The ladies wrist watch can be a beautiful and elegant thing. Today it is often as much a fashion statement as a time piece, often more so in fact. Most of the modern wrist watches in use are now powered by a small battery and are electronic in nature, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, watches with mechanical movements have been around a lot longer than those without.
In the early days, the difference between a watch and a small clock was a bit blurred. Even though Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, has his character Malvolio saying, “I frown the while, and perchance wind up my watch,” the watch in question was probably quite large, unreliable and would have been most impractical attached to the wrist. While watches of Shakespeare’s time could tell the time, they were used mainly as decoration and jewellery. Telling the time back then was usually achieved by use of a pocket sundial.
It was in Nuremberg in Germany that the first recognisable watches, the ancestors of the ladies wrist watch of today, were born. In 1511, Johannes Coeuleus of Nuremberg wrote of a man called Peter Henlein, “Out of a little iron he constructs clocks with numerous wheels, which, without any impulse and in any position, indicate time for forty hours and strike, and which can be carried in the purse as well as in the pocket.” This was the earliest example of a watch!
The earliest wrist watches were in fact ladies wrist watches. In the late 19th century there was a saying among gentlemen: “I’d rather wear a skirt than wear a wrist watch!” For them the pocket watch was the real thing, and the wristlet, as they were called then, was for women. The item was always well decorated, and the more expensive examples had jewels adorning them. They could even keep time – more or less.
However, war forced men to adopt the wearing of a watch on the wrist. Because attacks from various flanks in battle often had to be synchronised, clumsy pocket watches were found to be bulky and tended to interfere with the job in hand. It was found to be much better to have free hands during battle, and where better to attach the pocket watches than to the wrist. Gradually the size diminished, men accepted them and their popularity grew.
The earliest ladies wrist watch was largely a decorative item. It is still so today, though now it can keep time to a much greater accuracy. We have gold watches, silver watches, adorned with crystal, quartz, diamond, pearl, titanium or just plain stainless steel. Practically everyone has a watch now, not just the ladies.