Mastering the Art of Wristwatch Fashion and Choosing the Perfect Watch: [Part 1] A Brief History of Time - Pieces

Mastering the Art of Wristwatch Fashion and Choosing the Perfect Watch: [Part 1] A Brief History of Time - Pieces


In an age where time is displayed all around us - on our smartphones, laptops, computers, and even our tv screens, you could be excused in thinking the demand for traditional wristwatches was in decline but, despite these facts, the wristwatch industry continues to grow year on year. Classic names are still standing strong and many younger brands, like Nation of Souls, are making headway into today’s strong watch market. The demand for high quality timepieces is undeniable, but why is this?

The reason can possibly be summed up with one simple sentence, which may not come as a big surprise: A wristwatch isn’t just for telling the time…

The rich history of watch design and manufacture has greatly contributed to their continued appeal. Alluring designs, functionality, and the industries innovation and diverse use of materials, make the wristwatch just as much a piece of art as a timepiece, but there’s more to it than that.

A wristwatch serves a purpose of both style and practical functionality and has the power to transform and elevate the wearer. How many possessions do you own that have those qualities? 

PICTURE: Silver and Blue Chronograph

A Brief History of Time - Pieces

Up until the late 19th century, wristwatches were almost entirely reserved for women, and the reason was quite a practical one. Working men preferred pocket watches, as prior to the 20th century watches were very delicate objects. Working men, therefore, kept their watches tucked safely into their pocket.

The beginning of change, or transition, from pocket watch to wristwatch can be traced back to WW1. A pocket watch requires a free hand to pull the watch out to see the time. A wristwatch however only required a glance at one’s wrist to keep a close eye on the time, and accurate timing was a critical requirement for successful military maneuvers. The pocket watch was therefore of no practical use to combat soldiers trying to coordinate operations, especially as they had so much other equipment to carry.

They say, ‘necessity is the mother of all invention’, and invention certainly came to the rescue here in the form of a leather ‘wristlet’. This device enabled the military to effectively strap their pocket watches to their wrists with the use of a leather pouch and buckle. The time could then be read without the need to remove the watch from the pocket. This was the beginning of the evolution of the wristwatch as we know it. The manufacturers of the wristlet clearly saw the potential of this clever accessory and also began marketing them to cyclists, hunters, and sailors, and anyone else they thought may benefit from this newly invented accessory!

Period advertisements for the all new ‘Wristlet’

The evolution did not stop there of course as, following this growing trend, some watch makers began producing Service or Campaign wristwatches. These eventually became a mainstay for soldiers in battle and are more akin to the style of today’s wristwatches in as much as they were purpose made, and much smaller than the then outdated pocket watch. Campaign watches generally had smaller cases, so as not to be too bulky, and of course included a strap. The numbering around the dial was typically large and hence easy to read.

Period advertisement for a "Campaign Watch"

It wasn’t until the 1920s that men really began to embrace wristwatches in civilian life too, as up until this point they were pretty much still the preserve of the ladies. At the time, a man would only really want to be seen wearing one while participating in a rugged activity, such as racing or flying, that required precision timing. However, as more soldiers began to wear the wristwatch, the trend began to catch on.

By the time WWII veterans started returning home, and continued to wear their government-issued watches, civilian men started following suit.

All of these years later and the wristwatch is as popular as ever and carries with it a rich history and legacy that cannot be underestimated. And, whilst we no longer need to synchronize our wristwatches to go into battle, they are as relevant as they ever were, but perhaps now more in terms of style and functionality. Just like the clothes you wear, your watch says something about you, and perhaps even as people perceive you in the modern world.