It’s a funny thing but as much as I love fine luxury watches I never felt the need to understand or know the essential watches in a world of watches until now. So what happened you might ask?
Well, after my meandering through the `InterWeb` I, again and again, came across brands and their stories of who, how, why and when, which is all very interesting but without a framework to place these stories in, it all becomes a little prosaic.
So, let`s change that right now, so anyone reading this post can cut and paste any brand story and bolt it into this simple historical framework.
For the sake of brevity, I`ll try to keep this short and sweet while retaining enough detail to draw a broad picture. So, let`s start at the beginning and break this into digestible pieces.
The first modern watches, and by modern I mean watches designed and build with modern materials and intricate moving parts, so no sundials or grandfather clocks etc… The first intricate builds that can reasonably be described as watches rather than clocks were pocket watches carried by gentlemen, appearing in 16th-century Europe.
Although the first real example of a modern pocket watch could arguably be following the invention the lever escapement by Thomas Mudge in 1759 only becoming common in the 1820s, laying the ground for a movement most commonly used in mechanical watches today.
Then in 1857 the American Watch Company in Waltham, Massachusetts bettered the production of the pocket watch introducing of the Waltham Model 57, the first to use interchangeable parts. Coupled with the rise of the railroad and the need for accurate time keeping the production of the railroad-grade pocket watches made their use widespread.
Waltham Model 57
Watches After The Pocket Watch
Although the smaller wristwatch was available before the Great War, they were seen both as just a passing fad and considered something only a `lady` might wear, but with the wristwatches being issued to soldiers and officers alike, the returning troops boosted their popularity and the rest, as they say, is history.
The inter-war years saw views changing, from here the trends and fashions started to influence wristwatches making them something of a fashion piece and prestige item enjoyed more and more by Gentlemen.
Following WW2 and the issue of now well known and highly sort after brands such as Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, and Hamilton to the American troops and Jeager-LeCoultre, Longines, IWC, and Omega to the British troops, the watch has become a vital part of our daily lives. Now, it’s so much more than a timepiece giving an accurate time to help navigation or work out complex equations, it’s a working piece of jewelry with historical or cultural value. Let’s take a look.
I know this is a really obvious one but there is no way I can make reference to a cultural classic without mentioning the Rolex Submariner. First introduced in 1954 made famous through celebrity product placement from Sean Connery, Robert Redford, to Steve McQueen, it has enjoyed a lifelong popularity which that has never diminished to this day. Not only is it a fashion icon, it`s a functional piece of prestige jewelry denoting style and success with durability not to mention a hefty price tag.
The draw of the classic Rolex Submariner has spawned many homage pieces and given many watches their design cues making many modern watches like the Invicta or the Steinhart Ocean virtual offspring of this one iconic design.
So now we see wristwatches popular and the master watchmakers are keen to improve on their existing themes, so what can they do to improve on perfection? The answer lies in making more and more complicated movements requiring skills and craftsmanship to bring their ideas to life. There are plenty of complications talk about like Day, Date, Perpetual Calendar, Moon Phase, Tourbillon, but let`s look at the ever popular Chronograph Watch.
One of the most famous Chronographs is the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. Originally, this piece was worn by the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.
There came a point in the seventies when mechanical watches didn’t seem to hit the mark anymore and we entered the digital age where binary code seemed to be the answer to all our questions. After all, a digital watch could beat the pants off an old-fashioned mechanical watch, giving more functionality with perfect precision and accuracy that a mechanical movement could never match.
Small, light, water resistant, with multiple functionals in a cheap or inexpensive package, made digital watches popular across the board.
If you’re of a certain age you will probably remember thinking how cool these watches were, without giving a thought to the precision engineering that went into creating mechanical watches. All that matter at this point was how many functions your watch had and did it light up in the dark, am I right? Interestingly enough in the modern world, we have seen a resurgence of the digital watch although I would say it more of a nostalgia for a time passed, and an affordable, fun and possible ironic purchase for the millennials.
Swatch Shakes Up The Market
In 1980`s the Swatch launched their collection of affordable plastic watches with reliable cheap timekeeping and colorful designs aimed at the young that creating something of a revolution in the industry. The vast collection made it easy for consumers to wear unique and collectible designs and often own multiple watches to suit the mood.
Continuing with the theme affordable and accessible watches for all, G-Shock entered the market to offer men with a more rugged lifestyle a watch with great time keeping, masculine looks in a fashionable package. For owners of the G-Shock, their watches were close to indestructible and their reliability meant the wearer never needed to worry about losing time or damaging their watch while enjoying activities.
So now we are entering the brave new world of online, always connected, where we live with our devices day and night and rely on them to run our lives. The SmartWatch is a device that takes the evolution of the watch to its unavoidable destination where the art of watchmaking has been put aside for the functionality of a computer chip. Now your watch is a computer in its own right, receiving updates, emails and twitter feed. Yes, there is surely a market for this device and I can also say honestly, there are some clever SmartWatches out there and they have been designed to a classic watch design making them almost indistinguishable from a mechanical watch.
Now your watch is a computer in its own right, receiving updates, emails and twitter feed. Yes, there is surely a market for this device and I can also say honestly, there are some clever SmartWatches out there and they have been designed to a classic watch design making them almost indistinguishable from a mechanical watch. However, it`s not fo me.
And here we are at the end of the road where we have some choices to make. Do we embrace all forms of watch making and let the market decide the fate of its future, and what we leave for our children? If we do, how will the new technologies affect the traditional manufacturing of timepieces? I mean, no-one will want to receive an Apple SmartWatch as an heirloom, in favor of a traditional Omega Seamaster, right?
Perhaps the way forward could be the augmentation of technology and if that’s the case we can look to one of my favorites, the Casio Edifice for inspiration and direction. Not only does it take advantage of modern technologies like smartphone connection, GPS, and World Time, but it’s a true timepiece with complications and the beating heart powered by solar energy.
In a perfect world, there will be a place for all these devices and plenty of opportunity for crossover and overlapping of technology and traditional watch making. Provided the handcrafted luxury watch market continues to attract those with a love of tradition, there will always be those master watchmakers ready to burn the midnight oil toiling away in the pursuit of horological perfection.
Did you like this post? If you did, please share or like it so others know about it. If you don’t like it please tell me why. I’d love to know what you think.