Top 15 Interesting facts about Watches [Wristwatches Facts]
Are you looking to expand your watch knowledge?
Every man needs a nice, high-quality timepiece. Wristwatches exist in an endless selection of different styles, materials, movements, and price ranges. But the history of watches did not start with wristwatches.
Humans have always been fascinated by timekeeping to be able to track time and understand how the sun orbits the earth. We have come a long way since humans first began tracking time, and the methods and tools in doing so have evolved and improved considerably. Today, we can track time with perfect atomic precision all around the globe, and we have access to clocks and watches all around us.
The methods of timekeeping have gotten more sophisticated and undergone plenty of changes throughout the centuries. If you are fascinated by timekeeping and in particular wristwatches, we have compiled a list of interesting facts about watches below. We focus on facts about wristwatches but also include some facts about watches in general because they are responsible for laying the foundation for what would eventually lead to the popularization of wristwatches.
1. The pocket watch dominated the market before the wristwatch
Apart from the other means of telling the time such as our phones, computers, microwave, etc, a lot of people still wear wristwatches. Before the digital age where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket (which wasn’t that long ago at all), the primary way people told the time was with their wristwatch. However, that has now always been the case.
In fact, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex is considered to be the person who popularized the wristwatch. Rolex writes:
“Today, it is impossible to imagine a world where the wristwatch is not common currency. Yet, that was the case in 1905. Times were however changing. Lifestyles and dress codes as well. Hans Wilsdorf, only 24, “convinced of its enormous potential in a sports-minded country… like Great Britain”, was determined to create a wristwatch as robust and reliable as the pocket watch, then the order of the day.”
“Although some watchmakers were experimenting with wristwatches, they were mostly regarded as women’s jewellery: no one believed it possible to make a wristwatch rugged enough for a man’s use.”
With that said, the wristwatch didn’t really exist, or at least wasn’t used by men in the 1800s and at the beginning of the 1900s. So what did people use instead of wristwatches? Pocket watches of course!
Today, the pocket watch is nearly dead but back in the day, it was a must-have for everyone, and essentially the only way to keep track of time on the go. The first pocket watch was invented in 1510 but it became widely used in the 1700s and 1800s. Ultimately, the pocket watch slowly but surely died out because the wristwatch is deemed superior. Instead of having to reach into your pocket, you can simply glance at your wrist. In addition, the wristwatch can work as a piece of jewelry in a completely different way than a pocket watch, which is otherwise mostly hidden inside the jacket pocket.
2. Background to the term “watch”
Where does the term “watch” come from, you may ask? The fact of the matter is that it derives from the old English word waecce which means “to keep an eye on” and “be awake”. It’s easy to see why this term was implemented to refer to the wristwatch.
3. The first watch was made in around 1500 BC
Humans have a long history of trying to track the time which ultimately comes down to knowing where the sun is and when it rises and sets. The first documented clock that has been found was found in Egypt and is estimated to have been made in around 1500 BC. The exact time has been hard to determine, but archeologists estimate that it was made between 1500 and 2000 BC.
The Egyptians created the watch by crafting a stone obelisk and then placing it at a specific location so that it followed the path of the sun. By reading the shadow’s length and direction from the obelisk as the sun moved, they were able to determine roughly what time it was during the day. These creations are known as sundials. Later on, in history, people started making water clocks as they were more accurate than sundials.
Obviously, a lot has happened since then and we’re no longer reliant on the sun shining to know what time it is.
4. The wristwatch was further popularized as a result of World War I
During the first world war, soldiers started to wear wristwatches. Prior to this, they used pocket watches on a chain around their neck. Naturally, this is not very practical for a number of reasons. Moreover, a lot of men also wore wristwatches on the inside of their wrists which enabled them to see the time whilst holding a rifle. The wristwatches at the time were essentially remade pocket watches and shared a lot of similarities with the pocket watches at the time. These watches were known as trench watches or wristlets.
In Wikipedia’s words:
“The Trench watch (wristlet) was a type of watch that came into use by the military during World War I, as pocket watches were not practical in combat. It was a transitional design between pocket watches and wristwatches, incorporating features of both.
As more and more men began wearing wristwatches, the wristwatch was further popularized which further accelerated as the war ended.
5. Wristwatches were originally intended for women
As discussed earlier, wristwatches were exclusively worn by women in the early history of wristwatches. The wristwatches at the time were small and considered very feminine.
The wristwatches originally came around as many women did not wear pocket watches. Moreover, the tiny wristwatches were used by many women strictly for decoration purposes. But Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf set out on a mission to popularize the wristwatch as he saw the superior performance and functionality of wristwatches. He did this by designing robust, durable, and of course, masculine wristwatches (in addition to female wristwatches) which helped increase the popularity of the wristwatch amongst men.
6. The hands on most watches in advertisements are set to 10:10
Have you ever noticed that almost all hands on analog wristwatches have the hands set to 10:10? There’s a reason for this of course!
The main reason is that when the hands are set to ten past ten, they resemble a “smiley face”. The marketing theory is that it will help us feel happy by looking at it and thus become more likely to buy it. The other reason is that it keeps the dial balanced and doesn’t cover the logo.
Next time you see an ad for a watch, look closely at how the hands are positioned!
