necklaces for women. However, during the Boers War in South Africa (1899-1902), British soldiers found that bulky, destructible pocket ones were a hindrance. The wristwatch came to the rescue, freeing up one's hands for battle and synchronizing troop movement.

Despite the new success of the wristwatch in wartime and among the lower class population, many of the first prototypes in the late 1800s were marketed by Patek-Philippe & Co. as jewelry time pieces for women.

The small watch faces and delicate bands made many early wristwatches unattractive to the male population, who still considered the pocket models to be as high class and "timeless" as it gets. Would the wrist model be a passing fad?

In 1914, World War I called for strategy and precision, thus bringing the wristwatch back to the battlefield. Watch makers began to experiment with accuracy and increased functionality, with the first waterproof watch (the "Oyster") sold by Rolex in 1926.

Louis Cartier's esteemed "Tank" watch was seen as the quintessential battlefield wristwatch, with a hardier face and wrist strap. Rolex sent their watches off for battle durability testing to ensure quality and also revealed a line of self-winding watches in 1931.

After the Great war, the stereotype had changed once many men of all classes returned from service with their souvenir "trench watches." Throughout the mid-1900s, the wristwatch manufacturers continued making "tool watches" for the working man.

The "Submariner," the "Explorer" and the "Speedmaster-Chronograph" space watch were all designed for specific tasks and a certain target market. Today, sport time pieces have become the new "tool watch," as demonstrated by lines of golf, tennis, race car and track watches.

In the late 70s and early 80s, the Quartz crisis threatened watchmakers world wide, dropping the Swiss watchmaker employees from 90,000 to 30,000. While cheap quartz is still used in 90% of watches in America, the pricier mechanical watch that has always been popular in Europe is starting to catch on here.

The wristwatch was once a breakthrough invention to help the common man keep his life under control. Now it has become an obsession, a keepsake, a symbol of class and distinctive taste.
About the Author
Mike Selvon portal offers free articles on jewelry. Find out more about the wristwatch, and leave a comment at the jewelry watches blog.
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