The humble watch has gone through many changes over the years. Here is a guide to the watch's evolution through the major changes that have been made to its design, from the earliest handheld watches to modern smartwatches.
The first mechanical clocks, which were the precursors to the watch, were invented in the 14th century in Europe. However, it was not until about a century later that the first important invention in the development of the watch was made: the mainspring. This device meant that spring-driven clocks could become portable, leading to the creation of the first portable clocks.
There is no exact date when the first actual watch was created. Many clock manufacturers were coming up with their own small devices, but one name that is often mentioned is Peter Henlein. He lived in Nuremberg, and he is seen as one of the inventors of the watch, even if he was not its only inventor.
The first watches were essentially portable clocks. They relied on the mainspring, and they were known as clock-watches. Rather than being worn on the wrist, they were worn around the neck like a pendant, and they were sometimes attached to clothing as well. As you can imagine, they were more for the purposes of being fashionable than for telling the time accurately. In fact, they didn't even have minute hands.
The next development in the history of the watch was the arrival of the pocket watch. These were used with waistcoats in 17th-century England, and they were essentially the same as clock-watches in the technology they used.
But during the century, another important invention in the history of watches was made: the balance spring. This was invented by Christiaan Huygens in 1657, and it made watches much more accurate. Prior to the arrival of the balance spring, watches would wind down and become less powerful, making the time less accurate. But the balance spring changed this, and minute hands were finally added to watches.
Watches did not change much again until the 19th century. The need for greater accuracy was growing due to the arrival of the railways, and in 1830, Georges-Auguste Leschot invented the pantograph and the anchor escapement in Geneva. This led to greater standardisation and mass production, which in turn led to cheaper watches so that suddenly more people could wear them.
This was a time of inventions for watches. Balance wheels, crown winding and jewel bearings were just some of the inventions that improved accuracy greatly. By the end of the 19th century, watches were only inaccurate by a few seconds each day. This was also the time when wristwatches became popular, mainly due to being more practical by armed forces.
The 20th century saw huge changes in watch technology. Firstly, electric watches arrived in the 1950s. Then, even more importantly, Quartz watches were invented in 1969 in Switzerland. These used a crystal oscillator to provide much greater precision, and quartz watches are still used today.
Watches have continued to improve in the last few decades. Now we have kinetic watches that use movement to stay powered, and even atomic timekeeping watches that are incredibly precise – the precision movements of Mondaine watches, Citizen watches, Gucci watches & Longines watches really are incredible.
However, the biggest change is arriving right now with the development of smartwatches. Although these are still relatively new, they could well turn out to be the future of watches.