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Timeless timepieces

Roger Moore in the movie “Live and Let Die” was seen wearing the Pulsar P2 LED digital watch

by Jonathan Kevin Castillo

Wristwatches may or may not be out of fashion today; but they do bear strong historical markings. For instance, they were used by the military as a way to synchronize their attacks. But let’s go a bit further than that. Wristwatches, were, first and foremost, designed for women’s fashion. The men irked at the idea of it on their wrists, and preferred the macho pocket watches — which is never out of fashion, if this writer may say. But with modern technology popping here and there, wristwatches have lost their charm, and their practicality. Many of us would agree, wristwatches today, are status symbols. Who would not, gawk and drool over the sight of seeing someone wearing a Rolex. This luxurious and exquisite piece of wristwatch had actually created a number of interesting wristwatches. One of its earliest successes was when the company had successfully created the world’s first water-resistant watch (1926). It was called the Rolex Oyster. It clamps shut, preventing water from seeping in. Tested by long-distance swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, it was the start of something greater for the name.

According to the Guinness World Records, the first ever wristwatch was made for a woman in Hungary, Countess Koscowicz in 1868. It was designed by a Swiss manufacturer, Patek Philippe. A watch strapped on the wrist like a bracelet did seemed awe-inspiring at that time. The men, of course, preferred to keep their watches in their pockets, whipping them out using their gold or silver chains. It was pretty stylish, truth to tell. Eventually, wristwatches were accepted by men. Around the 1880s, Swiss watchmaker, Girard-Perregaux, manufactured wristwatches for the German military.

It wasn’t until 1904, when a French watchmaker, Louis Cartier started designing wristwatches for men. Apparently, the extravagant designs appealed to them. The origins of this wristwatch was through a pioneering aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a friend of Cartier. Santos asked Cartier to design him a watch that he could use for flying – so instead of pulling the watch from his pocket, he could just look at his wrist – significantly lessening the accidental risks. Cartier had called it, the “Santos” and it became commercially available in 1911.

It might be important to note that, these wristwatches most likely required winding. Usually, there are pins on the watch’s side, where it should be winded for it to continue its clockwise motion. It wasn’t until the 1960s, where the wristwatches boomed with automatic winding machines. Without going too techie about it, since the hand moves as you walk, it triggers the automatic winding mechanism – pretty rad way back then, and should explain why some watches today, in time, stop moving.

1950 -1960’s
Let’s now step into the Space Age, the 1950-60s. Wristwatches by this era didn’t leap; they soared – figuratively, and literally. In January 3, 1957, the Hamilton Watch Company, introduced the Hamilton Electric 500 – the first wristwatch that didn’t need winding because it ran on battery. It was a marvel back then and it was probably the equivalent of the introduction of the early smartphones – but, like the early smartphones, there were serious issues with battery life, and these electric wristwatches became less reliable than old timers.

Now, wristwatches soared literally because an astronaut, Scott Carpenter, approached Breitling with a novel idea. Instead of a 12-hour cycle, why not a 24-hour cycle? The idea was pushed because while in space, there really is no telling if it’s day or night in Earth. A 24-hour cycle watch did that, and some of us may well blame/praise Mr. Carpenter for bringing up that modern confusion/ingenuity. The first space travelling wristwatch, by Breitling, was called the Cosmonaute Navitimer.

The 70’s – 80’s
By the ‘70s, Hamilton and Electro-Company, joined hands to work on something innovative, and they came up with the Pulsar, the first LED digital watch. It emitted red diodes and required a button to be pushed to make the digital numbers appear. The first digital watch sold for $2,100, and in the next few years they came out as mere $20. It finally hit rock bottom with $10. New, isn’t really often better.

Because of the impracticality of LEDs back then, LCDs made its way up. Swiss watchmaker, BWC introduced their Liquid Crystal Quartz. It was released in 1972; and, compared to LEDs, it had better battery life.

Between the ‘70s and the ‘80s, calculator watches gained some slight popularity. It was first introduced by Pulsar in 1975. HP even took a swing at it. But, the best-known ones were from Casio’s Databank series. What made them stand out is their feature to store data – telephone numbers for instance. And yes, they can do simple computations such as addition and subtraction.

That wasn’t all what Casio had done. In 1974, they’ve introduced the Casiotron, a wristwatch that showed dates, including leap years.

All these advancements were truly spectacular. But as more and more countries started brewing newer ideas, taking advantage of the potentials these technologies held – some Swiss refused to follow. With Quartz watches booming, the term “Quartz Crisis” or “Quartz Revolution”, gaining popularity, and further reducing the Swiss mechanical watches. It was one of the biggest pride after all. This led them to develop and launch plastic coated wristwatches in 1983, and reached worldwide success to this day, and we know them as Swatch. And yeah, apparently, it’s still a thing today.

Bit by bit, as newer models are released with newer features, all have contributed to what we have today.