Tale as old as Time

What we see today was not so earlier. It has taken several centuries for civilisations to progress. The same is true for time as well. The importance remains the same, but the package has 'evolutionised' over the years...

By: Salman Z. Bukhari

Posted on: March 10, 2011

What we see today was not so earlier. It has taken several centuries for civilizations to progress. The same is true for time as well. The importance remains the same, but the package has ‘evolutionised’ over the years…

Of man’s ability to effectively control and efficiently manage many tasks, one thing which evades his hold is ‘time’. In order to gain mastery over time’s movement, man devised ways in which he could measure it. Early civilizations of Egypt or Mesopotamia could very well be credited with endeavours in this respect through the creation of sundials and weight machines.

The history of watches is closely intertwined with that of man and his quest for modernity - making it a remarkable journey in the evolution of both.

Watches today are as much instruments of showing time, as they are a work of art, complementing one’s style, taste, individuality and often showcasing success.

The birth of the modern wristwatch could be traced back to the clocks. Although great forays in timekeeping were made with the birth of the clock featuring hands, and roman or Arabic numericals indicating passage of time, they remained fixed on the walls and placed on the desks, in ivory and wood and even bejeweled in precious stones and metals.  Necessity to be able to tell time on the move gave impetus to the creation of the first timepieces which could be worn in 1500s – the clock-watch.

A hybrid between the clock and a watch, these devices were bulky, thus often worn around the neck like a large pendant, be wound twice a day, unreliable because of inaccuracy of its time keeping ability and remained a luxury afforded by the nobility and the rich because of its hefty price tag restricting the mainstream from embracing it.

A hundred years of the clock-watch and its failure gave way to the creation of the pocket watch in the 1600s. Its invention could be attributed to fashion as pocket watches were created when Charles II of England introduced the waistcoat to gentlemen around the world.

The early models were much like the pocket watches as we know today but with leather cover to protect the glass, followed by a metal cage and finally a molded metal casing holding the device. Accuracy came in 1657 when the balance spring was invented and over a period of time the pocket watch was mass-produced finding its way into the waistcoats of every respectable man worldwide.

Women on the other hand wore no waistcoats so to speak, but needed their own time keepers, leading to development of the first wristwatch. It was initially dubbed as a passing impractical fad than a serious timepiece. The ‘wristlets’, as they were called, were delicate, fixed with ornate bracelets or wires. Their deep feminine connection was another reason why all who mattered frowned upon the wristlets.

The nineteenth century wars changed this perception. The impracticality of the pocket watch in wartime situations led soldiers to fix their pocket watch to their wrists with leather, hence freeing the hands and helping synchronize attacks.

The continued military usage of the watch attached to the hands pushed for creation of more evolved watches, thus marking a turning point in the development of wristwatches for men.

With companies scrambling to produce this wartime necessity, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder and director of Rolex, led the cause through intensive R&D, making his watches the most reliable for the British troops during World War I.

Following the success of Great War, many soldiers returned home with souvenir ‘trench’ watches. When these war heroes were seen wearing them, the public’s perception changed, making the humble wristlet MANLY.

Numerous improvements continued on the watch, improving its durability, accuracy and finesse. Over the century, waterproof, anti-magnetic, quartz operated, self winding, day and night, multiple time zone, hours, minute, second and date displaying watches found their place on the wrists of men and women.

Born out of necessity, the wristwatch could very well have been on its way to obsolescence with the popularity of pagers, mobile phones and other gadgets, but despite all odds, this one device remains deeply etched into the modern culture of man, making it an essential accessory to complete a look, a fanatic obsession for its collectors, an ultimate symbol of prosperity and fine taste or just simply a ever essential timekeeper of humanity.

Man still has no control over time, but with its passage, he has surely learnt to manage it in great style, thanks to his constant companion, the watch on his wrist.

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