How watches have changed over the years

I think to give an interesting look on my project, with regards to how craftsmanship in the watches have tended to be forgotten, I thought it would be interesting to see how exactly watches have changed over the years. I think this is more important in the idea of looking at how watches back then were made and designed specifically, with the level of craftsmanship high, whereas today watches are more valued for their aesthetic value, cheap they are and how easy they are to come by.

The idea of watches really started as a way of us being able to record the time with us on the go; we had a variety of methods in which we can somewhat guess as to what the time was (sundials, burning damp rope etc.)(, n.d.) Eventually we began to work on more mechanical structures that began to hold a more accurate idea. However, pocket watches when they first came out were possibly the most accurate thing we had a to a portable watch; instead of having the grandfather clocks in our lounges, we could now go around with no worry about finding out what the time could be. However there was a slight catch with this.

Pocket watches at the time , when they came out in the 15th century, were mainly used by the upper classes in the beginning (, n.d.), possibly as a way to show their social status in the community, which could have been seen as the early prototypes were worn around the neck(, n.d.). Who at the time could afford such a thing when there was a limited amount going around? However as the trade began to pick up, the price of these watches were slowly driven down, allowing those in the working classes to buy them, and becoming an essential tool for them in their workplace. For me, it would be in places such as these that you would get to see more of the bumps and scratches, where in the actual shops you would see the skill coming through.

Compared to the lightweight watches we have on us in today’s society, these early pocket watches were made to be heavy and unfortunately, rather inaccurate due to the fact that they only included an hour-hand (, n.d.). However these problems were recognized, and in the following years more pocket-watch designs were made to address them. Later on in the 17th and 18th centuries saw much more useful innovation in the watch-making industry, with the accuracy problem addressed with the minute-hand being introduced to the face of the watch now. However what also benefited this was that the watch now only had to be wound once per day, which again showed how the skill level had increased a lot in the craftsmanship.

However, eventually pocket watches began to become a bit outdated as technology grew, and eventually the business began to focus on wristwatches. Apparently, the first wristwatch was made for Queen Elisabeth I in 1571 (, n.d.), however it was only in the late 19th that it was re-looked at, with it being advertised more so for women.  However this custom changed in the 20th century in which men began to wear a more sporting wristwatches as a fashion accessory. This began a new era in which people could now wear the watches without a social stigma attached to them, although you did get more high-end wrist watches being developed for those that could afford them.
I think it was in this era that the appreciation for craftsmanship began to decline massively. The watches could be made quickly, cheaply and effectively in factories without any real care. We think of when you had people in their shops, each person working specifically on a single part before passing it on to another. But with the industrial revolution, we now have machines that could do all with this with so much. So in our society today, the stigma of power and authority changed to something that looked down on those that actually didn’t have a watch.

However, this wasn’t the end of this change. Like in the past, new technology and methods emerged that again changed the idea of watches. The electric watch began to emerge as a competitor which gave the most accurate time, but also was fairly cheap to make as well. However these were quite short lived as  the quartz watch was made a more “fashionable” accessory, and to fit into the norm of society, buyers abandoned their older watches, like the pocket watches in favour for the new technology. These ‘new’ watches though are now shown in a more advertising way to sell; the idea of caring about the effort put into making them is no longer thought about. Rather, they are sold on how well they look, the price you are paying for something that looks nice on your watch. Just by doing a Google search, you can see some of these types of pictures.

esq-best-watches-for-men-102210-xlg(Anon, n.d.) [1]

mens-watches(Anon, n.d.) [2]

????????????????????????????????????(Anon, n.d.) [3]

With these types of pictures, all they become are commodities. Nothing makes them unique, especially with their affordable cost (well, the majority of them anyway.) With the maturing of quartz watches and the reduction in cost of producing these watches, the majority of these watches become a throw away commodity. And this brings into question the actual value of these watches now; if we were to compare these modern watches to the older ones, there is a massive difference. With modern ones, we are split as to whether we will  service the existing watch or to buy a new a completely new one (depending on what’s happened) whereas  with the older watches, they keep a high value as they hold memories that can’t be replaced, so we are almost reluctant to change anything as it will change the meaning of the watch. The stories they hold will no longer properly exist; they will just be memories, and no longer a physical thing we can interact with.

So what this does mean for the future of all these types of watches then? Well as it stands, the future of watches is already upon us in a way; we are now looking at brands such as Apple and Samsung have already started to sell smartphone watches which directly links to your smartphone today. Even if these smart watches weren’t being created, the smartphone has an inbuilt watch, removing the need of a wristwatch. Why buy one when you can pull your phone out and see the time? I think the future is uncertain at the minute, so it’s tough to actually see what direction it will all take.
However what I do think will stay the same is that the older watches will still maintain a historical value with each person person, as it retains memories that perhaps nothing else will be able to replace.

[1] Anon, (n.d.). [image] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014].

[2] Anon, (n.d.). [image] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014].

[3] Anon, (n.d.). [image] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014]., (n.d.). The History of Pocket watches, antique pocket watches, collectable pocket watches. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014].


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