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History Of Watches

24th July 2017

There is a piece of history that always joins us – the watch! What is on your wrist is the result of thousands of years of research and development - The first watches were leveraging the movement of the sun, water or sand and even the consumption of candles. Modern watches have nothing to do with the initial developments but they are the direct consequences of that work and the many stories and anecdotes that came with it. You might expect that only scientist and “technical” people influenced the watch development but you might discover that even movies had an impact. We could write an encyclopedia with those many stories but we wanted to bring to you only our top 5 interesting facts – from historical facts to curiosities, anecdotes and even simple technical information.

  1. In the James Bond movies Sean Connery wears a Rolex Submariner while Daniel Craig wears an Omega watch. In the Bourne Ultimatum, Matt Damon wears a TAG Heuer watch. However, the self-proclaimed watch brand of the movies is hamilton– they seem to appear in 151 movies from The Frogmen in 1951 (Robert Wagner – Frogman) to Interstellar in 2014 (Matthew McConaughey - Khaki Pilot Day Date; Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy - Custom Murph Watch)
  2. The earliest known example of humans measuring the passage of time via the current sexagesimal system (i.e. numeral system with sixty as base) relates to about 2’000 BC with the Sumer. The Egyptian divided the day in two cycles of twelve hours and measured the time with sundials (measuring changes on shadow's position over time) for day time and water clocks for night time. Then the ancient Greeks started using the so called clepsydra that were measuring time with the passage of sand from one container to another.
  3. Stanley Kubrick approached the American brand Hamilton in 1966 to ask them to make unique timepieces for his new, futuristic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The Hamilton design team provided him with a wristwatch and a desk clock. Hamilton at that time had already introduced the first electric watch (1957, VENTURA) and in 1970 it leveraged the association with the movie by producing a functional wristwatch, the Odyssee 2001 and then the Pulsar with an LED display.
  4. The pocket watch started to be known in 15th century but really became popular during Tudor times in the 16th century (as seen also in a portrait of King Henry VIII). The first pocket watches had one single hand showing the hours – minute hand started being used only in 17th century. Since then watchmakers competed to produce smaller and smaller watches that could be easily carried and in 1518, François I spent a fortune on two watches set in daggers.
  5. Mechanical watches are generally less accurate than those with quartz movements (introduced in 1969). In fact despite their beauty and complexity, the mechanical parts of those watches tend to gain or lose a few seconds over a period of time. This is because they are impacted by many forces (e.g. gravity) and some complications (e.g. tourbillon about 1930) might help mitigating this impact but cannot remove completely all the different factors. Notably also the quartz watches are not 100% accurate and might be impacted by other factors like temperatures and battery life.

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