Our story will begin with the first mechanical clocks which were created in the XIVth century, of course, they were easily breakable, imprecise, and had really weak power sources but this was the beginning of watches and clocks.
During the middle of the XVIIth century, Dutch and English navigators were discovering oceans with bigger ships, but they needed marine chronometer more precise in order to navigate. Indeed, at that time, clocks were still unprecise and had only one clock hand.
The first breakthrough happened in 1657, with the invention of Balance Spring, also called pendulum, by the Dutch mathematician, astronomer and physician Christian Huygens. Inspired by Galileo, that innovation allowed clocks to be much more accurate, and minute hand was invented. Men finally stopped wearing watches pendant on their neck and pocket watches appeared.
In 1670, Robert Hooke will create the first anchor escapement which will become the new standard and in 1675, he will contest the invention of the first spiral watch with pendulum to Christian Huygens. This will be the beginning of a new era for watches.
Indeed, watchmakers will begin to copy these innovations; Daniel Jeanrichard for example, will create his first watch inspired by English watches.
In 1686, the Englishman Daniel Quare will place the minute hand in the middle of the watch dial, that idea will be imitated quickly by the other watchmakers and in 1700, still in England, the use of pierced stones as pivot bearing for the pendulum will be a real technical revolution.
The beginning of the XVIIIth century in England was also marked by process innovation; indeed, Thomas Tompion will be the first to spread the work between his specialized workers, to start mass production and to numbered his watches.
Thomas Tompion will also use the invention of Richard Towneley; the deadbeat escapement (around 1675), to create two clocks for the Greenwitch Observatory. These clocks were particularly precise and only needed to be wound once a year.
Tompion’s pupil and successor, Georges Graham, will improve the deadbeat escapement and introduced it in his clock around 1715, however, Graham will refuse to patent it in order share his innovation. Graham will also contribute to others innovations such as the detached lever escapement, invented by Thomas Mudge in 1755. He will also help financially, John Harrison to develop the grasshopper escapement and the grid iron pendulum (1725). John Harrisson will finally win the prize for its longitude work with his fourth clock which make the 6 months’ travel London/Jamaica under captain Cook’s commandment with only a minute and 54 seconds’ mistake.
In 1770, in Le Locle, Switzerland, Louis-Abraham Perrelet invented the ancestor of our watches; the first pocket watch with a self-winding mechanism, it was created in order to wind when the owner of the watch was walking thanks to an oscillating weight which moved up and down. Later, in 1870, Abraham Breguet will finish the work of Perrelet by creating the first perpetual watch. That marked the beginning of a new era.
From there, many other innovations were done; Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec invented the chronograph in 1821, and Louis-Frederic Perrelet (grandson of Louis-Abraham Perrelet) improved it with his split-second precision chronograph in 1827.
One of the most important revolution of the watch industry came after the first world war and the democratisation of the wristwatch. Watchmakers were able to modify the mechanism of their watches due to a higher kinetic power generated by the movements of the wrist (compared to pocket watches); the Englishman John Harwood has been the pioneer in that field.
In 1925, the first perpetual calendar wristwatch was invented, which allowed to show on the watch the day of the month.
In 1927, Warren Morrisson, a telecommunication engineer, will make one of the most important discover and create the first quartz clock, much more precise. It will be the inspiration of the future quartz watches.
In the 1960’s, quartz mechanisms will be miniaturised, and the race began between Swiss and Japanese companies. The Swiss industry will present in 1967 its first prototype but it’s only in 1969 that Seiko will commercialize the first quartz wristwatch; the Seiko 35SQ Astron.
In the 1970’s, the proliferation of quartz watches and the Japanese competition will cause the quartz crisis, the European watch industry will suffer this crisis until 1982, when electric watches will exceed mechanic watches and when Switzerland will lose its first place as international exporter.
Mechanics watches will only make their comeback in the 2000’s, in a totally different market; where smart watches begin to show up …