Commercial introduction: shift in public perceptions

Early models were essentially standard pocket-watches fitted to a leather strap but, by the early 20th century, manufacturers began producing purpose-built wristwatches. The Swiss company Dimier Frères & Cie patented a wristwatch design with the now standard wire lugs in 1903. Hans Wilsdorf moved to London in 1905 and set up his own business, Wilsdorf & Davis, with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis, providing quality timepieces at affordable prices; the company later became Rolex. Wilsdorf was an early convert to the wristwatch, and contracted the Swiss firm Aegler to produce a line of wristwatches.

The impact of the First World War dramatically shifted public perceptions on the propriety of the man’s wristwatch and opened up a mass market in the postwar era. The creeping barrage artillery tactic, developed during the war, required precise synchronization between the artillery gunners and the infantry advancing behind the barrage. Service watches produced during the War were specially designed for the rigours of trench warfare, with luminous dials and unbreakable glass. The War Office began issuing wristwatches to combatants from 1917. By the end of the war, almost all enlisted men wore a wristwatch and after they were demobilized, the fashion soon caught on: the British Horological Journal wrote in 1917 that “the wristlet watch was little used by the sterner sex before the war, but now is seen on the wrist of nearly every man in uniform and of many men in civilian attire.” By 1930, the ratio of a wrist to pocket watches was 50 to 1. The first successful self-winding system was invented by John Harwood in 1923.

The commercial introduction of the quartz watch in 1969 in the form of the Omega Beta 21 and the Seiko Astron was a revolutionary improvement in watch technology. In place of a balance wheel which oscillated at perhaps 5 or 6 beats per second, they used a quartz crystal resonator which vibrated at 8,192 Hz, driven by a battery-powered oscillator circuit. Since the 1980s, more quartz watches than mechanical ones have been marketed.

Hamilton Electric were the pioneers of the first electric watch  unlike the Quartz and the Bulova Accutron this was the first movement to use a battery as a source to oscillate the balance wheel. Hamilton released two models of the Electric: the first released was the Hamilton 500 on January 3, 1957, which was produced into 1959. This model had problems with the contact wires misaligning and the watch returned to Hamilton for alignment. The Hamilton 505 was an improvement on the 500 and was more reliable: the contact wires were removed and a non-adjustable contact on the balance assembly delivered the power to the balance wheel.

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