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Luxury Watches to Die For
We've all cast an envious eye on the occasional Rolex or Bulova, and some of us are even fortunate enough to own one. Luxury watches such as these are unique among jewelry, because they're not merely fashionable fine jewelry, but they're also highly functional. Considering that they are, after all, luxury items, they're expected to keep time with a fidelity and accuracy simpler watches can't match -- and by and large they do.
Back when watches first appeared, all watches were luxury watches. For the first time, the discerning noble or successful merchant could carry time with him, instead of having to depend on the town or city clock to tell him what time it was. He still had to reset his watch on a daily basis, of course, since watch accuracy was atrocious in the early days. But from their very beginning in the 1500s, luxury watches were as decorative as they were functional. The first known watch was crafted in 1524 by a German locksmith named Peter Henlein, who built a gilt musk-apple complete with a built-in watch for a client. (Locksmiths had all the tiny tools needed for crafting watch parts). It was he who invented the coiled-spring drive that's still used, with some modification, in watches right up to this day.
A handy bracelet
By the early 1700s, British watchmakers had devised a means of using tiny jewels as watch bearings, bringing a whole new meaning to the term "luxury watches." Jewelling, as it was called, remained an English specialty for a hundred years. Switzerland also became famous for its watches during this period, and in fact most watches of the day used Swiss mechanisms, which were more accurate than any others. Swiss quality itself became renowned throughout the Western world, and still is.
Up until the 20th century, though, what we think of as luxury watches were primarily pocket watches. Wristwatches didn't catch on until well into the era of accurate watches, though nowadays they're practically de rigueur; in fact, it's difficult to find a decent pocket watch anymore, luxury or otherwise. Wristwatches have taken the place of at least some feminine bracelets, and have allowed men to decorate their wrists without looking too girly.
Rolex is the absolute top of the line when it comes to luxury watches, and it's the largest watchmaker in Switzerland (if not the world). While fashion mavens coo over their $50,000 gem-encrusted watches, they pay less attention to the fact that Rolex makes a wide variety of luxury watches, from some of the most expensive in the world to some that are almost affordable for the common man. They sell every watch they make (some 800,000 a year), and deserve their success; since their beginnings in 1905, they've practically invented the wristwatch, and have introduced innovations ranging from waterproof design to self-winding mechanisms.
If Rolex isn't to your taste, them you have the option of fine watches by Cartier, Bulgari, Bulova, Breitling, Chopard...well, you get the picture. Today, most of the prime luxury watchmakers are Swiss. However, the Americas are not entirely left out; in late 2004, a company called Montres Allison announced that it would be producing luxury watches in Colorado, made with American parts and workmanship and displayed in fine cases made from aspen wood -- a perfect choice for Colorado.