Mar 2022

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The history of watchmaking

Nothing has shaped our current understanding of time as much as the invention of the wristwatch.

The need to measure time has existed for several millennia: 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians invented the sundial. Its circular design and time periods shape the look of modern watches to this day. Time measurement was linked to sunlight and therefore only possible during the day. The first independence from daylight led to the water clock. It was followed by the hourglass and in the 14th century the wheel clock. The latter already contains the first basic elements that can currently be found in mechanical watches, but it was very inaccurate. It was equipped with a so-called “Unrast” – a less accurate predecessor of the current used balance wheel.

In 1673 Christiaan Huygens created a spiral spring and balance wheel watch, which was already relatively small and portable.

The way was paved for the development of smaller watches: only a few decades later, in 1812, Abraham-Louis Breguet made, at the request of Queen Carolina Murat, Napoleon’s sister, the first known wristwatch. It was attached to the wrist with a strap.

 

Flight legend Alberto Santos Dumont had already expressed a desire to be able to use both hands during the flight and to be able to keep an eye on his watch at the same time. His friend Louis Cartier designed the Cartier Santos for him in 1904, which is still a central series of the company’s collection today. The first men’s wristwatch is born and with it the first pilot’s watch. While it doesn’t have much in common with today’s aviation watches with a distinctive bezel, it laid the foundation for one of the most successful watch categories of all time. Today, almost every watch manufacturer has at least one series of aviation watches in their repertoire.

In the 1920s, the first self-winding automatic watch was developed. 1926 Rolex, with its waterproof Oyster case, makes headlines and contributes to the success of wristwatches with its publicity. To prove the waterproofness of the Oyster case, founder Hans Wilsdorf equipped swimmer Mercedes Gleitze with a Rolex as she tried to cross the Channel. The record attempt failed due to unfavorable weather conditions. The watch has survived the time in frozen water without damage. The success of the wristwatch was unstoppable. In 1931 Rolex launched the first self-winding movement, the Oyster Perpetual, which replaced the manually wound movement.

 

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Written by Dominique G.
Sources from the Web

 

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