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when were watches invented

When Were Watches Invented? An Exploration of Its History

Do you know when were watched invented? The history of watches traces back to the use of sundials to tell time.
May 22, 2024

Watches have become an integral part of our daily lives, serving not only as timekeeping devices but also as fashion accessories and symbols of craftsmanship. People have been finding unique and interesting ways to tell the time throughout history. So, do you have any idea when were watches invented?

From using the sundials to tracking the sun's movement. to observing candles that burn at a very particular rate, those were long journeys to the modern timepieces – where the timekeeping device has evolved into a personal statement. 

To help you get a full comprehension of the history of watches, this article will explore the invention of watches and trace their evolution through history, highlighting key developments and innovations.

Early Timekeeping Devices

Before the invention of the watch, humans relied on various methods to track time. These early timekeeping devices were ingenious in their simplicity and paved the way for more sophisticated technologies.

Sundials (Circa 1500 BCE)

Sundials, used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, were among the earliest devices for measuring time. They worked by casting a shadow on a marked surface, with the position of the shadow indicating the time of day. 

Although dependent on sunlight and thus useless at night or on cloudy days, sundials were a significant leap in timekeeping technology.

Water Clocks (Circa 1400 BCE)

Known as clepsydra, water clocks were another early method of timekeeping. They measured time through the regulated flow of water from one container to another. 

Water clocks were more reliable than sundials as they could be used indoors and at night, making them a crucial development in the history of timekeeping.

The Advent of Mechanical Clocks

The development of mechanical clocks in the late medieval period marked a significant advancement in timekeeping technology. These clocks relied on intricate mechanisms to measure time more accurately and consistently than ever before.

14th Century

Mechanical clocks began to appear in European cathedrals and public squares. These early clocks were large and powered by weights, with a verge escapement mechanism controlling the movement. They often featured elaborate astronomical displays and striking mechanisms to announce the hours.

15th Century

The invention of the spring-driven clock allowed for smaller and more portable timepieces. This innovation enabled the creation of table clocks and, eventually, the first wearable watches. The use of coiled springs instead of weights made these clocks more practical for everyday use.

Read also: Exploring Different Types of Clocks: A Timeless Journey

The Birth of the Watch

The invention of the watch is attributed to the advancements in spring-driven clock technology. The transition from large clocks to portable watches involved miniaturizing components and improving accuracy.

Early 16th Century

The first portable timepieces, known as "clock watches," were created. These early watches were worn as pendants and were relatively inaccurate, often losing or gaining several hours per day. Despite their imprecision, clock watches were a status symbol and a marvel of miniaturization.

Peter Henlein (Circa 1505)

Peter Henlein (a German locksmith) is often credited with inventing the first pocket watch. Henlein's watches, known as "Nuremberg eggs" due to their oval shape, were small, drum-shaped, and powered by mainsprings. Although they were more decorative than functional, Henlein's work laid the foundation for future developments in watchmaking.

The Evolution of Pocket Watches

The 17th and 18th centuries saw significant advancements in watchmaking, leading to the widespread popularity and refinement of pocket watches.

Introduction of the Balance Spring (1657)

The balance spring, invented by Robert Hooke and later perfected by Christiaan Huygens, greatly improved the accuracy of watches. This innovation allowed the balance wheel to oscillate more regularly, making pocket watches much more reliable timekeepers.

18th Century Innovations

The 18th century was a period of great innovation in watchmaking. Prominent watchmakers like Abraham-Louis Breguet introduced key advancements, including the tourbillon – a mechanism designed to counteract the effects of gravity on the watch's accuracy – and self-winding mechanisms. 

These innovations enhanced both the functionality and complexity of pocket watches, making them highly sought after.

Read also: How Does a Grandfather Clock Work? A Complete Guide

The Rise of Wristwatches

While pocket watches dominated for centuries, the wristwatch eventually emerged as the preferred timepiece, especially during the 20th century.

Early Wristwatches

Initially, wristwatches were worn mainly by women as decorative bracelets in the 19th century. Watches were often considered as a feminine accessory, while men continued to use pocket watches.

World War I

The practicality of wristwatches became apparent during World War I. Soldiers needed quick and convenient access to the time, and wristwatches provided an ideal solution. This led to the widespread adoption of wristwatches by men, transforming them from a novelty item to a practical tool.

Rolex and the Oyster Case (1926)

In 1926, Rolex introduced the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch. The Oyster case featured a hermetically sealed design that protected the movement from dust and moisture. This innovation marked a significant milestone in wristwatch design and durability, setting a new standard for the industry.

Modern Watchmaking

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen continued innovation in watchmaking, with the advent of electronic watches and the resurgence of mechanical craftsmanship.

Quartz Revolution (1969)

The invention of quartz watches by Seiko revolutionized the watch industry, offering unparalleled accuracy and affordability. Quartz watches used electronic oscillators regulated by quartz crystals, making them more precise than mechanical watches.


In the 21st century, smartwatches have integrated advanced technology, offering features beyond timekeeping, such as fitness tracking, notifications, and connectivity with smartphones. 

Brands like Apple, Samsung, and Garmin have transformed the watch into a multifunctional device that caters to modern lifestyle needs.

Final Thought

So, when were watches invented? According to the discussion above, it can be identified that the first watch is attributed to the advancements of spring-driven clock technology. In other words, the first watches were invented in the early 16th century with the first portable timepieces, known as "clock-watches".

From ancient sundials to modern smartwatches, the evolution of watches reflects humanity's enduring quest to measure and manage time. Each era of watchmaking has built upon the innovations of the past, resulting in the diverse and sophisticated timepieces we enjoy today.

Watches have transcended their original purpose, becoming symbols of style, status, and technological prowess. As we look to the future, the watch industry continues to blend tradition with innovation, ensuring that watches remain an essential part of our lives.

Read also: Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise? The Fascinating Direction of Time

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