Time After Time: The Modern Evolution of Watches

The first watches were not very similar to the wristwatches we know and love today. They were closer to pocket watches, and served better as decoration than as keepers of time. The lever escapement of the 1800s brought thinner pocket watches that could more accurately keep time than their predecessors. The use of jewel bearings, in addition to the changes in the escapements, meant that pocket watches could be carried by just about anybody, in any situation. As with any other invention, this meant that mass production would be right around the corner. Mass Production Until a product can be effectively mass produced, it is typically available only to the wealthy. This was especially true of the watch. It was not until 1851, when Aaron Lufkin Dennison started a factory in Massachusetts that could use interchangeable parts in watchmaking, that watches would become available to the masses. By 1861, his factory was successfully operating as the Waltham Watch Company.  Improvements to watch accuracy and mass production received a further boost from the necessity for accuracy on railroads. As a result, watches that used temperature compensated balance wheels and jewel bearings became used nearly universally. The necessity for accuracy led to the first international watch precision contest in 1876. As a result of this increased emphasis on accuracy, rather than decoration, watches were running extremely accurately, losing only a few seconds per day, at most. It was also at this time that the Waterbury Clock Company of Connecticut…


Time and Time Again: An Early History of Watches

Unlike most other inventions in human history, watches have not seen much in the way of technological advancement. Sure, if you include smartwatches in the history of watches, that would be patently untrue, but when it comes to pure timepieces, the watch has remained essentially the same. Most changes to watch technology have been purely aesthetic, even if you go back as far as the first watches of 16th century Europe. The Clock Watch The first watches originated in Nuremberg, Germany, and were a form of transitional technology: not quite watch-sized, these clock watches were frequently worn on a chain around someone‚Äôs neck, or pinned to their clothing. They were heavy, ornamental, and cylindrical in shape. The face had only an hour hand, and was not covered with glass. To protect the singular watch hand, a brass, domed cover was typically affixed, and engraved in such a way that the user would not need to open it to read the time. These watches needed to be wound up twice a day, and would later take on a more orb shaped construction. The orb shaped clock watches were called Nuremberg eggs. The space requirements for all of the gears responsible for their operation allowed for unusually shaped clock watches to trend. Some watches took the shapes of skulls, animals, fruit, or books.  Strangely enough, these clock watches were not exactly meant to be functional. They were inaccurate, often off by up to several hours a day. They were…

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