How has the Watch Industry Changed?

November 15th, 2012 Posted in Orient Watch Reviews | 4 Comments

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.

Early 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.

Mid-Century Watches

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.

Contemporary Watches

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!

  1. 4 Comments | Tell us what you think!

  2. By Kevin on Nov 15, 2012

    Thanks for the quick and informative article! Been looking to get another Orient for a while now!

  3. By Eric on Nov 15, 2012

    Probably watches from the 70′s. This seemed to be the golden age of mechanical watches.

  4. By corrie lee on Nov 20, 2012

    i love watches

  5. By Ken DaSilva~Hill on Mar 8, 2013

    In my opinion, the watch industry has changed in several ways over the last century. We have gone from the watch being a useful and essential device or tool for many people, hand assembled and of varying quality of build, through mechanical wind, automatic mechanical, battery driven, quartz controlled, kinetic, solar, and combinations of all of these. We have now arrived at a time when a watch is no longer an essential item, for example, I usually carry several devices with me day to day which tell the time more accurately than even the best watch! Currently the wrist watch is only an essential item for some specialist activities, I do not need to detail these. It seems to me now that the watch is primarily a fashion or status item, there has never been a time with so much choice available to the watch buyer. This having been said, I acknowledge that many have an interest in the watch that they display and wear. In the same way that a tattoo can accurately show the age and social status of the wearer, the watch performs the same function, but needs more interpretation! For example, a chap wearing a beaten up but good quality diving watch, is likely to be an action man of some type, probably a sailing enthusiast or sport diver. The wearer of a bright and shiny diver is probably not active in this way, but would like to see themselves as such. The guy with the new Rolex worn with an ill fitting and obviously cheap store bought suit, is patently trying to say something about his place in the world but missing the point somewhat. The bloke that I think has got it right, will be wearing a cost effective but useful watch, clean but straightforward clothing, decent shoes and will look happy with himself and his place in the world. Although wearing a watch, he will look ‘timeless’. AS watches become more unessential, the watch industry will have to make them more interesting, beautiful or rare to keep the buyers coming back. At the end of the day a watch is only a timepiece, it is what we each percive in a particualar watch and how it relates to us as an individual which will keep us buying. I might need a watch, but I do not need a Rolex or Omega to tell others who I am!

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