Time for style: A history of watch fashion
25th Oct 2016
Time for Style: A History of Watch Fashion Watches today are more than just a fashion statement, with timepieces taking centre stage in driving innovation and, of course, iconic style. Rich in history, their origins can be rewound to the ancient Egyptians, who interpreted timekeeping from celestial shadows cast by sundials. From cosmic clockwork to must-have apparel, wristwatch vogue has moved hand-in-hand with smart technology. Here at Browns Family Jewellers, we’re fascinated by the trends that have come and gone over the years. Let’s take a look at how watch fashion has developed from its humble beginnings to the present day. Stop the Clocks Influenced by Tudor styling under King Henry VIII’s reign, portable timepieces originally hung from a short chain and resided in waistcoat pockets. These were expensive fashion items that were adorned by only the wealthy. Women’s designs tended to be more visually alluring and were typically worn on show in the form of a pendant or on a chatelaine. Despite their visual appeal, the design was very basic and far from sturdy. Slight knocks and changes in temperature were enough to affect their accuracy. It wasn’t until guilds across Europe worked together to pioneer significant technical developments that watches would become anything more than ornamental. Advancements in the eighteenth century introduced new components such as springs, encasements, and bearings, that allowed for a much more accurate performance. A notable development during this period was the replacement of of the key-winding watch with a self-winding mechanical movement. [caption id="attachment_733" align="aligncenter" width="300"] An elaborate 17th century timepiece. Source: The Met Museum.[/caption] These inventions would have a permanent influence on the ongoing design and style of watches. Models became smaller, slimmer, and would often feature luxurious covers with intricate engravings and enamels of portraits and pastoral scenes. As the workings behind the clock face continued to become more reliable, attention turned to what else a watch could offer. Much like today, watches began to incorporate additional functions aside from timekeeping, including dual time zones, moon phases, timers, and calendars. The Dawn of a New Era The First World War played a major role in the mass production of watches. Functionality improved greatly to suit those serving in battle, with watches being required to provide high levels of accuracy and durability in extreme conditions. They transitioned from neck apparel to wrist placement, allowing soldiers freedom to check the time without use of their hands. During this period, brands such as Cartier, with their iconic Tank design, began to make a name for themselves. Louis Cartier is said to have modelled the Tank’s design on a bird’s eye view of a WWI military tank’s square cockpit and lateral tracks. The levels of sophistication required for servicemen contributed heavily to the sleek and efficient designs that we have since become accustomed to today, and, notably, waterproof design. [caption id="attachment_735" align="aligncenter" width="166"] A vintage Cartier Tank (top image) alongside an inspired modern-day Bering watch (below), available here at Browns.[/caption] The demand for watches in WWI sparked a boom in their global popularity and caused the fashion industry to consider marketing affordable, attractive designs to the public. The early twentieth century saw the beginning of the transformation from accessories reserved for the rich and the military to everyday fashion items. Post-war innovation In the 1930s and 40s timepieces were still being produced on request for privileged clientele. However, the 1950s saw the beginning of watches being marketed to the masses with the influence of Swiss and American designs coming to the fore. The first generation of fashion watches were initially used to enhance the value of other products in advertisements such as clothing, jewellery, and leather goods. The designs during this period featured futuristic and often radical elements that have shaped watch fashion today. Most importantly, they were designed to look as visually attractive as possible, moving away from the purely practical build of wartime timepieces. The Rolex Submariner is a landmark early design. Debuting in 1953, it paved the way for all sports watches to come. It was unusual in that it differed from the flamboyant designs of its contemporaries, instead opting for a sleek, simple, and rugged appearance that was adorned by everyone from Sean Connery’s James Bond to professional combat divers and commandos. [caption id="attachment_736" align="aligncenter" width="282"] A modern-day version of the Rolex Submariner, available here at Browns.