There is evidence that watches adjusted for the wrist existed in the late 1500s in special creations for royalty, yet wristwatches were not used in large numbers until the early twentieth century. The first designs were military in nature—they were introduced as chronographs offering multiple-timing capabilities. These wristwatches were used during the Boer War, and later during World War I for their practicality on the front lines. It was easier and quicker to glance at a watch on one's wrist than to rummage through pockets during battle operations.
Despite the wristwatch's legacy of military use, the style spread first to civilian women. Designs for women during the early twentieth century were jewelry-inspired. Art-deco faces, inlays of onyx and marcasite, and straps of black silk or satin joined the more traditional existing designs of silver and gold braceleting.
By the end of World War II, however, wristwatches were worn by both men and women. Pocket watches were now considered outmoded. Simpler and sleeker designs predominated, epitomized by the Movado Museum watch, which consisted of a black dial free from markers or numbers, characterized only by gold hands and a gold dot at the twelve o'clock position. The importance of fashionability continued into the 1960s with young, pop art designs influencing watch case and face designs. Triangles, octagons, and hexagons accompanied standard round cases, and straps came in a greater variety of colors and fabrics.
Simultaneously, technology dominated the accessory, and much of the development during this time centered around new sources of power. In 1957, the Hamilton Watch Company introduced the first battery-powered wristwatch, and in 1970, the use of quartz crystals to produce an integrated circuit resulted in a watch that was infinitely more reliable than mechanical versions. Omega was one of the first companies to bring the battery-operated watch to market, soon followed by the Hamilton Watch Company's introduction of the Pulsar LED digital watch, an expensive innovation in line with the Space-Age obsession dominating the later 1960s and early 1970s. Swiss watch manufacturers, who had long held a reputation in the industry for manufacturing high-quality, precision, mechanical watches saw integrated circuitry as a temporary fad. It was not until the early 1980s, when the Swiss-based Swatch Group embraced quartz technology, and paired it with designs that responded to consumers' desire for accessories that conveyed lifestyle and personality, that the Swiss industry regained its vigor within the watch-making market.
Was this article helpful?