History of Watches
Watches evolved from portable Mainspring and spring-driven clocks, which first appeared in 15th century Europe. Watches were not widely worn in pockets until the 17th century. One account says that the word "watch" came from the Old English word woecce which meant "watchman", because it was used by town watchmen to keep track of their shifts at work. Another says that the term came from 17th century sailors, who used the new mechanisms to time the length of their shipboard watches (duty shifts).
The 17th Century -Balance Spring
A great leap forward in accuracy occurred in 1657 with the addition of the balance spring to the balance wheel, an invention disputed both at the time and ever since between Robert Hooke and Christiaan Huygens. This innovation increased watches' accuracy enormously, reducing error from perhaps several hours per day to perhaps 10 minutes per day. Christiaan Huygens published in his letter in the Journal des Sçavants of 25 February 1675 the application of the spiral balance spring for watches which ushered in a new era of accuracy for portable timekeepers, similar to that which the pendulum had introduced for clocks.The spiral balance spring revolutionized the accuracy of watches, enabling them to keep time to within a minute a day. This advance sparked an almost immediate rise in the market for watches, which were now no longer typically worn on a chain around the neck but were carried in a pocket, a wholly new fashion in clothing.
The increased accuracy of the balance wheel focused attention on errors caused by other parts of the movement, igniting a two-century wave of watchmaking innovation. The first thing to be improved was the escapement. The verge escapement was replaced in quality watches by the cylinder escapement, invented by Thomas Tompion in 1695 and further developed by George Graham in the 1720s. Improvements in manufacturing such as the tooth-cutting machine devised by Robert Hooke allowed some increase in the volume of watch production, although finishing and assembling was still done by hand until well into the 19th century.
The 18th Century- Bimetallic Compensator
A major cause of error in balance wheel timepieces, caused by changes in elasticity of the balance spring from temperature changes, was solved by the bimetallic temperature compensated balance wheel invented in 1765 by Pierre Le Roy and improved by Thomas Earnshaw. The lever escapement was the single most important technological breakthrough, and was invented by Thomas Mudge in 1759 and improved by Josiah Emery in 1785, although it only gradually came into use from about 1800 onwards, chiefly in Britain. The British had predominated in watch manufacture for much of the 17th and 18th centuries, but maintained a system of production that was geared towards high-quality products for the elite only.
The 19th Century and Mass Production Arrives
Although there was an attempt to modernise clock manufacture with mass production techniques and the application of duplicating tools and machinery by the British Watch Company in 1843, it was in the United States that this system took off. Aaron Lufkin Dennison started a factory in 1851 in Massachusetts that used interchangeable parts, and by 1861 it was running a successful enterprise incorporated as the Waltham Watch Company.
The concept of the wristwatch goes back to the production of the very earliest watches in the 16th century. Elizabeth I of England received a wristwatch from Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester in 1571, described as an armed watch. The oldest surviving wristwatch (then described as a bracelet watch) is one made in 1806 and given to Joséphine de Beauharnais. From the beginning, wristwatches were almost exclusively worn by women, while men used pocket watches up until the early 20th century.
First Military Use of Watches
Wristwatches were first worn by military men towards the end of the 19th century, when the importance of synchronizing actions during battle, without potentially revealing the plan to the enemy through signaling, was increasingly recognized. The Garstin Company of London patented a "Watch Wristlet" design in 1893, but they were probably producing similar designs from the 1880s. Officers in the British Army began using wristwatches during colonial military campaigns in the 1880s, such as during the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885.The company Mappin & Webb began production of their successful "campaign watch" for soldiers during the Battle of Omdurman and accelerated production for the Second Boer War a few years later. In continental Europe, Girard Perregaux and other Swiss watchmakers began supplying German naval officers with wristwatches in about 1880.
Early models were essentially standard pocket-watches fitted to a leather strap but, by the early 20th century, manufacturers began producing purpose-built wristwatches. The Swiss company Dimier Frères & Cie patented a wristwatch design with the now standard wire lugs in 1903. Hans Wilsdorf moved to London in 1905 and set up his own business, Wilsdorf & Davis, with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis, providing quality timepieces at affordable prices; the company later became Rolex.
WW1 and rapid development
The impact of the First World War dramatically shifted public perceptions of of the man's wristwatch and opened up a mass market in the postwar era. Service watches produced during the War were specially designed for the rigours of trench warfare, with luminous dials and unbreakable glass. The War Office began issuing wristwatches to combatants from 1917.By the end of the war, almost all enlisted men wore a wristwatch and after they were demobilized, the fashion soon caught on. See WW1 Military Watches for a more detailed exploration of this area.
By 1930, the ratio of a wrist to pocket watches was 50 to 1. The first successful self-winding system was invented by John Harwood in 1923.
Hamilton Electric were the pioneers of the first electric watch . Unlike the Quartz and the Bulova Accutron this was the first movement to use a battery as a source to oscillate the balance wheel. Hamilton released two models of the Electric: the first released was the Hamilton 500 on 3 January 1957, which was produced into 1959. This model had problems with the contact wires misaligning and the watch returned to Hamilton for alignment. The Hamilton 505 was an improvement on the 500 and was more reliable: the contact wires were removed and a non-adjustable contact on the balance assembly delivered the power to the balance wheel.
The commercial introduction of the quartz watch in 1969 in the form of the Omega Beta 21 and the Seiko Astron was a revolutionary improvement in watch technology. In place of a balance wheel which oscillated at perhaps 5 or 6 beats per second, they used a quartz crystal resonator which vibrated at 8,192 Hz, driven by a battery-powered electronic oscillator. Since the 1980s, more quartz watches than mechanical ones have been marketed.