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10 Jun

The Evolution of Luxury Watches Through The Ages

The evolution of luxury watches is a journey that spans centuries. From the earliest pocket watches to the luxury wristpieces of today, these little units have held a vital role in human civilisation. Say it or not, luxury watches are a big deal today, not just for timekeeping but as a symbol of status and a statement of style for many. But this wasn’t always the scenario.

The increasing necessity among people during World War I increased their popularity. Back then, soldiers needed a way to check the time quickly without using their hands, which wasn’t possible with pocket watches. Thus, from their humble beginnings as practical timekeeping tools to their transformation into fashionable statement pieces, the evolution of wristwatches mirrors technological advancements, shifting societal norms, and changing fashion trends.

In this blog, we’ll explore the fascinating journey of wristwatches and their transformation over the years.

Early Years

Long before the advent of mechanical watches, ancient societies used primitive techniques to track time. From sundials that relied on the sun’s shadow’s angle to indicate the day’s time to using candles that burn at a very particular rate, people throughout history have always been finding interesting ways to track time.

However, the sundial had its limitations: It could only function during daylight and was ineffective during the night or on overcast days. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians actively participated in refining this concept.

Next, there were water clocks that controlled water flow to gauge time intervals. Various cultures, such as the Greeks, Chinese, and Persians, developed these water clock devices and used them extensively for centuries. Even though the water clocks were more accurate than the sundials, they were still subject to certain inaccuracies due to irregular water flow and temperature changes.

Dawn of Mechanical Timekeeping

The transition from sundials and water clocks to mechanical clocks during the Middle Ages marked a major advancement in timekeeping technology. The first place to have a mechanical device to track time was Salisbury Cathedral in England in 1275. The church served as the place of innovation in timekeeping, as daily life there revolved around singing carols and offering players throughout the day. The newly invented mechanical timekeeper didn’t have any face or dial as we know it today but was a simple tracker of minutes.

13th -16th Century

In the 13th century, mechanical clocks were driven by weights and regulated by escapements. They first appeared in European monasteries and public spaces. These complex and large devices paved the way for creating portable timekeeping devices.

Mechanical watches developed in the 14th century were powered by a wound spring or falling weight, causing a system of gears to rotate and move the hands of the clock. These clocks were more precise than their predecessors and could measure time in smaller intervals, such as minutes and seconds.

The beginning of the 15th century marked the introduction of the spring drive, making it possible to produce ‘mobile clocks’ for the very first time. Finally, ‘pocket watches were born’. During the mid-1500s, the Calvinists banned people from wearing any jewellery. So, to save the bronze, silver, and brass industry, jewellers learned to make watches, which led to the wearing of pocket watches.

By the 16th century, pocket watches had come into existence, and there was a trail of technological advancements. These early timekeepers served as symbols of social status among the affluent. However, they were yet to achieve precision and necessitated frequent adjustments. The earliest pocket watches featured only an hour hand, with the minute hand being introduced in 1680.

They weren’t really ‘pocket’ watches but something the people wore around their necks. The pocket forms came into existence after Charles II of England popularised wearing the waistcoat.

Age of Pocket Watches

The 17th century welcomed the true revolution in timekeeping, with pocket watches gaining more and more popularity. The watches were portable, convenient and accurate. The innovations in balance wheels, spring mechanisms and escapements contributed to the watch’s accuracy. As a result, pocket watches gained prominence among a wide audience base.

By the late 1850s, America started manufacturing pocket watches using standardised parts and mechanised production lines. Since then, pocket watches were no longer exclusive to the wealthy and became a popular accessory for the middle and lower classes.

The emergence of railroads in the latter half of the 19th century led to the increased popularity of pocket watches for precise timekeeping.

 During World War I, soldiers required wristwatches instead of pocket watches to track time, leading to the subsequent downfall of the pocket watch trend. However, pocket watches still retained popularity in the 1950s for a short time as many preferred to pair them with three-piece suits.

Mechanical Renaissance: Birth of Wrist Watches

Enter the concept of wrist watches. This shift wasn’t just about convenience but an essential adjustment to meet the requirements of modern warfare. The transition occurred during the late 19th and early 20th century. Historical records suggest that in 1810, Abraham-Louis Breguet crafted the first wristwatch for Queen Caroline Murat of Naples. This was a more modern model.

At first, wristwatches were considered a women’s accessory, but they gained prominence among men during WWI when the soldiers found them more practical. Innovative designs emerged to uphold the wristwear style. Brands such as Cartier and Patek Philippe played a major role in popularising wristwatches and establishing them as symbols of refinement and status.

Quartz Revolution

The 1970s marked the age of the Quartz revolution. The advent of Quartz technology changed the shape of the watch industry forever and for good. Quartz watches were powered by batteries and replaced the traditional mechanical movements, ensuring unparalleled accuracy and affordability.

Initially, Swiss watchmakers struggled to keep up with the quartz wave, resulting in a decline in the popularity of traditional mechanical watches. This phase is also known as the ‘Quartz Crisis’ when watchmakers failed to compete with the falling prices of quartz-powered watches that needed fewer moving parts and no winding. Many small manufacturers disappeared quickly. Even companies like Rolex struggled and eventually released Quartz movements of their own to compete.

Ironically, the popularity of Quartz watches led to their downfall. As quartz pieces became increasingly cheap, mechanical watches portrayed themselves as rare luxury goods. Hence, the 1980s saw a renewed appreciation for mechanical pieces as collectors and enthusiasts recognised the value of intricate movements and hand-finished components. The return of this interest strengthened the position of mechanical pieces in the market.

The high-end watch manufacturers embraced this change by crafting mechanical timepieces that combined traditional watchmaking techniques with contemporary engineering. They also emphasised creating new and innovative movements to enhance the functionality and desirability of the mechanical watches.

Modern Day Wrist Watches

Today, wristwatches have evolved to become highly sophisticated timekeeping tools that reflect personal style and technological innovation. Luxury watch brands like Rolex, Cartier, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe focus on craftsmanship, intricate mechanisms, and exquisite materials to create timepieces that are not only accurate but also appeal to collectors and enthusiasts as potential investments that reap good returns on selling.

For enhanced durability, premium materials like gold, stainless steel, and platinum are integrated with high-tech elements like titanium, ceramic, and carbon fibres.

In the 21st century, luxury watchmaking has embraced both innovation and tradition, leading to their increased popularity. Brands have continued refining their mechanical watchmaking techniques while integrating complex functions like GMT, tourbillion, calendars, day and date display, moon phase, chronographs, alarm function, power reserve indicator, minute repeater, diving features, tachymeter and skeletonisation. These are just a few examples of craftsmanship and innovation within the industry today.

The design of the watches has also evolved, keeping in mind the changing needs and preferences of the customers. Watches are customised to fit any style, from classic leather bands to metal bracelets to exotic materials like carbon fibres and silicon straps.

FINAL THOUGHTS

From the era of pocket watches to the contemporary realm of wristwatches, luxury watches have come a long way since their inception. The journey through history makes it evident that timepieces have always been more than mere timekeeping instruments, with each era leaving an indelible mark on the evolution of horology.

As technology evolves and fashion trends shift, one thing will remain constant—the enduring allure of luxury watches. Watches are a testament to human ingenuity and will continue to be so for generations to come.

If you want to own a piece of this rich history, Luxbrokers offers a vast selection of pre-owned luxury watches from the world’s most iconic luxury brands. Explore the collection here or visit in-store for in-person assistance.

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