The History and Evolution of Women's Watches

The history of ladies watches and their evolution over the years. From the oldest wrist watches, which were for women to the latest trends.

Long ago, humanity recognized the need to tell time. The oldest means of telling time was by observing the location of the sun in the sky. When the sun is directly overhead, the time is roughly 12:00 noon.

This was followed by the use of a sundial. During the daylight hours, sunlight falls on a vertical pole placed at the center of a calibrated dial thus casting a shadow on the dial and providing the reader with a relatively accurate time reading.


The invention of the mechanical clock in the 14th century provided a more concise and consistent method of measuring time by moving the hand or hands on a dial to show the time. This was followed by the addition of chimes or gongs to mark the hour, half hour, and quarter hour.

By the eighteenth century, smaller clocks for the home were available. These were closed and sealed in a case.

Developments in metal technology and miniaturization made it possible for watchmakers to make pocket watches smaller and it became fashionable for successful people to carry one of these timepieces in their pocket.

For ladies, these pocket watches had a chain attached and were worn as pendant watches. Pocket watches paved the way for wrist watches

A wrist watch is a small timepiece intended to be carried or worn by a person, so as to make the time immediately and conveniently available.  


The First and Oldest Wrist Watches

The first wrist watches ever made were for ladies. These first watches were more jewelry pieces that timepieces. They were miniature size clocks mounted on heavily be-jeweled bracelets.

As early as the 1500s, there are reports that queen Elizabeth 1 received a bracelet watch as a gift which was referred to as an arm watch - this was the earliest reference to a wrist watch.

French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet is believed to have made a watch for Caroline Murat, Napoleon's sister and the Queen of Naples in 1810. This didn' receive much attention and is not officially recorded but it was possibly the world’s first wristwatch.  

The first officially recorded wristwatch ever made was also created for a woman. According to Guinness World Records, the first wristwatch ever was designed by Patek Philippe for the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868 and delivered in 1876. While it did tell time, it was primarily designed and worn as a piece of jewelry.  

More: Vintage Women's Watches Information


Women Pioneered the Wearing of Wrist Watches

Women were the first to wear wrist watches. Actually, wrist watches were regarded as ladies-only accessories until the early 1900s.

Men looked down upon them as too feminine and delicate to be serious timepieces and dubbed them `wristlets'. They preferred to stick with the larger, sturdier and masculine pocket watches they were used to. They wanted nothing to do with the feminine trend of timepieces worn on the wrist.

The Santos-Dumont, and the practical necessities of World War 1 changed this.

The first mass production of wrist watches was by Swiss watch manufacturer - Girard Perregaux in the 1880s. These watches were meant for the German military. During the Second Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902, the temperatures were too high to wear coats with pockets and so soldiers improvised pocket watches and strapped them on their wrists. This gave them a way to precisely synchronize military movements. These were referred to as strap watches to differentiate them from the feminine wristlets.  

Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont was a close friend of French jeweler Louis Cartier. In 1904, Santos-Dumont talked to Louis Cartier about the difficulties of checking a pocket watch when flying. He wanted a way to measure time intervals while keeping both hands on the flight controls.

Cartier set about to design a wrist-mounted watch that would allow Dumont to view the time while keeping his hands on the flight controls. Thus Louis Cartier created the first pilot's watch and named it Santos-Dumont.

With aviators and soldiers strapping on wristwatches, watch manufacturers started designing wristwatches and marketing them to men with the promise that this watch style could make a man more masculine and soldierlike. The pocket watch suddenly seemed very antiquated and modern men of the time preferred wristwatches.

Thus wrist watches gained widespread adoption by men after World War 1. Around the 1950s men widely adopted the wristwatch thanks to Rolex and other Swiss watch brands who through clever marketing made wristwatches appealing to men.

Their popularity among men grew so quickly that wrist watches became their number one accessory. Just like that, men claimed the wristwatch as their signature accessory. 

Today, men are the primary wearers of wrist watches. A wrist watch is the most important accessory for a man having all the desirable masculine qualities- technical prowess, status, prestige and style.  

Majority of watch enthusiasts and collectors are men. But today with the popularity of fashion watches and as watch makers continue to make beautiful watches, watches are among the hottest fashion accessories for women and women wearing watches is now in vogue.


The Invention of the Quartz Watch

With the development of the microchip in the 1970s and 1980s, a new type of electronic watch was invented.  It was more accurate than mechanical watches and required less maintenance.

By the mid-to-late 1970s, electronic watches had largely taken over the wristwatch market. This led to the quartz crisis in Switzerland. Some luxury watch brands went out of business while others embraced quartz technology.

A consortium that eventually became the Swatch group was created to bring the mechanical watch back, and new manufacturing techniques allowed watchmakers to compete on price while also providing improved accuracy.

Luxury brands, such as Rolex and Patek Philippe, changed their focus and returned to emphasizing luxury, build quality and tradition. Once again, the mechanical watch became a prestigious luxury item.  


An Overview of Ladies Watches Today

Ladies watches are timepieces that women wear. They include female watches that are made with women in mind. These are made not just with function in mind; beauty, style, and fashion are important aspects when designing ladies watches.

This is because women wear watches as fashion accessories and pieces of jewelry to accessorize their outfits and express their personalities.

Female watches have features that will appeal to ladies such as lots of sparkle - especially diamonds, smaller sizes and shapes, feminine designs, and beautiful dials such as the charming and mysterious mother of pearl dial.


Recent Women's Watches Trends

Today, most of the watches made for women feature quartz movements that rely on batteries as the source of power. These are preferred by most, since they are convenient and need minimal maintenance. There is no need to keep updating the time daily or regularly. All that is needed is a battery replacement every two to three years.

However, as the appreciation for watches and especially luxury timepieces grows among ladies, more and more are leaning towards automatic and manual mechanical movements. Thus, the demand for ladies luxury timepieces with mechanical mechanisms is growing.

Some ladies also love men's watches or watches that look like men's, and will often raid their boyfriend's watch collection. So women also wear men's watches. This has lead to the popularity of oversized and boyfriend watch styles.

Smartwatches and fitness activity tracker watches that not only tell time but sync with other pesonal devices such as smartphones and monitor health activity are also trending.

Ladies are realizing the power that a wrist watch possesses, as a functional tool, a style and personality accessory and a piece of jewelry. And watch manufacturers are introducing exquisite designs to meet this demand.

More: Explore The Latest Women's Watch Trends


The Future

More innovations can be expected. More wearable wrist computers. Lifestyle and fashion trends will continue to shape how the wrist watch evolves and watch makers will continue to pursue excellence.

Whatever happens in the future, the wrist watch will still be significance even though more for fashion and prestige than timekeeping.  

No matter how far we come in technology, the mechanical movements of a timeless wristwatch will always be a fascinating work of art. An art that has been fine-tuned and perfected over centuries of passionate innovation, refined craftsmanship and relentless dedication. 

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As the Chinese Proverb goes: ''An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can't buy that inch of time with an inch of gold''. Well, you can buy a great timepiece to help you manage the precious gift that is time while expressing your style!