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    Men's Wristwatch History


    No element of men’s style combines fashion and function quite like the wristwatch. Nor does any other male accessory inspire such devotion and interest.

    Nevertheless, in recent times there have been those who believed the watch had finally met its demise in the smartphone, and would fade away with other sartorial anachronisms like monocles and sock garters.

    And yet the popularity of the wristwatch persists. To understand why, we need to understand the history of this timepiece, how its past continues to inform its present, and why a man might consider wearing a watch in the 21st century.

    History of Wristwatches 

    While the wristwatch has become a men’s style staple around the world, up until the late 19th century it was considered a piece of jewelry exclusively for women. Men preferred the pocket watch. 

                          Soldiers wearing a wristlet — a pocket watch secured to a leather strap.


    Before the 20th century, watches were extremely susceptible to the elements. Moisture, cold, heat, and dust could easily bungle the intricate gears and springs within a watch, causing it to lose its accuracy. As men were more likely to face these elements, and held positions in the military, business, and government that made accurate timekeeping more of a paramount concern for them than for women, care had to be taken to protect their timepieces and keep themselves on schedule. Function superseded fashion, so into the pocket men’s watches went, only to be taken out when needed.

    As with most things in men’s style, it would take a war for patterns to change and for the watch to leave a man’s pocket and be placed on his wrist.Pocket watches required a free hand to use — you had to reach into your pocket and hold it while you checked the time. In the tumult of battle, a man needed all the hands he could get. So soldiers began improvising wristwatches by strapping their  pocket watches on their arm with leather.

    The first instances of the use of these improvised wristwatches are said to have occurred among British soldiers fighting in the Burma and Boer Wars in the late 19th century. Called “wristlets,” these leather straps had a cup to hold their pocket watch. By the 1890s, a few companies started manufacturing leather wristlets for soldiers and even made improvements to them, like adding a compass on the strap for navigation. They were often marketed as “Campaign” or “Service” watches.
    Just as GIs returning from WWII continued to wear their government issued tees and khakis as civilians, veterans of the Burma and Boer Wars likely continued using their leather wristlets when they returned home. Male civilians, seeing these rough and tumble war vets sporting what was once considered a lady’s accouterment, began following suit.

    Seeing that men — particularly soldiers — were wearing their pocket watches on their wrists, several companies in the late 19th century began creating watches specifically designed for that purpose. Girard-Perregaux was the first company to mass-produce wristwatches specifically for men — particularly for sailors in the German Imperial Navy. The Waterbury Clock Company — now known as Timex — also began selling a men’s wristwatch at around the same time. In 1907, jeweler Louis Cartier designed a wristwatch for his Brazilian aviator friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont, which he called the Santos.

    While these manufactures were pioneering a new segment of timepieces, sales weren’t that great. The majority of men still preferred the pocket watch, or the leather pocket watch wristlet. It would take another war for the watches to find a permanent place on men’s wrists.
    World War I ushered in modern, mechanistic warfare, and the wristwatch played a vital role in this process. Before WWI, the coordination and execution of orders relied primarily on visual cues — soldiers would often use semaphore signals to communicate with one another. But because battlefronts were so large during WWI and because soldiers fought in trenches, this visual mode of coordination became increasingly unviable. So clocks began to be used to coordinate attacks: officers would sync watches together at a meeting, return to their respective troops, and initiate the offensive at the agreed upon time.

    To do this, many British officers continued to use the improvised wristwatch — their pocket watch tethered to a leather strap. But some began wearing a bona fide wristwatch designed to withstand the rigors of warfare, while maintaining a classy, aristocratic look. Watch companies in England immediately began capitalizing on this new need by making and marketing wristwatches specifically for officers serving in the trenches. They called it, unsurprisingly, the “trench watch.”

