Home » Watches – Western Civilization

Watches – Western Civilization

History of Clocks As long as 4000 years ago, the Babylonian priests of Mesopotamia began a careful and systematic study of the movements and patterns of the sun, moon, stars, and seasons. They folded all of their accumulated knowledge into a calendar, which very much resembles the one that we use today. The Babylonians established a system of timekeeping based on twelve months, seven days per week, and twenty four hour long days. In fact, the only thing that is different between the ancient calendar and the one we use today is that the Babylonians assigned thirty days to each month.

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When they realized that was about five days too few, they added a thirteenth month to the calendar every six years. The Romans modified this to have months of varying lengths within a twelve-month framework, and from then on, we have universally used the same standard divisions to track time. From then on gifted minded individuals searched for a mechanism to use for accurate timekeeping, which led us to the origins of the clock. By 1500, most villages across Europe consisted of a large clock tower, as well as watchman who would call out the time periodically through out the day.

At the time larger perpetual clocks tended to be fairly inaccurate, but there was an interest among the mechanically inclined to come up with newer and smaller versions for accurate personal use. It was around this time that a locksmith from Nuremberg, Germany named Peter Henlein invented the first pocket watch. Unlike a large clock which was driven by weights, Henlein’s small portable clocks were powered by a coiled mainspring used in conjunction with a ratchet system. The incredible thing is that the mechanism used in the very first watch is not all that different from the way in which many watches are run today.

From the earliest days of mankind, people have been interested in time. Dating well before written history, humans were believed to have used the movement of the sun and the moon to tell time. The original timepiece was the sundial, but as civilization grew more complicated, so did their need to have accurate way to keep track of the hours and minutes of the day. This is the fascinating history and modern life of a brilliant invention that most of us take for granted: THE WATCH! I LOVE WATCHES!!

Watches improved with the “Nuremberg eggs” as the first watches were known to be large oval esigns, they were worn on a belt or neck chain. They had no crystal covering the face, and only the hour hand. The early watches were far from accurate timekeepers: there was really no point in having a minute hand, let alone a second hand. They were entirely handmade, primarily of iron components assembled with pins and rivets. Within 50 years, the iron works were replaced with brass fittings. It was also around this time that the Swiss watch industry was born.

In 1525 a Swiss mechanic living Prague named Jacob Zech invented a component that revolutionized matchmaking. It was called the fuse, and it was an element which solved as normous problem with early watches: as they would wind down the movement of the hour hand also slowed down. The Fusee, which was perfected by another Swiss man named Gruet, equalized the inner mechanism of the watch and thereby dramatically improved the timekeeping ability of the piece. Watches before the fusse more functional.

Toa point that is: it was not until early 1700’s that watches became precise enough to warrant including a minute hand. In the 1600’s, watches really took off in popularity. It might not occur to a modern reader that only a select few had watches in the 17th Century, they were prohibitively expensive and were nly owned by the nobility. Wearing a watch was a status symbol, a sign of wealth and importance. The most interesting thing about that fact is that even today a high end watch is every bit a status sign as it was in the 17th Century.

Royals and their watches, in the 1600’s watches were considered toys for the nobility. Each watch was entirely hand made with a large price tag to match. The aristocracy treated their watches as any other decorative accessory in their Jewelry box, an adornment to enhance their outfits, not a functional necessity. Because the watch was viewed as ewelry, watch makers came up with increasingly beautiful designs to entice their wealthy clients to want them. They were designed to be wearable works of art and tied in with the other fashion of the day.

Watches were created to resemble tiny insects, flowers, musical instruments and animals. Mary Queen of Scots was even known to have had one in the shape of a skull in her Jewelry collection. fledging watch making industry was largely based in England, France, and The Switzerland. Each nation had its own unique style when it came to creating timepieces. English watches tended to be heavy, sturdy and reliable. Swiss watches were renowned for their accuracy Just as they are today.

In France, the emphasis was on creating exquisitely beautiful cases, something which they did exceedingly well. French watches were handmade in interesting sculptural forms, hand painted with remarkable tiny scenes, and decorated with the finest available materials, such as enamel. Tortoiseshells and precious gems. Being a Swiss watchmaker in Geneva was a highly respectable position in society. Precision and well executed technique were highly prized by the Swiss, and the men who made the watches had these qualities in abundance.

