The first wristwatch was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868. Although it was the first timekeeping device to be designed specifically for use on the wrist, it was intended primarily as a piece of decorative jewellery. It has been claimed that pocket watches were adapted to be worn on wrist bracelets prior to 1868, perhaps as early as the 1570s. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this, and Patek Philippe’s design for Countess Koscowicz was the first true wristwatch in the modern sense of the word. Wristwatches were a natural progression from pocket watches, but men did not initially take to the idea, preferring to rely on the larger, more traditional timepiece.
However, the practicalities of the wristwatch, which could be operated with one hand rather than two, eventually won over popular opinion, appealing especially to those in the military, who needed to be able to monitor the time while also operating machinery and weaponry. European soldiers were outfitting the device with unbreakable glass to survive the trenches and radium to illuminate the display at night. And civilians, seeing the wristwatch’s practical benefits over the pocket watch, were parroting the behavior.
From then on, the road to perfect timekeeping was short. In 1923, John Harwood managed to craft a self- winding watch, using a rotor blade that would swing freely inside the watch every time the wrist was in motion, thus, winding the watch automatically.
A few years later, two researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories discovered that quartz crystal creates a frequency that is very consistent, leading to the development in 1927 of a highly-accurate clock. Less than 40 years later, The Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Switzerland succeeded in incorporating the technology into wrist watches. But, by the time that happened, a whole new revolutionary technology had emerged – and in 1970, the first digital clock was already ticking. Astonishingly, while it took almost a thousand years for mechanical clocks to evolve into mechanical wrist watches, it took less than five years for digital clocks to make that leap.
Devices that keep track of time were always popular and needed by governments, businesses and religion, but the appearance of small and portable pocket watches and wrist watches changed everything we knew and enabled the creation of the modern society that we are part of today.