Wristwatches are an incredibly common sight in the modern-day. Wristwatches come in a huge range of sizes and materials, and are available in such varying qualities that you can spend mere pennies or thousands of pounds on a new timepiece. Wristwatches are accessible at every level of society, but this wasn’t always the case! The first watches were crafted specially for the wealthy or royal elites, with some claiming the world’s very first wristwatch was created for the Queen of Naples in 1810. Here’s a very brief history of wristwatches and their use throughout the 19th and 20th centuries!
Jewellery for the Aristocracy
Though there is some debate about the origins of the very first wristwatch, a common assertion is that the world’s first wristwatch was created in 1810 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, who had a watchmaking workshop established in Paris since 1775. For the first few century of their existence, wristwatches were primarily jewellery pieces reserved for the incredibly wealthy and almost exclusively worn by women. These were usually delicate, decorative bracelets with watches attached designed to exude wealth, extravagance, and opulence.
Timekeeping for the Troops
It wasn’t until the 20th century that wristwatches were popularised amongst men. Preceding the First World War governments from both the Allied and Central powers had noted the advantages of having armed forces equipped with wristwatches for convenient and hands-free timekeeping, which allowed for precise military operations to be carried out without the need for on-the-battlefield signals that may give away information to the enemy. Pocket watches were inconvenient for use on an active battlefield, and so wristwatches were the ideal solution. In subsequent decades wristwatches quickly popularised amongst men due to their use during WWI.
Mass Produced for the People
In the post-World War Two economic boom, wristwatches began being mass-produced and major leaps forward in the development of wristwatch technology occurred. The first generation of electric watches were produced in the 1950s, followed shortly by the invention of the quartz movement. The introduction of the quartz wristwatch ushered in an era known as the Quartz Crisis which saw the decline of the traditional Swizz watchmaking industry in favour of new quartz watches created by Japanese and other Eastern companies like Seiko and Casio. The quartz movement is still being improved today, with Japanese company Citizen claiming to have improved the accuracy to +/- 10 seconds a year in 2010, and again to +/- 1 second per year in 2019.