It seems like the wristwatch has been around forever, but its origins are less than 200 years old. The idea of strapping a clock to the wrist was not considered necessary or important for many years. Today’s watches can offer the height of fashion or technological advancements.
Fashion Accessory Beginnings
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Perhaps surprisingly, only women wore wristwatches prior to the 1900s. In 1868, the first wristwatch was made for the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by Patek Philippe, featuring a complex bracelet design in gold. This Swiss watchmaker still has a namesake brand that sells wristwatches in over 65 countries for hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. A rare Patek Philippe wristwatch will sell for millions, like the 1943 “Reference 1527” that sold at a 2010 auction for $5.71 million.
Expanding the Market to Men as a Military Tool
The idea of strapping a miniature clock to the wrist to serve beyond a woman’s fashion accessory occurred during the Boer War. A simply designed timepiece helped military leaders coordinate their attacks and battle plans. Before the wristwatch was introduced for military use, clocks were commonly kept on the person in the form of a pocket watch. This was inconvenient for soldiers in the midst of battle. Pierced metal or leather covers protected the delicate glass crystal from damage on the battlefield.
Entering the Mainstream Market for Men
During World War I, the wristwatch became an important staple of masculine fashion. After two decades of use on the battlefield, the Allied troops were issued wristwatches as a standard part of their gear and often returned home with them as trench souvenirs. Once war heroes were seen wearing wristwatches, the wristwatch accessory was no longer viewed as strictly feminine. This allowed the market for watches to finally expand to the men as a mainstream item.
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Despite being used as a wartime tool, watches were highly susceptible to impact, dust, and water. Improvements were made towards the final years of WWII, but the first truly waterproof wristwatch was introduced by Rolex in 1926 and dubbed the “Oyster.” Rolex still produces Oyster Perpetual models for underwater use.
In 1931, Rolex introduced the Auto Rotor – a revolutionary wristwatch that perpetually self-winds. It wasn’t until 38 years later in 1969 that a battery-powered version was first created by Seiko.
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The first watch to use an LED light for a red digital readout was created in 1970. Watches, now able to work from a small motor, begin to make enormous bounds in complexity. Today’s consumer can purchase a simple luxury timepiece, a durable watch for any activity, or a smartwatch to connect to a smartphone. Watches, like the Apple Watch or the LG G Watch, offer the same stylish convenience that initially made the wristwatch popular in the early 20th century.
The wristwatch has now become a staple fashion accessory for both men and women. The wristwatch adds a sophisticated convenience to your person, appreciated in even the most professional or elegant of settings.