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This page is about timekeeping devices. In naval parlance, watches are a timekeeping convention. The term in general use can mean any period of duty or responsibility, such as a hurricane watch.
Pocket watch
Pocket watch

A watch is a small portable clock that displays the current time and sometimes the current day, date, month and year. In modern times they are usually worn on the wrist, although before the 20th century most were pocket watches, which had covers and were carried separately, often in a pocket, and hooked to a watch chain.

Current watches are often digital watches, using a piezoelectric crystal, usually quartz, as an oscillator (see quartz clock).

In earlier times mechanical timepieces were used, powered by a spring wound regularly by the user. The invention of "Automatic" or "Self-Winding" watches allowed for a constant winding without special action from the wearer: it works by an irregular weight that rotates to the movement of the wearer's body, automatically winding the watch.

Watches may be collectible; they are often made of precious metals, and can be considered an article of jewelry.


Types of watch

Pocket Clock

The first necessity for portability in time keeping was navigation and mapping in the 15th century. The latitude could be measured by looking at the stars, but the only way a ship could measure its longitude was by comparing timezones; by comparing the midday time of where they were to the one it should be in Europe, a sailor could know how far he was from home. For that reason, most maps in that time are distorted horizontally although they were vertically precise.

The first clocks measured time with pendulums, which were useless in boats. The invention of a spring mechanism was crucial for the first portable clocks. The miniaturisation technologies permitted it from becoming a huge weight inside a ship to a small piece of jewellery inside a pocket. Aaron Lufkin Dennison founded Waltham Watch Company in 1850, which was the pioneer of the industrial manufacturing by interchangeable parts, the American System of Watch Manufacturing.

Wrist Watch

The wrist watch was invented by Patek Philippe at the end of the 19th century. It was however considered a woman's accessory. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the Brazilian inventor Santos Dumont, who had difficulty checking the time while in his first aircraft (Dumont was working on the invention of the aeroplane), asked his friend Louis Cartier for a watch he could use more easily. Cartier gave him a leather-band wrist watch from which Dumont never separated. Being a popular figure in Paris Cartier was soon able to sell these watches to other men.

Electromechanical watches

The first use of electrical power in watches was as a source of energy to replace the mainspring, and therefore to remove the need for winding. The first battery-powered watch, the Hamilton Electric 500, was released in 1957 by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Quartz analogue watch

The quartz analogue watch is an electronic watch that uses a piezoelectric quartz crystal as its timing element, coupled to a mechanical movement that drives the hands. The first prototypes were made by the CEH research laboratory in Switzerland in 1962. The first quartz watch to enter production was the Seiko 35 SQ Astron, which appeared in 1969. There are also several variations of the quartz watch as to what actually powers the movement. There are solar powered, kinetically powered, and battery powered. Solar powered quartz watches are powered by available light. Kinetic powered quartz watches are powered by the motion of the wearer's arm turning a rotating weight, which in turn, turns a generator to supply power. The third and most common power source is the battery. Watch batteries come in many forms, the most common of which are silver oxide and lithium.

Digital watch

Cheaper electronics permitted the popularisation of the digital watch (an electronic watch with a numerical, rather than analogue, display) in the second half of the 20th century. They were seen as the great new thing. Douglas Adams in the introduction of his novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would say that humans were 'so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea'.

The first digital watch, a Pulsar prototype in 1970, was developed jointly by Hamilton Watch Company and Electro-Data. A retail version of the Pulsar was put on sale in 1972 It had a red light-emitting diode (LED) display. LED displays were soon superseded by liquid crystal displays (LCDs), which used less battery power. The first LCD watch with a six-digit LCD display was the 1973 Seiko 06LC, although various forms of early LCD watches with a four-digit display were marketed as early as 1972 including the 1972 Gruen Teletime LCD Watch [1] , [2] .

In addition to the function of a timepiece, digital watches can have additional functions like a chronograph, calculator, video game etc.

Digital watches have not yet replaced analogue watches, despite their greater reliability and lower cost. In fact, because digital watches are so cheap, analogue watches are often worn as status symbols, while others prefer analogue watches for their ease of reading.


At the end of the 20th century, Swiss watch makers were seeing their sales go down as analog clocks were considered obsolete. They joined forces with designers from many countries to reinvent the Swiss watch.

The result was that they could considerably reduce the pieces and production time of an analog watch. In fact it was so cheap that if a watch broke it would be cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one than to repair it. They founded the Swiss Watch company (Swatch) and called graphic designers to redesign a new annual collection.

This is often used as a case study in design schools to demonstrate the commercial potential of industrial and graphic design.

Advanced watches

As miniaturized electronics become cheaper, more and more functionalities have been inserted into watches. Watches have been developed containing calculators, video games, digital cameras, keydrives, and cellular phones. In the early 1980s Seiko marketed a watch with a television receiver in it, although at the time television receivers were too bulky to fit in a wristwatch, and the actual receiver and its power source were in a book-sized box with a cable that ran to the wristwatch. In the early 2000's, a self-contained wristwatch television receiver came on the market, with a strong enough power source to provide one hour of viewing.

Several companies have attempted to develop a computer contained in a WristWatch, including an IBM product that ran Linux and a Fossil product that ran PalmOS (see also wearable computer). So far (2004), the only programmable computer watch to have made it to market is the Seiko Ruputer, although many digital watches come with extremely sophisticated data management software built in.


See also

External links

  • How does a watch work? FH, Switzerland

Last updated: 02-08-2005 13:59:53
Last updated: 05-02-2005 19:33:50