Kinds of Clocks
The pocket watch is commonly believed to be the first watch trend. These beautiful round timepieces tend to get passed down from father to son time and time again. The pocket watch dates back to the early 1500s, but is typically associated with the 1600s through the early 1900s. 300 years is a long time for a metaphorical hemline to remain the same height. We mentioned that pocket watches are typically passed form from father to son not mother to daughter. There’s a masculine feel to pocket watches. They’re not usually associated with women; however, during the heyday of pocket watches, women wore them! They didn’t wear them with a chain running from their waistcoat to their pocket as we often visualize someone wearing a pocket watch. Women wore them with decorative watch fobs (straps of leather or cloth) attached to the watch and looped around a belt or their wrist or some other article of clothing. These fobs started out as a means of protecting the, usually, engraved top of the pocket watch or the crystal over the face. The protective function of the fob fell to fashion and fobs became more decorative than functional.
The watch chains connected to pocket watches were functional and fashionable. Sometimes the end of the chain not connected to the pocket watch went through a button hole to help prevent the pocket watch from being dropped. The ring on that end of the chain would often carry some type of charm or trinket. These charms were usually decorative winding keys and sometimes vesta cases or cigar cutters. These eventually transformed from functional attachments to decorative charms.
Within the realm of pocket watches, two sub-cultures of fashion emerged. The first and most commonly remembered were the train conductors. When we visualize a train conductor, we see a man in a sharp suit with a chain running over his waistcoat and a pocket watch in his hand. Train conductors needed their pocket watches handy and stable. No one wanted to drop a pocket watch near the rails of an oncoming train. Train conductors started the trend of attaching the chain of a pocket watch to the button holes of a waistcoat. This style became so popular that tailors would add an extra button hole for the purpose of holding the chain.
The second sub-culture of fashion in regards to the pocket watch emerged out of the medical field. Sir John Floyer was obsessed with the pulse. He was a doctor in the late 1600s and early 1700s and grew increasingly frustrated with the limits of contemporary timepieces in relation to their ability to time the human heartbeat. He tried various types of hourglasses and timepieces, but couldn’t find anything that worked appropriately. He contacted the legendary horologist Samuel Watson and together they created The Physician’s Pulse Watch (not to be confused with the two volume publication by Sir Floyer). This watch contained a very important third hand now called the “second hand“. John Fitter invented a watch with a second hand in 1665, but it was more or less ignored. The “pulse-watch” as created by Watson and Floyer became very popular with physicians.
The Physician’s Pulse Watch was invented in 1695 and became commercially available in 1707. This watch contained an important element that John Fitter’s watch lacked. The “pulse-watch” contained a lever that would stop the time. It is considered by many to be the first stopwatch. (Our researchers are working on the history of the stopwatch and they’re already arguing with the idea of the “pulse-watch” being the first stop watch. Once we’ve gathered that data, we’ll present it to you.) It might not be the first, but it certainly is a direct ancestor of the modern “split second stopwatch”.
Eventually the pocket watch fell to the wristwatch. The first wristwatch was actually a pocket watch. Blaise Pascal, mathematician and philosopher, attached a piece of string to his pocket watch and tied it to his wrist. Pocket watches stayed in fashion so very long in part due to the disdain of “wristlets”. “Wristlets” are what we’d call wristwatches. These were considered very feminine and were a part of the attire of a woman. No self-respecting man would wear a “wristlet”. This changed when war broke out.
It’s not unusual for war to influence and change fashion. There are people today who remember when women who didn’t wear nylons were “floozies” until Uncle Sam needed the nylons for the war effort. Something only “floozies” would do became a patriotic duty and women everywhere drew lines up the backs of their bare legs so they could still keep the look of nylons without needing to wear them. The Anglo-Boer War in South Africa changed womanly “wristlets” into manly wristwatches. British soldiers wore watches on their wrists to help keep the war effort accurate and precise. When the soldiers returned home, they kept the habit and the trend spread.
In 1906, a stretchy wristband was added to the wristwatch in order to ease sizing concerns. During WWI (1914-1919), wristwatches were practically a required part of Allied uniforms. The demand for wristwatches was through the roof and Rolex was there to see it and profit from it.
In the second half of the 1900s, wristwatches became a more profound fashion statement. The 1980s brought two trends with watches. The first was the digital watch, but that wasn’t enough. The digital watch with a tiny calculator was a must have for any budding computer geek or math student. These tiny calculators with impossibly little buttons stood out on wrists like no other watch except the Swatch Watch.
The Swatch Watch threw functionality out the window and embraced fashion. The faces of these watches were sometimes impossible to read, but could be used to complete any outfit. 😀 People would wear several swatches at one time. They’d have watches lined up on their wrists, but would still need to ask someone else to tell them the time of day.
Swatch Watches were a fun and whimsical fashion fad and one that some of us would love to see return.
In the modern day of clocks on our cell phones, on our desktops, and alarm clocks online, do we still yearn for whimsical clocks and watches?