The History of Men’s Wristwatches

Picking the Perfect Wristwatch - Santillan

The most classic and elegant accessory for men may just be the humble wristwatch. Although many economists, technology gurus and armchair experts have claimed the wristwatch trend shall meet its demise at the hands of the smartphone, there’s something to be said about the style and class a wristwatch offers its wearer. In fact, it’s become such a style staple that it’s hard to imagine a powerful man – whether a CEO or President of the United States – who isn’t commonly seen wearing one. How, though, did the wristwatch develop into such a revolutionary fashion statement?

Pocket Watch Preference

Pocket Watch Preference - SantillanBelieve it or not, men’s preferred timepiece was not the wristwatch when the accessory was originally conceived. The wristwatch was, first and foremost, seen as a feminine piece of jewelry with little practical use for men.

Pocket watches were the male staple during the 1800s purely because wristwatches weren’t as durable then. On the whole, men were the main breadwinners for their families. They worked in government, on ships or in mines where the air was wet or dusty. Wristwatches, which were exposed to the open air while worn, were delicate at the time. All that moisture and dirt could harm the inner mechanisms, making the watch more inaccurate as time went on. Because many men relied on an accurate timepiece to do their jobs, the safest place for a watch was in the pocket where elemental exposure was less likely to destroy it. Women, then, could opt for an attractive wristwatch without worrying about environmental factors or the watch’s accuracy, as they needed to use it far less often.

Look, Ma! No Hands!

There’s only one problem with the beloved pocket watch – you don’t always have a free hand to check the time. Military men were the first to discover the usefulness of wristwatches. During Great Britain’s campaign in Burma in the 19th century, men didn’t have enough hands to engage in battle and check the time on their pocket watch to coordinate actions that were sometimes highly dependent on timing. Instead, these soldiers began adapting their pocket watches into “wristlets,” watches mounted on leather straps they could wear on their wrists. This left both hands free to do other tasks.

Many men returned home near the turn of the century and continued wearing their makeshift wristlets during their day-to-day lives. Seeing these battle-hardened men flaunt what was still widely considered a feminine timepiece made many male civilians reconsider their dedication to pocket watches.

Competitive Spirit

Most men clung to tradition and their pocket watches, but that didn’t stop watchmakers in the UK and United States alike from pushing their newest wristwatches for men. Companies mass produced wristlets and later refined them into the more familiar wristwatch we know and love today. The glass covering was replaced with nigh unbreakable crystal glass. The dials were switched from fragile porcelain to rugged metal. The watch was made a part of the strap to prevent it from falling off. Everything watchmakers could do to create a more durable, airtight watch, they did. All this innovation proved invaluable when World War I rolled around.

Prior to WWI, most coordinated strategies were carried out via hand signals, but trench warfare made physical signals nearly impossible. Thus, the so-called “trench watch,” the redesigned, more durable wristwatch, became a favorite among commanding officers. They could now sync their watches ahead of time, agree on a time to carry out their strategy and easily know when to give their orders without ever having to wait for a hand signal.

Companies caught onto this practice quickly and began competing fiercely for the officers’ favor with improved trench watches. After the war, British officers returned home with their trench watches, once again showing civilian men the masculine style of the wristwatch.

Style and Status

The 1930s turned the tide of timekeeping. More men were purchasing wristwatches than pocket watches in the UK, but the average American man was still a little skeptical of wearing a “woman’s accessory.” Luckily, American men who participated in daring activities like piloting or racing continued to sport the stylish new wristwatches, convincing the everyman of the piece’s rugged masculinity.

When American men caught on to the trend, companies began designing unique watches for every occasion and profession, further cementing the unique versatility of the wristwatch.

Picking the Perfect Wristwatch for Your Male Loved One

Just like your male loved one, every watch is unique. You should consider what the receiver’s style and hobbies are to match him with the best watch for his lifestyle. Does he wear a watch daily? Does he work in or near water? Does he like to tinker? Answering these questions could help you track down your loved one’s perfect gift.

  • Mechanical watches are the most traditional style. They require no battery and are incredibly smooth and elegant. However, the wearer must hand wind the watch regularly, and its inner workings are often delicate.
  • Automatic watches mimic the character and class of mechanical watches but require no regular winding or batteries. They wind themselves based on the wearer’s movements. These are perfect for men who wear a watch daily, but those who don’t wear one often need to purchase a watch winder.
  • Dress watches are classy, special occasion watches that are perfect for a formal party or a business meeting. They often are smaller with simple faces and a strictly leather band.
  • Field watches are the great-grandchildren of the trench watch. They come equipped with large, easy-to-read, illuminated faces to make time checks easy at all hours. These are durable watches with titanium or steel casings.
  • Dive watches are just what they sound like. These common watches are typically metal with water-resistant properties that make them ideal for men who spend time in or around water.

Jewelry Customization, Appraisal and Repair Services at Santillan Jewelers

A watch is one of a man’s most stylish and functional accessories. When you purchase a watch as a gift for a male loved one, make sure it’s the perfect one for his unique lifestyle.

At Santillan Jewelers, we’ve offered watch appraisal, selection and repair services to our Roseville, CA neighbors for more than 30 years. We’re family-owned and operated and guarantee friendly, attentive service for every client. Contact us online or call (916) 788-1002 to schedule your private consultation or learn more about our large selection of beautiful watches.

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