We’ve certainly come a long way from the early watches of the 1500s and even the watches of the 1950s. Let’s take a look at how the men’s watch industry has changed over the years, essentially the transition from classic to sports watches.
The first watches grew out of the concept of spring-driven clocks, which originated in the 15th century. The very first watch, dating back to 1530, was a simple (albeit complex for the time) pocket watch with an hour hand only.
The first pocket watch, 1530
This was the standard for hundreds of years. Pocket watches were the style and the thought of wearing a watch as a bracelet, or piece of jewelry, was effeminate. It wasn’t until World War I, when the realization that wearing a watch as a bracelet was actually incredibly practical, that the practice of wearing a wristwatch became quite popular (at least among soldiers).
Of course, wristwatches existed long before WWI. In fact, Girard-Perregaux developed wristwatches for men serving in the German Imperial Navy in the 1880s and women fashioned “wristlets” around the same time.
Example of a “wristlet” worn in WWI
Practicality and convenience eventually won, and wristwatches became popular among civilians, men and women alike, in the 1920s and ‘30s. Which isn’t to say pocket watches aren’t still popular. Even today, pocket watches remain trendy among men and women.
Wristwatches were extremely popular by the time the mid-century rolled around. Wristwatches were worn at work, at home, and at play. New designs and innovative features were released to accommodate a growing demand for improved wristwatches. Such features included the addition of a seconds hand and/or a date complication.
During the mid-century, many watchmakers also vied to create a watch with the most jewels. While 21-jewels was and continues to be fairly standard for average mechanical watches, a competition to include 50, 80, 100 jewels in a single watch persisted in the watch industry until the 1970s.
Orient’s Grand Prix 100, featuring 100 jewels, 1964
While mens watches at this time relied on new technologies and styles, mid-century watches mark the shift from classic to sports watches. While the majority of mid-century watches maintain a clean and classic look, the need for timepieces to do more, to be more durable, to be water resistant, and to have more features became apparent.
These days, almost anything watch-wise goes. Classics, sports, divers, aviators, and, yes, even pocket watches each have their place in the contemporary watch world. Having so many choices is one of the best features of today’s watch industry. There is literally something for everyone and for every activity.
Best of all, many contemporary watches are hybrids, combining the good looks of a classic men’s watch with the durability and resistance of a diver, for example. This sort of versatility is essential. Rather than buy a watch for every occasion, it’s possible to find a single watch that wears well any day.
U-Boat Italo Fontana watches are among the largest watches these days with a 59.6mm diameter
Perhaps the biggest difference between watches of yesterday and today is the size. Watches today, even those with a classic look, tend to be bigger than older styles. Easier readability and changing personal preferences, in general, may account for the increase in size. Yet, it’s important to also take into account the fact that large men’s watches are super trendy these days. In fact, it seems like men’s watches are getting bigger and bigger.
But don’t worry. If big, bright, and bold watches aren’t really your thing, these days you can easily find some great odes to classic watches, subdued divers, and toned down sports watches. And what better way to get started than by checking out Orient’s array of men’s watches?
Orient’s new Symphony offers a mix of classic and contemporary styling
What era of the watch industry is your favorite? Tell us why in the comments!