7. Most watch dials are black
This doesn’t perhaps come as a surprise but the fact of the matter is that most wristwatches have black dials. This is because it is a neutral color that works well for any type of watch, regardless of its purpose and the occasions on which it is intended to be worn. Moreover, it is also a unisex color that can be used both for men’s and women’s watches.
8. The first waterproof wristwatch was released in 1926
Today, we take water resistance for granted in many wristwatches. We expect that they are able to withstand water and that we should be able to go swimming with them. In fact, today, you can find watches that can withstand pressure down to 300m, 500m, or even 6000 meters like the Omega Ultra Deep. But this has not always been the case.
In 1926, Rolex created the world’s first waterproof wristwatch with the launch of the Rolex Oyster. Prior to this, wristwatches, which were relatively new to the market, were rather sensitive both to water and dust. Rolex’s Oyster was hermetically sealed with screw-down components and gaskets.
To prove that the watch was indeed waterproof, Rolex put the watch around the neck of Mercedes Gleitze, who became the first British woman to swim the English Channel. Rolex celebrated the feat by buying a first-page ad in the Daily Mail.
8. The first GMT wristwatch was introduced in 1953
The world’s first GMT wristwatch – a watch able to display two timezones simultaneously was released in 1953. The first GMT watch was the Glycine Airman. This is contrary to what a lot of people think. Most people believe that Rolex was actually the first company to release a GMT watch with the GMT-Master. However, the fact is that Rolex released the GMT-Master reference 6542 in 1954, one year later than Glycine. The reason why Rolex is incorrectly believed to have created the first GMT watch is that the Glycine was quickly overshadowed by the GMT-Master and it ultimately stole all the fame.
9. The wristwatch that has the best water resistance can go down to 6000M
In the watch world, Omega and Rolex are rivals that constantly compete. Rolex had the record of creating the most water-resistant watch for a long time but Omega stole Rolex’s spot in 2019.
“After reaching the deepest place on Earth in 2019, the ground-breaking Ultra Deep watch has been repurposed into a new 45.5 mm collection available to the public. Tested in real ocean conditions, this incredible divers’ range is water-resistant to 6,000 metres (20,000 ft.) and certified to meet the ISO 6425 standard.”
Rolex carried the record with its Deepsea Sea-Dweller which was launched in 2008. Rolex’s Deepsea Sea-Dweller has a water resistance of 12,800 feet (3,900 metres). With that said, Omega beat Rolex by a good margin.
However, Rolex did create the Deep Sea Special for U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard in 1960 when they went on a marine exploration mission by piloting the bathyscaphe Trieste to the deepest point in the world’s oceans, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. The Rolex watch was attached to the exterior of the submarine. This watch was able to withstand a depth of 10,916 metres (37,800 feet) in the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, the Deep Sea Special was only a special edition watch and not available to the general public. So for a production watch, Omega beat Rolex, but Rolex still has the record if we disregard the fact that it is not a production watch.
10. Rolex created the first wristwatch with a date function
In 1945, Rolex released the Datejust. This became the world’s first wristwatch to display the date. Today, the Datejust is one of the most iconic watches in the world and the date function is something we take for granted and can be found in all kinds of different wristwatches – from affordable to expensive.
11. The world’s most expensive wristwatch sold for $17.8 million
In 2017, a Rolex watch set the record for the most expensive watch ever sold. And it was of course not just any watch. It was Paul Newman’s Daytona reference 6239. What makes it particularly special is that this exact model was nicknamed “Paul Newman” amongst collectors as he was frequently seen wearing it. So when his personal watch came up for auction, it gave buyer’s the opportunity to buy Pail Newman’s “Paul Newman. Rare and historically important to say the least.
12. Early watches only had hour hands
Whilst we take the hour, minute, and perhaps even the seconds hand for granted, the two latter were not used on the early watches.
As a matter of fact, very early watches in the 15th and 16 centuries only had hour hands. Of course, wristwatches were not around by then, so we are talking about clocks and other types of watches. It took until the early 17th century that the minute hand was added to watches.
13. The world’s oldest watch brand that has consistently been active was founded in 1755
Blancpain was founded in 1735 and is considered to be the oldest watchmaker in the world. The catch is that Blancpain was out of business and therefore, its history is not consequent. In the second place is Vacheron Constantin which was founded in 1755. Whilst it isn’t the oldest, it has been active and in business ever since being founded. That’s quite a feat!
14. James Bond has worn six different watch brands
Whilst James Bond is synonymous with Omega today, this hasn’t always been the case.
James Bond is most commonly associated with two watch brands: Rolex and Omega. However, the fact of the matter is that Bond has also worn a total of six different watch brands throughout the movies.
Rolex and Omega watches have been featured in most movies but Bond has also worn Gruen, TAG Heuer, Breitling, and Pulsar.
In most movies, Bond wore Rolex, followed by Seiko and Rolex, and lastly, Omega. This was of course mixed with the brands above in some of the movies.
In the movie Thunderball, Q branch hands Bond a modified Breitling Top Time Chronograph that doubles as a Geiger counter.
In the movie Live and let die, Bond wears a Pulsar watch. Seiko is also seen in multiple movies.
15. Wristwatches were worn on the first journey to the moon
The Omega Speedmaster became the world’s first wristwatch on the moon during the moon landing in 1969. The astronauts on this space mission wore the Speedmasters on their wrists as they took the first steps on the moon.