[/caption] 1969 stands as the dawn of the quartz revolution. Whilst quartz designs were being trialled in Switzerland, it was the Japanese company, Seiko, that kick-started the trend. The Seiko Astron was the first quartz analogue wristwatch released to the general public. Upon its release, the conventional concept of watches changed forever with crystal oscillators providing an enhanced level of accuracy never before seen in the industry. Three years later, in 1972, Audemars Piguet incorporated Seiko’s breakthrough technology into another landmark design. Their radical Royal Oak was the world’s first stainless steel luxury watch. It featured an iconic eight-sided case and glamorous elements previously reserved solely for gold and platinum pieces. Live and Let Die: The LED revolution The common conception of wristwatch sophistication being epitomised by intricate clock faces and precious metals was turned on its head in 1972. The Hamilton Watch Company released its Pulsar P1; the first ever watch to have an LED display. The design housed its revolutionary screen behind a synthetic ruby crystal, further encased by an 18-carat gold body. Its unusual appearance was showcased by film stars worldwide and cameoed in the James Bond film Live and Let Die a year after its release. The flaw of the Pulsar P1, however, was its power thirsty display which would only light up at the manual press of a button to conserve energy. Seiko’s O6LC watch followed in 1973 and introduced what became the industry standard form of LED for decades, with its murky green background and black numerals. [caption id="attachment_737" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Hamilton Pulsar P1. Source: OhGizmo![/caption] The 1970s was a groundbreaking time for watch fashion and in 1976 Hamilton released yet another innovative design. The Pulsar Calculator Watch was eye-catching and unique in its day, but it wasn’t all that easy to use. Its buttons were so small that they could only be pressed by using a stylus, a far cry from the large touchscreens we favour today. As the prices of electric digital designs dropped dramatically, this design soon drifted into novelty and by the 1980s cheap plastic-housed calculator watches were often found hidden inside children’s breakfast cereal boxes as free gifts. 1980s fashion inspired digital and often vibrantly colourful wristwatch designs. Whilst the decade saw many LED watches become cheaper commodity items, some designs would continue to showcase startling new innovations. Released in 1982, this Seiko TV Watch model was years ahead of its time and could broadcast live TV via a small blue-grey LED screen on its clock face. Whilst this was certainly impressive, having achieved such a complex feat just a decade after the release of the first electronic digital watch, it unfortunately required an external box to tune into live broadcasts. Needless to say it wasn’t the most glamorous of pieces whilst showing off its futuristic USP. Fashionable technology These days watches impress not just through their materialistic appearance and style, but with their inbuilt computer features and use of smart technology. Wristwatches with onboard database functionality first emerged in the 1980s but their intelligence was very primitive and not always all that user friendly, or indeed practical. Most tech perks of the time were, and appear ever more so now, there purely for novelty value. With calculators, word processors, and simple computer games having proved popular additions to quirky digital watches since the late 70s and early 80s, the Casio CGW-50 Cosmo Phase took things to an entirely different level that was simply out of this world. This unique piece featured an LCD display that could chart the precise positions of the planets of our solar system, as well as the position of Halley’s Comet. [caption id="attachment_738" align="aligncenter" width="296"] The Casio CGW-50 Cosmo Phase. Source: PC Mag.[/caption] The 1990s and 2000s brought the development and gradual rise in demand for smartwatches. Seiko’s 1995 MessageWatch predicted the evolution of mobile phones and wanted to join in. It could receive simple messages, display caller IDs, and show news updates on the latest sports scores, weather forecasts, and stock prices. It also had a slick round body and an attractive black and silver design that incorporated both metal and plastic elements; a striking improvement on the clunky LED designs that preceded it. Fast forward twenty years and you get the Apple Watch. Perfecting and far exceeding the functions and ambitions of the MessageWatch, this device represents the pinnacle of portable technology. Understanding the importance of variety, these watches are available in a range of different colours and strap styles, featuring vintage immitations and vibrant contemporary options. The future Watches continue to develop with the latest fashion and technological trends. The popularity of the Apple Watch and other smartwatches like it has proved that these portable timepieces are eternal treasures. Not everyone is a technophile though, and the elegance of a luxuriously crafted analogue watch cannot be understated. Just as digital designs have flourished and continue to evolve their colours and extravagant array of onboard features, the levels of craftsmanship, lustre and intricacy in analogue pieces persists to meet and challenge any bar set by their electronic cousins. [caption id="attachment_739" align="aligncenter" width="188"] The Omega Seamaster 300. First introduced in 1957, this versatile watch has made a modern-day comeback. Available here at Browns.[/caption] At Browns Family Jewellers take pride in offering an expansive range of luxury modern and vintage timepieces that cater to a wide variety of styles and budgets. Explore our collection of men’s and women’s watches here.