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First wristwatch

The First Wristwatch Ever Known: What Was It?

The history of the first wristwatches has been an interesting discussion. Used to be women’s accessories, discover what was the first wristwatch here!
May 29, 2024

Watches have been part of human life since a long time ago. People used to utilize sundials and water clocks to track the passing of time before the first mechanical movement was introduced in the 1200s. Talking about the history of time devices, who made the first wristwatch?

The story begins in the early 19th century in France, with one of horological history's leading luminaries. After a long journey and evolution, we can enjoy modern timepieces as we see and wear today.

Learning about the history of the earliest wristwatches is as important as appreciating the craftsmanship of modern watchmaking. Understanding this journey provides valuable insight into the timepieces we wear today. 

First Wristwatches in History

The concept of wearing a timepiece on the wrist was not entirely foreign before the 20th century but it was predominantly relegated to the realm of women's fashion and specialized military use. 

Men, on the other hand, favored pocket watches, which were seen as more masculine and sophisticated. The wristwatch, viewed as a feminine accessory, struggled to gain acceptance among men until the early 20th century.

Two of the first wristwatches below marked the journey of timepieces to the modern era. The first one is the earliest known timepiece created by Abraham-Louis Breguet. Meanwhile, the second one is considered the first men’s wristwatch made by Louis Cartier. 

Breguet No. 2639 for Queen Caroline Murat of Naples (1810)

In 1810, the renowned Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet created what is widely recognized as the first wristwatch. This historic timepiece was commissioned by Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Breguet, already a luminary in horological circles for his innovations in watchmaking, crafted the Breguet No. 2639 to meet the queen’s specific requirements.

The watch was an exquisite piece of art and engineering, featuring an oval shape that set it apart from the more commonly seen round faces of pocket watches. It was mounted on a wristlet of finely woven hair and gold thread, highlighting both luxury and intricate craftsmanship. The watch displayed the hours and minutes and included a repeater mechanism, which chimed the hours on-demand – an advanced feature at the time.

Breguet's creation was not just a testament to his skill but also a pioneering step in wearable technology. This wristwatch symbolized elegance and innovation, aligning perfectly with the sophisticated tastes of Queen Caroline. 

Although wristwatches for women were common, Breguet's piece stood out for its complexity and beauty, laying the groundwork for future developments in wrist-worn timepieces.

Read also: When Were Watches Invented? An Exploration of Its History

Cartier Santos-Dumont (1904)

The Cartier Santos-Dumont, created in 1904, is often credited as the first wristwatch designed explicitly for men. This groundbreaking timepiece was a result of the collaboration between Louis Cartier, the French jeweler and watchmaker, and his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, a pioneering Brazilian aviator. 

Santos-Dumont needed a practical solution for telling time while flying, as using a pocket watch proved cumbersome and inconvenient during flights. Louis Cartier's response was the Santos-Dumont wristwatch, a design that combined functionality with elegant aesthetics. 

The watch featured a square face, which was unconventional compared to the round faces of most timepieces of that era. It had a leather strap, which ensured that it stayed securely on the wrist, making it easily accessible and readable at a glance.

The Santos-Dumont watch was not only a marvel of practicality but also a bold fashion statement. Its streamlined design and practical functionality appealed to men, challenging the notion that wristwatches were solely a feminine accessory. 

The watch's success marked a significant shift in societal attitudes towards wristwatches, paving the way for their acceptance and popularity among men. The Cartier Santos-Dumont became an icon, not just for its association with aviation history, but for its role in transforming men's fashion and utility in timekeeping. 

This first wristwatch, specially designed for men, marked the beginning of a new era, where wristwatches would become an essential accessory for both men and women, appreciated for their blend of precision engineering and stylish design.

Final Thought

The history of the first wristwatch is a rich tapestry woven with threads of innovation, fashion, and culture. Used to identify as women’s accessories, wristwatches have gained popularity in modern watchmaking. 

As we look to the future, the wristwatch will undoubtedly continue to evolve, but its legacy as a groundbreaking invention of human ingenuity will always remain.

Read also: Timeless Treasures: Exploring The Oldest Watches in History

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