Friday, August 14, 2009

Watch History

Before watches, there were large clocks. Before clocks, there were simply objects to measure the passage of time. Sundials used shadows. Hourglasses allowed the perception of time's movement by the motion of sand passing at predictable rates through a narrow channel. It is the view of some historians that early Egyptians were the first to create a mechanical way of measuring time, using the flow of running water. The earliest accurate clocks were constructed by Italian monks to let people know when it was time for prayer. These clocks were absent of hand indications, and indicated the hour through the chiming of bells. In the 16th century, portable watches were invented in Tudor-era England. These watches were incredibly cumbersome and generally worn around the neck because of their bulk and girth. It is suggested by some that the famous Holbein painting of Henry VIII depicts a watch - not a medallion--around the neck of the king. While pocket watches first made their appearance in the 16th century, it was not until the 17th century that their use became more prevalent, and performance improved. In the 1700’s, Queen Anne of England wanted to expand her vast maritime power and offered an enormous reward of 20,000 pounds for anyone able to invent a device capable of reliably calculating longitude. A self-taught watchmaker by the name of John Harrison discovered that a precise reading of a ships longitude could only happen if the exact time was known. At this point, Harrison decided that he needed to create a watch that was far more accurate than anything then available. Over a span of more than ten years, the watchmaker created four versions of the Harrison Marine Chronometer. When finally he was satisfied, Harrison presented his plate-sized instrument to the Royal Academy and had his chronometers tested by influential explorers like Captain Cook. Harrison’s Marine Chronometer underwent many trials and was eventually accepted by the Queen, who awarded him the prize money. It was not until the 19th century that wristwatch technology came to fruition. The wristwatch was invented by Patek Philippe, who created a tiny decorative timepiece for the Countess Kocewicz. From the time of its first appearance until World War I, the wristwatch was widely considered something a woman would wear. Men, up to that point, had generally relied upon pocket watches. In the midst of particularly brutal combat, perceptive military strategists realized that it was much easier to glance at the wrist for the time than to fumble around in a jacket for a pocket watch. When the war ended, the soldiers returned to their lives but many continued wearing their army-issued wristwatches. They must have had quite an effect on the public, because soon after the war ended, it became increasingly common to see civilian men in all walks of life wearing wristwatches publicly. Some would say the first World War was the single catalyst event that spurred the entire wristwatch industry, and the rest I guess, is what we call history.

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