History Of Watches

Birth of the Watch

Unlike in ancient times when the sun was used to gauge the time, mechanical clocks – a device with numbers and moving hands to represent the minutes and hours that pass in a day – first came to prominence in the 13th century.

Due to the weight and size of clocks, and the desire to be able to tell the time accurately at any time day or night, progress ultimately downsized the clock into a device known as the pocket watch.

Notably during World War One, mens watches moved from the pocket to the wrist for ease of access and matched watches already worn by women titled ladies watches. After the war, both men and women carried on wearing their watches on the wrist, which has continued until the modern day.

Watch Timeline

1500 – 1600

  • In Germany in the 1500s, the first pocket watch was created by Peter Henlein. For some two hundred years, pocket watches were both fashionable and functional.
  • In 16th Century England, Henry VIII was reportedly painted wearing a medallion pocket watch around his neck.
  • In approximately 1675 a spiral balance spring helped improve the accuracy of timekeeping from hours to minutes and at this point the second hand was added to the watch. Roman numerals were also added to the dial to mark hours and minutes.


  • Around 1704, rubies were used by Peter and Jacob Debaufre in watch movements to reduce friction and increase accuracy and longevity of the moving parts.
  • In 1750, watchmakers began using enamel on watch faces to make the time easier to read.
  • Shortly afterwards in 1775, Abraham Louis Breguet set up a watch-making shop in Paris and in 1780 one of his early apprentices invented the self-winding movement.
  • In 1791, J.F. Bautte founded the watch company that later became known as Girard-Perregaux, one of the leading watchmaking firms in Europe.


  • In 1809, the first watch manufacturer in the USA was founded by Luther Goddard of Massachusetts.
  • In 1833, Antoine LeCoultre founded a watch-making company later becoming Jaeger-LeCoultre.
  • In 1848, Louis Brandt founded what is now Omega Watches.
  • In 1853, the first dual time zone watch was created by Tissot.
  • Between 1858 and 1881, four new watch companies were founded: Minerva, Heuer, Zenith and Movado.
  • In 1884, a district of south London called Greenwich was officially named as the longitude zero degrees meridian starting point at the International Meridian Conference. It is now synonymous with Greenwich Mean Time or GMT in the UK.


  • In 1904, French watchmaker Louis Cartier was asked to design a watch suitable for his aviator friend Alberton Santos-Dumont. Cartier created “Santos”, arguably the first breed of mens watches which were tough and practical.
  • A year later, the Rolex Watch Company was created by Hans Wilsdorf in 1905.
  • In 1914, watchmaker Eterna created a wristwatch with an audible alarm. As they prepared for war, soldiers were issued with wristwatches, which were more practical and less expensive than pocket watches.
  • In Japan in 1918 the Shakosha Watch company was created, later re-branding to Citizen Watches.
  • Six years later in Tokyo, the Seiko Watches brand was launched by Kinttaro Hattori in 1924.
  • In 1926, Rolex introduced the revolutionary first waterproof case they named “Oyster”.
  • In 1929, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the smallest watch movement weighing just 1 gram.
  • Two years on in 1931, Rolex brought out a new self-winding motion called “Perpetual”.
  • In 1956, Rolex introduced additional day and date features to their watches.
  • In 1962 Rado watch makers provided the first scratch-proof watch. Also in 1962, ETA of Switzerland developed the first quartz battery-operated watch.
  • In 1970, watch maker Hamilton released the first electronic digital watch, followed quickly in 1972 by Longines and Seiko who introduced liquid crystal display or LCD watches.
  • In 1983, the Swatch brand was launched by Swiss company SMH and 1985 saw the merger of Heuer and TAG creating the popular brand of TAG Heuer Watches.
  • In 1999, Casio Watches created a new watch with an inbuilt global positioning system or GPS – a revolutionary device that can pinpoint someone’s location via satellites.