As with many fashion trends in times gone by, the wrist watch was first made fashionable by royalty — specifically Queen Elizabeth I who was given one in the late 1500s. It was an adaptation of the pocket watch made more feminine and worn as an adornment accessory.
The very first widely worn wristwatches were designed exclusively for women and called wristlets. Men of the late 19th century and early 20th century still kept track of time using a pocket watch. They considered the wristlet a fashion trend that would, like all others, come and go; and the wristwatch would at that time never be considered by men as anything but a feminine bobble for women.
The wristwatch as a useful way to conveniently keep time for men actually started out as a wartime necessity. The British army in their fight against South Africa in the Boar War in the early 1900s strapped pocket watches to their wrist so that they could hold their weapons and still synchronize maneuvers with other troops. The first wristwatches for men were promoted to the military for men going into active service. Many of these influential men found the convenience of not fishing in a pocket for their watch indispensable even after returning from the field.
Changes in watchbands also added to the popularity of the wristwatch for both men and women. The flexible band pieces that attached to the open-faced watch made it easy to fasten a leather strap, which kept the watch securely, attached to the wrist. Now wristwatches were standard military issue for the allied troops of World War I.
In 1915, The Rolex Watch Company, formerly known as Wilsdorf & Davis, was founded. Hans Wilsdorf liked the idea of a wristwatch for both men and women and worked to improve the accuracy. Rolex was recognized as a leader in this research and received the first wristwatch Chronometer award given out by the School of Horology in Bienne.
In the mid-1920s, following the war, men started to associate wristwatches with the brave heroes who fought and no longer viewed them as only for women. Rolex seized upon this new image and continued through the 1950s to market watches specifically to men. Professional, masculine-style watches were developed to be worn by men in various fields of work.
The development of new technology capable of tracking time and performing the other functions of a cell phone or planner may lead to a time when the watch will be less of an important way to keep time and more of fashion accessory or status symbol. But, let’s face it, if anyone ever asks you if you know the time, your first instinct is to raise your wrist, whether or not you remembered to put on your watch!