During the 1500s, the Franciscan Monastery of Nuremberg, Germany, had a history as the center of local scientific and astronomical knowledge. During that time, it housed a famous young asylee, from 1504 – 1508, named Peter Henlein, a locksmith who learned skills while there including a deeper knowledge of the craft of clockmaking. This knowledge helped Peter invent the first wristwatch, in 1510.
An amazing accomplishment, Henlein became known as a master of small portable ornamental spring-powered brass clocks, very rare and expensive. There were fashionable among the nobility of the time, worn as pendants or attached to clothing, which can be considered the first watches.
A pocket watch told society so much, with regard to social standing and place in society. Wealthy people would demonstrate their wealth by the type of pocket watch they owned, generally shown off by the type of pocket watch they had. However, social divides did not mean that the poor couldn’t own a pocket watch but although the type of metal it was made from could range from brass to silver, the sentimental value would remain priceless, no matter the person. The same could be said today, in fact .
By the 1600s, the pocket watch had evolved and, at times, become quite exquisite including pocket watches with enamel painting. In French examples, these watches were produced in the central France town of Blois but toward the middle of the century, production shifted to Paris. The watchmakers of Blois used material from rock crystals that were set with enameled gold. They had precious stones studding the cases and semiprecious stones lining them too. The metals were chiseled and engraved with decorative compositions often copied after famous prints of the time.
Later in the century, there was a shift to use gold covered with a hard and opaque white enamel that was ornamented with very thin and fusible colored enamels. The result was beautiful!
For example, this baroque style pocket watch created, around 1640, by, French clockmaker, Josias Jolly called ‘Enameled Watch with Flowers’ is an incredible accomplishment. The Basse-taille approach used in this enameling technique created a low-relief pattern in metal by engraving. The entire pattern was created so that its highest point was lower than the surrounding metal. A translucent enamel was then applied to the metal, allowing light to reflect and create an artistic effect.
Although the pocket watch continues today, WW1 changed the view of them as the value of coordinated military maneuvers became apparent, their popularity increased among men. Just before the turn of the century there were patents filed for a type of leather strap with a cupped area in the center designed to hold a pocket watch in place around a person’s wrist—which is still technically not a wrist watch—but it’s a pocket watch that you have on your wrist.
During World War I, trench warfare made coordinated troop movements the focus of combat and British generals gave orders from locations far from the front lines. The timing and clarity of orders was essential to the success of operations. A tactic called “a creeping barrage” required a group of infantry men to advance just behind successively farther-reaching rounds of artillery. Careful timing was a matter of life and death, and it became more important for every soldier to have a watch that they could read quickly and easily. The ‘new’ wristwatch was here to stay.