History of Timepieces

History of Timepieces

While you’ll find modern gentlemen wearing watches of various styles and types, that was certainly not always the case. In fact, many men initially eschewed the wristwatch when it was introduced in the early 1900s, saying they’d “sooner wear a skirt” than put a timepiece on their wrist. That mindset changed rather quickly and dramatically, but the overall history of timepieces is one that spans thousands of years.
Sundials, Stars and Water

Sundials get credit as the first devices used to measure time more than 10,000 years ago, while ancient Egyptians used the positioning of the stars to measure time at night. Timepieces were subsequently devised using various materials, such as oil, candles and water. Water played a huge role in time measurement with Japan’s water clock circa 671 and the China’s water-powered astronomical clock tower in 1090.

Weights, Pendulums and Mechanics

Mechanical clocks entered the scene around 1300, with weight-driven timepieces eventually developing into clocks relying on mainsprings for power. Galileo Galilei helped further advance the development of timepieces with his studies on pendulums in the late 1500s, paving the way for Christiaan Huygens’ creation of the pendulum clock by 1656. Dutchman Huygens kept at it for decades, eventually producing a portable clock that relied on a spring and balance-wheel regulator. This opened the door for the development of mechanical clocks, which debuted throughout London and Paris in the 1700s.

Pocket Watches and Wearable Timepieces

Pocket watches and clock-watches worn around the neck were introduced in the early 1500s. Design and time-keeping abilities were poor; the devices were more for status than function. Minute hands were added in 1680, followed by self-winding capabilities in 1780. Although wristwatches were first commercialized in 1880 when 2,000 were ordered by Kaiser Wilhelm I for naval officers in Germany, men didn’t fully embrace the concept until a couple of decades later.

Men’s Watches Come into Fashion

Men’s wristwatches came into vogue with help from Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont. The pilot asked his pal Louis Cartier to create a wristwatch he could wear while flying, one that let him time his flight while keeping both hands on the aircraft’s controls. This led to the first men’s wristwatch prototype known as the Santos wristwatch.

Wristwatches for men eventually exploded on the scene, thanks to Santos, the founding of London’s Wilsdorf and Davis in 1905, and the opening of Switzerland’s Rolex in 1908. Men’s watches continued to advance, fueled by the soldiers’ “trench watches” of World War I, the advent of watches powered by electricity in 1957 and the introduction the quartz watch in 1969. Today you can find men’s watches in a wide range of styles, materials, types and functions to suit any number of personal tastes. And many gentlemen gladly wear them with flair, for their function as well as their mark of status and style.