Before watches there were of course clocks, so where did watches come from? The clock when first made worked off a very simple principle. The clock was a mechanical device and used a repetitive type of motion that allowed a wheel to rotate.
They used what were called foliots in conjunction with an escape wheel to turn a wheel. These pieces got their energy from a weight which was coiled around a drum and released slowly.
If you look inside any old Grandfather clock you will see this type of mechanism. These first clocks were made from about 1300 onwards and did not actually have what we would recognise as a clock face with hands that told the time.
Time was actually announced by the sounding of a bell. The word clock actually derives from the Latin word “cloca” which means bell. I know it is hard to imagine not being able to see a face, and being able to simply tell the time, but that was how it was back in the day.
Clocks in 1300-1400
Clocks around this time period were only for the rich but could also be found in some businesses and the odd stately home. They were huge things and weighed a lot. With the introduction of spring driven clocks rather than those operated by a heavy hanging weight, clocks could then be made smaller and were more portable.
Over time and with the introduction of pivoted arms instead of foliots, the first watches came into being around 1500. These would never have been found in an ordinary working person’s home simply because of the huge cost.
For those that could afford them, they were a huge status symbol. In many ways this still happens today, but is shown by the type of designer watch, that is also worn by the rich and famous.
The First Watch
Exactly where the first watches were made will never be answered and there is still disagreement today among many experts. Many claim that Peter Henlein from Nuremburg invented the first watch whereas others remain adamant that they originated in Italy and some say in Burgundy.
The earliest known watch that still exists today is at the Wuppertal Museum in Germany and has a date of 1548.
The earliest of watches were actually designed to be worn around the neck on a chain and were known as neck watches and not pocket watches as many people believe. Wearing one of those in these days was more a statement of wealth than an actual timepiece.
The design of the first watches was however fairly standard in that a watch had a mainspring, coiled in a barrel and this was attached to a shaft. This shaft was regulated by an escape wheel which allowed it to release at regular intervals and turn a hand on a dial.
Late in the 17th Century a “fusee” was introduced and this allowed for a more accurate turning of the hands. The important part to note was that in the early days the movement was housed in a case for protection. Rich people would have taken the movement to a jeweller or craftsman and would have had an elaborate design created for the case. The more eloquent this was related directly to his wealth.
I hope you have found this potted history of how watches came into being interesting and informative.