The little history of watchmaking

Much more than know-how, watchmaking is a true art . If you are passionate and the words “ barrel ”, “ manual winding ” and “ cogs ” sound familiar to you, there is a very good chance that this article may interest you.

Hold on to your seat belts, we're going to take a gentle dive into the beginnings of watchmaking .

Summary :

Time zone and solar energy: the first measurements of time

Man and Time is a story that is not new. How many of us dream of unraveling the secrets of this mystery , sometimes of reassembling it, sometimes of succeeding it, whatever the cost.

Inescapable and yet, neither palpable nor truly visible, its effects are nevertheless indisputable. As our skin wrinkles and our hair turns white, we are forced to realize that time is passing .

Watchmakers and inventors, let's see how they made one of the mechanisms of life more perceptible.

It will probably not surprise anyone if I tell you that it all begins in ancient Egypt , around the 15th century BC. And that it is precisely there that we have to go back to find a trace of the very first sundial . This incredible instrument, remarkably crafted and which makes it possible to make the flow of the day legible by following the celestial path of the stars.

After Man became infatuated with this strange idea of ​​mastering the uncontrollable Time, he began to design new mechanisms, ever more advanced and more and more precise , to indicate the progress of the day and of the night.

It was not always easy to wait for the Sun, in addition to warming bodies, to come out and bring its light to our sundials in order to have a more concrete idea of ​​the time it was. could be.

So, other objects, such as the clepsydra , also called a water clock , have made it possible to measure time very precisely over short periods of time without having to rely on solar energy.

From dials to clocks

Even if we now know that at the zenith of the sun, it is noon, Men were forced to note that as ingenious as these mechanisms are, they remain limited since they are totally dependent either on the energy of the solar star, or the measurement of small durations, and not of Time in its absolute.

The 14th century marks the beginning, with medieval Europe, of fine watchmaking and the invention of timepieces and tocantes. With it, the invention and then the installation of the first astronomical clocks .

A real little revolution, in addition to being informed about the schedules of our days (and often events linked to life in society) we can also estimate the time they last. This is the birth of a mechanical vision of the solar system , inspired by Ptolemy's model.

Following this, French, then Swiss, artisans sought to develop these systems and reduce them in order to fit them on the tables of high society. The medieval clock will quickly become a prestigious timepiece , as refined as it is practical, exhibited more as a symbol of wealth and power than as a true keeper of time.

The miniaturization of medieval clocks gave rise to smaller mechanisms. Complication timepieces and pocket watches then appeared.

Sumptuous models designed to seduce the royal courts quickly made master watchmakers famous.

At this precise moment, in a whirlwind of creativity and ingenuity, the history of watchmaking becomes the history of watches .

From the Renaissance to the dawn of the modern world

The Renaissance represents the culmination of this movement. Clocks were transformed into watches and these were quickly adopted, as they were so practical to transport.

The Renaissance also marks the gradual shift in the center of gravity of European watchmaking. From France, thanks to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the most brilliant watchmaking artisans fled to Switzerland or England . Geneva and London then became the capitals of prestigious and precision watchmaking.

Without the appetite of European courts for marine clocks , the history of watchmaking would not have been the same.

In the 17th century, the world was in turmoil and the first great explorers set out to discover it. All navigators of the time were clear: maritime travel would be much easier if it were possible to calculate their longitude at any time.

Motivated by the idea of ​​national recognition (and by the prospect of a bonus awarded by the King), the best minds of the time set out to imagine and produce a perfect marine clock . It is the start of a race for mechanical precision that will never stop.

In the 19th century, like many sectors where invention combines with commerce, a real watchmaking industry was born. Mechanization of work, machine tools, distribution of work and assembly line work, Europe is industrializing the measurement of time and this will no longer rely solely on the know-how of artisans and manufacturing.

The history of watches and their development since the 20th century

The appearance of the wristwatch indicates the entry into the 20th century. The pocket watch, a faithful jewel of the elegant and wealthy classes, is gradually being replaced by objects that attach around the wrist.

From now on, the tocante is worn as a bracelet and never leaves our wrists. Racing drivers, airplane pilots and modern-day explorers now monitor the passing of time thanks to the small dial and the second hands attached to the arm.

If until then the quest for Time had always retained an artisanal particularity, the 20th century saw the appearance of Japanese industry which presented the first model of quartz watch . The concept of watchmaking as a craft is then called into question.

Now manufactured on an assembly line by machines, the art of producing mechanical watches and its workings is slowly giving way to the quartz watches and electronic watches that we know today.

A reduced price and a new mechanism are attractive.

This will allow as many people as possible to acquire a watch. Inevitably, Switzerland plunged into the quartz crisis in the 1970s .

Today, the technological revolution has given rise to digital watchmaking. For many, time is only given by smartphones and computer screens.

Many of our peers, unless they are enthusiasts, will probably never hear of pendulums, balance wheels, calibers or even winders and even less of escapements and comtoises.

From now on, watchmaking is connected . Power reserves and complications have given way to digital technology, waterproof watches and the chronograph has become a stopwatch. The clepsydra has become a timer.

Precision watchmaking is no more and there is no longer any need for a mechanic. However, all watches require a little servicing from time to time. Fortunately, the watchmaking profession is not yet doomed to disappear .

Despite everything, all is not lost. Some die-hards still see incredible magic in this ancestral art and cannot bring themselves to let themselves be caught up in time and its evolutions, thus forgetting the image of their grandfather winding the clock and its hands.

Watches of all kinds appeared. In leather, gold and even steel. Men's watch, women's watch, Swiss made or made in Japan, there is something for everyone.

Watchmaking has therefore undergone numerous evolutions and revolutions . And she still has many good years ahead of her.

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