You know me, a wistful old watch-wearing ape that needs no excuse to delve deep into the captivating history of mechanical watches. I’ve rhapsodised about their beauty, and the complex fusion of art and science many times before. I’ve also explained in detail how to wind a mechanical watch. Well now, I’ve another fascinating factoid for you – and it’s all about the evolution of mechanical watches during the First World War.
Wristwatches were first worn by military men at the end of the nineteenth century. During WW1 it soon became clear that the use of the standard-issue pocket watch was cumbersome and difficult; realised whilst trying to check the time whilst battling in the cramped trenches or on horseback, no doubt.
Pilots also had problems with pocket watches – not only were their own two hands kept quite busy by controlling a WW1 aircraft, the designs of these aircrafts were not exactly ideal. This far back in aviation history, the cockpits of planes were open to the elements – should a pilot glance down to his boots, he would be looking right down to the ground, thousands of feet below. Dropping your pocket watch would be a fatal move, as it would simply roll out of the cockpit and tumble down through the sky.
As you can imagine, the popularity of the wristwatch spread quickly through the ranks. It then filtered through from the army to the towns and cities and soon, mechanical watches were in high demand throughout the population. So much so, that by 1930, the ratio of wrist to pocket watches was 50 to 1.
The trend for mechanical watches worn on the wrist would quickly lead to one of the biggest developments in horological history. Soon the first watches to feature automatic winding were produced – by wearing them on the wrist; the kinetic movement would power the mechanism. The first man to harness this power was John Harwood, a watchmaker from Bolton, England – but more about him later.
A particular favourite from my collection of men’s watches is the Abbrecci Apollo. Simply for the reason that it encompasses this feature beautifully; it is powered kinetically by the wearer’s movements. The piece is an example of Harwood’s traditional craftsmanship, combined with the modern design of mechanical watches today. Its steely gunmetal exterior makes for a striking look on the wrist, and the gold-coloured detail on the skeleton face offsets the dark colours splendidly.
By making this impressive piece a part of your own collection you’ll be sampling a slice of history – the mechanism design uses the same kinetic power as those watches built over 100 years ago. Next time you’re able to check the time by simply raising your arm, remember – if it wasn’t for the soldiers of the Great War, you’d probably still be using a pocket watch.