Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Wristwatches: History & Evolution (part 7)

The wristwatch started on the road to success at the beginning of the twentieth century. The twenties can be defined as the period of the greatest technical change in the wristwatch industry.

The first really "revolutionary" discovery was made by a British, John Harwood, who developed the automatic wristwatch. Hans Wilsdorf, a German, made the second, carrying the Rolex name to the pinnacle of fame with a waterproof model, the Oyster wristwatch.

By 1922, the possibility of a self-winding watch had already occurred to the great eighteenth and nineteenth century masters. On October 16, 1923, John Harwood and Harley Cutts finally succeeded and they applied for a patent for their model in Switzerland. It was granted almost a year later.

The twenties also saw many successes from the other great manufacturing companies. In 1925, Patek Philippe, for the first time in the history of wristwatch manufacturing, introduced a model with a perpetual calendar which included the time, day of the week, year and the date. But the cost of this perpetual was too high and the Geneva-based company delayed production for 15 years.

Thus, it was not until 1941 that the perpetual wristwatch complete with chronograph, appeared in the Patek catalogue, the dream of every collector.

In the thirties, Patek Philippe produced, on order, a number of unique timepieces equipped with a simple perpetual calendar. In 1925, the company began manufacturing wristwatches with a repetition of minutes. In the 40 years between 1925 and 1962, the company delivered about 40 of these watches, at an average of one every 12 months.

The thirties were the Golden Age of the wristwatch. The decade saw the firm establishment of this new way of wearing watches. But the Golden Age of the wristwatch got off to a difficult start: it came during the financial crisis that hit Wall Street and the United States in October 1929.

Among the special watches first produced in the thirties were the unforgetable Digitals. They were watches closed by a flat piece of metal with small windows which allowed one to tell the time with the help of numbers that moved in little circles.

Some unusually shaped models were also put on the market at that time. They included the so-called Barrels, very large watches that were usually curved to fit the shape of the wrist.

Another success that dates to 1956 was the invention of a semi-automatic timekeeping device which could distinguish the order of arrival of eight competitors almost simultaneously. In 1961, the first time-inset appeared on the television screen.

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