Watches: The Most Useful Jewelry Ever

It's doubtful that any form of jewelry has ever proven more useful than the watch. With clocks, we took control of time, chopping it into increments to help us become more efficient, more prompt, and more cognizant of time's value. However, whereas clocks were merely tools, no matter how elaborate, watches became valuable as jewelry soon after their introduction in the 1500s. They soon took their place as a type self-decoration that we elaborated into lovely forms, as fetching as any other type of jewelry we ornamented ourselves with.

A German locksmith named Peter Henlein created the first true watch in 1524. In that era, only locksmiths had tools fine enough to create and maintain the delicate inner workings required for watches to be even remotely accurate. Henlein's watch was built into a gilded musk apple, and he invented a special coiled-spring drive for it, since there wasn't room for the ordinary pendulum and escapements of a full-sized clock. With certain modifications, Henlein's design is the one we still use in windable watches today.

Pockets or wrists?

The first personal watches were pocket watches, and some of them were real jewels of watch design -- literally. Although the Swiss quickly became famous for their wondrously accurate watch mechanisms, the British successfully experimented with using tiny jewels as watch bearings. This was known as jewelling, and remained a British specialty for more than a century.

It wasn't until the 20th century that wristwatches became popular, following their invention in 1904 by Louis-François Cartier (you may recognize the name as that of one of the top luxury jewelry and wristwatch companies in the world). Since then, they've been extrapolated in all directions. Some, like the trendy and fabulous Rolex, are as much jewelry as watch, whereas some models have damped down any decorative impulses to become featureless chronometers, useful for little more but the telling of the time.

Weird watches

Today you can get watches, wrist- and otherwise, that carry any number of gadgets. Some let you keep track of your blood sugar, a great feature for diabetics; others include onboard scientific calculators. Or would you prefer to watch television on your wristwatch? You can do that too, though of course the picture would be really tiny and hard to see. How about typing on your PDA -- or would you prefer to check your email? Computer watches have been around for 20 years, though if you were interested in running Linux on your watches, you were out of luck until about 5 years ago. Thanks to IBM, however, that's no longer a problem.

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