    The trench watch wasn’t a government-issued piece of equipment (the pocket watch was still the officially sanctioned timepiece), so if an officer wanted one, he was expected to supply his own. Because there wasn’t a single watch company providing watches to the military, this opened up a vibrant and robust market with several competing companies making trench watches for officers. Consequently, you can still find a wide variety of trench watches from this era on eBay and various other auction sites as well as antique stores.
    This wartime competition spurred innovation in the men’s wristwatch. Watch hands and numerals donned luminous paint to make time reading easier in darkened conditions, and unbreakable crystal glass replaced the glass covering the watch’s face. Lugs for attaching the leather strap to the watch started to be built right into the watch, which gave it a more finished look. Porcelain dials to set the time, which were common on pocket watches, were replaced with metal. Finally, the watch casings were made much tighter to keep water and dust out of the watch’s sensitive mechanisms.

    Like the veterans of the Burma and Boer wars who returned home to civilian life burnishing their leather wristlets, British vets of WWI came back home wearing their trench watches, thus setting a standard for civilian men to follow. By 1930, more wristwatches than pocket watches were being sold in the U.K.
    The adoption of male wristwatches took hold a little more slowly in the U.S., though. Many American doughboys wore the wristwatch while in the trenches, but went back to the pocket watch after returning home because of the wristwatch’s lingering reputation as a “lady’s timepiece.” The only way an American man could get away with wearing a wristwatch as a civilian was if he was taking part in rugged activity that required chronological precision like flying or racing. It wasn’t until the mid-1920s that wristwatch sales among men began to gain ground, and much later than that that they finally overtook pocket watches.

    After WWI solidified the masculine bona fides of the wristwatch, manufacturers began creating timepieces to be worn on all sorts of occasions. Yes, there were fancy dress watches, but most wristwatch innovation was driven by specific needs of men serving in the military and taking part in risky and dangerous activities like car racing and aerial barnstorming.



    We have introduced the outer watch part basics before,now we explain each part in detail.


    The case holds the inner working parts of the watch. Depending on the style of the watch, the case is usually made of stainless steel, because steel is resilient, handles light shocks that the watch could receive, and doesn’t tarnish. Cases can also be made of precious metals like gold or platinum, and can even be made of plastic in sports watches. The case can also come in different finishes like high-polish, smooth, matte, or a combination of any of those. The case also contains the movement itself, be it electronic (quartz) or automatic (self-winding). We’ll cover more on movements later.


    The lugs are where the case of the watch connects to the strap or metal bracelet of the watch, by use of metal spring bars.


    The crown is used to change the time. Some watches offer a date window and a seconds indicator, which are engaged by pulling the crown out. Crowns on water-resistant watches screw down into the case. The crown can have embellishments like precious stones, to indicate luxury and attention to detail.

    Strap / Buckle

    The strap/buckle secures the watch to your wrist and there are a number of materials commonly used for these parts. Leather straps range from calfskin to lizard and more exotic offerings like ostrich, alligator, crocodile, and even toad. Instead of a strap, a metal bracelet is a popular option. Other options are nylon straps (for sportiness), satin straps (for dressiness), and rubber straps (for diving/watersports). Most watches allow straps and bracelets to be interchangeable so you can dress it up or down when you want to change the look of your watch. 


    The hands, usually broken down into hours and minutes, indicate the time. The hour hand is usually shorter in size than the minute hand. The hands can also have a slight design to them.

    Other more complicated watches, such as chronographs (stop watches / timers), may have additional hands for their other functions, known as “complications”.


    The bezel is the outer ring of the case that connects to the lugs. It is typically a flat-edged surface, but can also be rounded. The bezel can also have embellishments, like precious gemstones in upscale watches, and may be a different metal than the case itself, as in some two-tone watches.

    The above pictures show three different kinds of watch bezels. The one on the left rotates, allowing to use as a stopwatch.While the other two are fixed, just  a decoration.


     The crystal protects the dial and hands from dust and dirt, allowing the time to be visible. Although it is termed a crystal, it may NOT be made of actual crystal, but plastic. Modern times have made sapphire crystal very popular as it is more scratch-resistant and durable.

    Dial / Face

    The dial is where the watch can be the most expressive. It is the flat surface beneath the crystal, and can come in many color options, textures, and materials. Dials can use Roman numerals,  Arabic numbers, or even more simple stick bar markers to indicate the time.