Have we stopped noticing the marvels of watches

First published: 20-02-2013

Nearly everybody wears a watch these days, with the timepieces now one of the most ubiquitous items around.

With this in mind, it can be hard for us to appreciate just how innovative and awe-inspiring these devices were when they first came out.

And the fact we have got so used to them means our entire attitude towards time-keeping has changed.

Stacy Perman, author of A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World's Most Legendary Watch, said: "The concept of time and time-keeping has become something of an afterthought."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, she noted that eminent horologists would once have been summoned to the courts of kings and that developing advanced timepieces would have been a matter of national pride.

"Indeed, it was the ability to measure time that transformed Europe from a backwater into a world power, drove exploration of the New World and propelled the development of western civilisation," Ms Perman commented.

This is a shame, particularly as there are many top watch manufacturers out there still delivering the goods.

But with people routinely using gadgets such as mobile phones to tell the time, perhaps the wider purpose of the wristwatch has changed.

These days, it can often be a status symbol, with a person demonstrating their taste and wealth by investing in luxury timepieces. And of course, they can be great fashion accessories, with the practical functions they offer simply a bonus on top of helping a person look good.

Ms Perman said the fact watches were so complex and ingeniously built when they were first created meant they were like the iPhone or iPad of their day.

She noted the technical accomplishments of those early engineers were particularly notable given the fact they were working without computers, yet managed to produce accurate time-keepers that included "split-second chronographs, indicated phases of the moon, recorded the seasons and measured humidity".

Ms Perman added that watches "unhinged man from nature", as they no longer had to score marks in the rock to keep time when the sun went down.


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