Wrist, pendulum, wall or digital clock: many variations for a common history. The result of centuries of evolution, we discover who invented it
A clock is a tool that has undergone a rich evolution over the centuries. It is certainly not the first object invented to measure the passing of time, but it has become the one with greater precision and has consequently come down to our time, adapting to the needs of use and technological advances. The question, therefore, arises spontaneously: what is the origin of this peculiar instrument? Who invented the clock and how it evolved over the centuries?
The subdivision of conventional time into hours, minutes and seconds represents an arbitrary system that comes from centuries of history. The first traces of a time scan date back to primitive men who counted cycles of 28 days and 12 months based on the position of the moon. The Babylonian priests seem to have the division of the day into 24 hours, dating back more or less to the 3rd millennium BC
The ancient Egyptians are responsible for the invention of the sundial, or sundial, dating back to the 15th BC This was originally made up of a stake stuck in the ground which indicated the hour by tracing a different shadow based on the position of the sun. However, this made it unusable at night. To remedy the problem, the Egyptians invented the water clock, similar to today’s hourglass, which used a terracotta pot filled with water in which a hole was made. Based on the water that dripped and what remained inside, the hours were calculated.
Over the centuries, attempts were made to make the measurement of time ever more precise, and this is how we arrive at the 13th century when the first mechanical watches began to appear in France, which were installed in church bell towers. These mechanisms had only one hand for hours and were still extremely inaccurate, so much so that every day the mechanism was re-adjusted at noon when the sun reached its highest point in the sky.
From the 16th century, the first pocket watches made their appearance. These were still quite bulky and were usually worn tied to a chain around the neck (which made them mainly feminine accessories). One of the first known examples is the clock belonging to Philipp Melanchthon, a Protestant reformer, dating back to 1530. The actual pocket watches are the work of Peter Henlein, still considered the father of the modern clock.
The evolution of the clock continued with the introduction of the pendulum mechanism, on which both Galileo Galilei and the Dutch Christiaan Huygens worked. The first pendulum clock, which appeared in 1657, reached the maximum precision per second. Subsequently, the same Huygens always invented the balance system and the spiral spring. This discovery, in particular, contributed to making the pocket watch even easier to carry and to make it an irreplaceable accessory for the gentlemen of the time.
From the nineteenth century, the wristwatch appeared. It seems that the first wristwatch ever created dates back to 1812 and was made by Abraham-Louis Breguet to then be worn by Carolina Murat, Queen of Naples and Napoleon’s sister. However, this watch has not reached our days and there are only documents that confirm its existence. The oldest still preserved wristwatch dates back to 1868 and was made by Patek Philippe for the Hungarian countess Koscowicz. Be that as it may, the wristwatch remained an exclusively female accessory for decades. The men remained tied to the pocket watch, although it was inconvenient in some circumstances. The first men’s wristwatch was made in 1904 by Louis Cartier for the aviator Santos-Dumont, whose job as a pilot made it difficult to read the time with the traditional pocket watch. The wristwatch solved the problem and has since spread to every level of society, becoming increasingly used.
The twentieth century is characterized by the revolution of the invention of the quartz watch. Incredibly more precise than the mechanical one thanks to the quartz crystal used to measure the passage of time, this watch was invented in 1928 by the Americans W. Horton and W. A. Morris but was converted into a wristwatch only in the 1960s. From this moment on, quartz technology definitively supplanted the mechanical clock and the production base moved to Asia, particularly in Japan.
In recent years, watchmaking has had to keep pace with advances in technology and beyond. On the one hand, we have the latest innovations such as the ultra-modern smartwatch, where time measurement becomes just one of the countless tasks that the watch is capable of performing. On the other hand, the watch has become a real object of style and fashion, to be combined and embellished, increasingly seen as a luxury accessory.