Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Wristwatches: History & Evolution (part 1)

A wristwatch is a small clock worn on the wrist, a combination of bracelet and clock. The German word Armbandur (arm-band clock) expresses the type of attachment that can range from a heavy ring to a light chain.

Not only the fact of being worn on the arm but also the manner of reading the time, is definitive for the wristwatch: quick and simple with the movement of bending the arm. Only the wristwatch makes it possible to read the time at a glance without any other motions.

The earliest known forms of watches worn on the arm, though, do not fulfill these conditions, for the axis of their dials, from the six to the 12 is not parallel to the band but perpendicular to it, parallel to the arm. These types are better called bracelets with watches. Arm-band watches with the clock face position familiar to us, wristwatches in a functional sense, began to appear around 1850. Then, the popularity of wristwatches depended on changes of style, particularly clothing styles and the realisation of more and more men and women that the wristwatch was useful and practical in their work.

The first exact reference to a decorative watch worn on the wrist occurs in a 1790 account book of the Geneva house of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot. It is also recorded that in 1806 the Parisian jeweller Nitot created two expensive bracelets set with pearls to be worn on both arms according to the fashion of the time. One bracelet included a small clock as an extravagant decoration; the other a small mechanically changeable calendar. They were a wedding present from Empress Josephine to her daughter-in-law Amalie Auguste, a daughter of King Maximilian I of Bavaria, the later Princess of Leuchtenberg.

Typical of these early predecessors of the wristwatch is their octagonal, oval or pointed-oval form and the layout of their front with the visible, usually jewelled balance wheel above and the small enamelled face with steel hands below. These watches were worn on bands of varying form: chain-link band, bracelet, hair or satin band. The position of the clock face shows them to be decorative clocks on armbands rather than wristwatches in a functional sense.

In the following decades, other watches were made individually to be worn on the arm, for example, by the Breguet firm between 1831 and 1838. The size of the movement was noted as eight lines (18.5mm).

About the middle of the nineteenth century, wide, heavy looking bands were in fashion, often having on their exterior a capsular attachment. This provided the place to attach a woman's small round pocket watch.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the band was often formed so that a complete decorative watch or a small pocket watch could be set into it. A decorative watch of the post 1840 period, presumably made for the court of Naples, is described in the following words: "The artistically and enamelwork in blue and white heighten the decorative effect. The watch, a small pocket watch with lepine movement and winding key, is concealed under a hinged lid and can be removed without difficulty..."

Wristwatches of this type were generally no longer unique. The first decorative watch on an arm-band made by the house of Patek Philippe dates from 1868.

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