When Were Pocket Watches Invented?

A pocket watch is a way to measure time which was able to ingrain itself into the development and culture of our civilization today. Since it was developed in the 16th century to the one seen in the 20th century during World War I, pocket watches have been not only the most popular kind of portable clock, but have also been a very important part of fashion for men.

The history

The history of the pocket watch began in the late 1400s and early 1500s, when mechanical engineering got to the stage when simple spring devices could be manufactured. By using the mainspring invention, Peter Henlein, German inventor, was able to finally make watches which didn’t need falling weights for the source of power. This is the invention which gave birth to the first wave of small portable watches, that were starting to be worn around the neck as a pendant on a chain.

Peter Henlein

Peter Henlein

Peter Henlein

Peter Henlein was making pocket watches regularly by 1524, which enabled his innovative designs to go all over Europe in the remainder of the 16th century. The first mainspring powered models of watches were round, or egg shaped much of the time, and bulky. However, when screws were introduced in the 1550s, it allowed them to get a modern flattened shape which we are familiar with today. Another feature that is distinctive of the early designs was the fact that there was no glass. All the protection the watches had from the outside elements was a brass lid.

A new Fashion

The new fashion style emerged in 1675, where pocket cocks were small enough to be worn in a pocket instead of like a pendant. Charles II of England was the originator of this style, as he popularized this new kind of carrying watches all over Europe and North America. Glass protection had been introduced by then, and pocket watches became a truly luxurious item which received a lot of attention from fashion innovators and designers. The one downside of these watches was that before the 1750s they lacked accuracy. They many times would lose several hours in just one day. When lever escapement was introduced, it changed all this however, making it possible for watches to lose just one minute or two during a full day. This improvement enabled the introduction of the minute hand, which before this time was not present.

Levers became standard in the manufacturing of all clock mechanics after 1820, and in 1857 we saw the first pocket watch made from standardized parts. Powered by an industrial revolution, these watches soon overflowed into the public of the Americas and Europe, which let everyone afford a cheap, durable and accurate watch. The American Watch Company could produce more than fifty thousand reliable watches by 1865, and soon afterwards other companies started manufacturing the watches as well.

Between the years of 1880 and 1900, standardized time was first attempted, not just for time zone creation, but also because the need of exact time measurements in a lot of scientific experiments and public transportations systems was increasing. The famous Ohio train wreck in 1891, for instance, happened because the watches of the train engineer were four minutes out of sync.

By World War I, pocket watches were out of style after highly miniaturized wrist watches had become famous.