It was a Swiss man named Nicholas Facio who invented a technique that is still the gold standard in watch making today: the use of rubies and sapphires inside the watch workings. The precious gems were not placed inside the watches to make them more valuable, but rather to reduce the friction of the internal mechanisms. Holes could be drilled in the tiny gems and bearings placed into the centers to reduce friction. The ingenious idea reduced the wear and tear on the watches and made them more accurate timekeepers. Nearly four hundred years later, Geneva is still the world capital of top quality watches.

As time passed and new technologies were adopted in the leading countries of , the Swiss , the French and eventually also the Americans adapted new technologies that made their watches lighter, thinner, and quicker to produce, the English stubbornly stuck with their tried and true techniques, which led to the eventual demise of the English watch industry. Water clocks are sometimes still used today, and can be examined in places such as ancient castles and museums. The Salisbury Cathedral Clock built in 1386, is considered to be the world’s oldest surviving mechanical clock that strikes the hours.

Between 1280 and 1320, there is an increase in the number of references to clocks and horologes in church records, and this probably indicates that a new type of clock mechanism had been devised. Existing clock mechanisms that used water power controlled by some form of oscillating mechanism, probably derived from existing bell-ringing or alarm devices. This controlled release of power – the escapement- marks the beginning of the true mechanical clock. Besides the Chinese astronomical clock, in Europe there were the clocks constructed by Richard of Wallingford in St Albans and by Giovanni de Dondi in Padua from 1348 to 1364.

They no longer exist, but detailed descriptions of their design and construction survive, and modern reproductions have been made. They illustrate how quickly the theory of the mechanical clock had been translated into practical constructions, and also that one of the many impulses to their development had been the desire of astronomers to investigate celestial phenomena. Wallingford’s clock had a large astrolabe-type dial, showing the sun, the moon’s age, phase, and node, a star map, and possibly the planets. In addition, it had a wheel of fortune and an indicator of the state of the tide t London Bridge.

Bells rang every hour, the number of strokes indicating the time. Dondi’s clock was a seven-sided construction, 1 meter high, with dials showing the time of day, including minutes, the motions of all the known planets, an automatic calendar of fixed and movable feasts, and an eclipse prediction hand rotating once every 18 years. It is not known how accurate or reliable these clocks would have been. They were probably adjusted manually every day to compensate for errors caused by wear and imprecise manufacture. The measurement of time all starts with the number 12!

You’ll notice that 60 and 24 share a factor of 12 (the “greatest common multiple”, if you want to dig all the way to elementary school math). 12 is a generally useful number, a good size for things. It’s not too few, and not too many to wrap your head around. It’s got 3 divisors (two 2s and a 3, which lets you break things into small units in several different ways) compared to 10, which only has 2 and 5. So early peoples often broke things into 12s, which gave it an almost magical air (12 zodiac signs, 12 people in a Jury, 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles). We get 12 months out of the 12 zodiac signs.

That made 12 a nice number to divide the day into, so you can have half-days, quarter-days, and thirds-of-a-day Just by counting hours (and easy to compute on a sundial). The Egyptians did that as early as 1500 BC. The Greeks added another 12 to count the hours of the night. (Who needed to count hours at night? You are supposed to be asleep, since it’s dark out! ) That gives us 24 hours. 60 minutes to the hour comes from the same sort of thinking, but was actually originally different. 360 is a good number for examining a circle: each of the angles of an equilateral triangle is 60 degrees, and 6 of those make up a circle.

Equilateral triangles are very easy to draw precisely using primitive equipment. There are 60 degrees in the each corner of an equilateral triangle because 60 starts with that same 12 and adds another factor of 5, which lets you divide 60 up into lots and lots of useful things. So Greek astronomers subdivided the whole world into 360 degrees, the first division of that into 60 parts was called the “first minute” and the next division of each of “second” Just like we do today in measuring degrees, minutes, and seconds on a map. The application of those to time came along later.


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