Time has always fascinated the human race. Its passing was a lot harder to measure than the perception of seasons, or simply night and day.
From what we know, the first sundial goes back to almost 1,500 years BC and the Egyptians are credited with its invention. More complex machines with gears, levers and weights (not dials at this stage) struck a sound at an important time and their early creation is attributed to the Chinese.
It took a Yemeni scientist to build the first astrolabe and many centuries later, in the 13th Century AD, the French and the Swiss came up with clocks that had hands and chimed on the hour.
Simultaneously with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, jewellers in Geneva figured out how to make enamel and metal bond and the long-time quest to build smaller and smaller watches eventually reached wearable stage with the appearance of the mechanical watch simultaneously in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and France.
Although refined all the time – eg. Antoine Louis Breguet’s keyless winding mechanism, Jean-Moïse Pouzait’s invention of a watch with independent seconds, precursor of the chronograph, which led to Joseph Thaddeus Winnerl’s split-second chronograph – the basic design remained unchanged in principle till the appearance of the first electronic watch in 1970.
Switzerland was the first country to introduce watchmaking as a recognised profession and the Corporation of Watchmaking was founded in Geneva in 1601, complete with set parameters for apprenticeship and a master degree.
Vacherin Constantin, the oldest Swiss marque, established itself on an island in Lake Geneva and it was Swatch that brought cheap timepieces onto the wrists of the masses.
Fast forward to today and you’re not hip unless you own and wear an Apple watch. Or are you?
There’s a fundamental question: Why do we wear a watch today?
If you want an accurate time you are much better off consulting your iPhone or Android as it synchronises to an official time signal and changes automatically when you enter a different time zone.
Electronic watches are more accurate then mechanical watches and much cheaper. The more complications a mechanical watch has, the more likely it is to break down and the service costs are sky high… yet still, a large proportion of the population wears a mechanical watch (or two) within the budget they can afford.
So again: Why?
The reason is found in the appearance of the watch and the kudos or status a time piece lends the wearer.
In other words, watches became jewellery.
This is particularly pronounced with men, who traditionally don’t wear a lot of the jewellery women do.
So wearing a Patek Philippe or Rolex watch tells us as much about the wearer than someone who chooses an exclusive watch from a boutique brand like Speake-Marin of Arnold & Son.
These are solid investments, the first couple known to everyone and the boutique brands mainly to the watch nerds out there.
Then you might have a newly rich industrialist who wears a gold Apple watch just because he can afford it, knowing damn well that it will be totally obsolete and close to useless in a couple of years’ time.
So to answer the question why: Watches are jewellery and jewellery makes us feel good, more important or simply better looking.
That they tell the time is a bonus, but telling the exact time to the nano-second is not really necessary nor relevant.
Saying who you are by the watch you wear is.
* Franz Scheurer runs a ‘below-the-line’ advertising agency specialising in cosmetic clients and takes on photographic assignments world-wide. He loves watches, creative expressions and different cultures and their food and is the founder of the Australian Gourmet Pages website .
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