The earliest mention of the watch was in Shakespeare’s play "As You Like It." In the second act of the play one character produces a sun-dial from his pocket and muses about the time. Though at this time in history a true, portable timekeeping piece would have been too much of a hassle. Coming up with a powers source for the watch was impossible at this time. But in the 1500’s Peter Henlein from Germany created the first pocket watch. And from that point on portable timekeeping was part of the norm.
In the early 1600s, form watches came into being. Cases shaped like animals and objects and religious themed watches were the most popular. But cheap, portable clocks…watches…didn’t really come into wide spread use until 1780 when Abraham Louis Perrelet invented the self winding movement.
Watch making enters its prime period in the years that followed. In 1791, J.F. Bautte founded the watch company that would eventually become Girard-Perregaux. In 1820, Thomas Prest registers a patent for the self-winding watch. In 1833 Antoine LeCoultre started his own watch making business that would eventually become Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Other big names and when they were founded:
Minerva founded in 1858
Heuer founded in 1860
Zenith founded in 1865
Movado founded in 1881
Rolex founded in 1905
Citizen founded in 1918
Seiko founded in 1924
But probably the most innovative and best-selling watch of all time is the Timex. Timex created the Waterbury pocket watch in the 1880s and made affordable timekeeping a mainstay for the average man.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the watch industry's first and most successful mass marketer, Robert H. Ingersoll, worked with Waterbury Clock, a partner of Timex, to distribute the company's "Yankee" pocket watch, the first to cost just one dollar. Twenty years later, with nearly forty million sold, the "Yankee" became the world's largest seller and "the watch that made the dollar famous." Everyone carried the Yankee: from Mark Twain to miners, from farmers to factory workers, from office clerks to sales clerks. Throughout the rest of the 20th Century, Timex conquered the low-end market selling 500 million watches by the end of the 1970s.
And the watch market has continued to grow and expand in the following years. With the introduction of the digital watch in 1972, watchmakers had brand new roads to explore in the area or portable timekeeping. It is now not so uncommon to find watches that can do everything under the sun from reading the wearer’s heart rate to playing music. But telling time is still the number-one priority.
So whether you’re more interested in the fashion statement your watch makes (Rolex, Heuer, Seiko) or the practicality of your watch (Timex, Casio, Citizen), there will always be numerous choices out there.