Famous Historical Watches

A watch, by its purest definition, is a portable timepiece worn on the wrist. It can also be either attached to a peripheral lanyard for placing in one’s pocket or worn around one’s neck. From the 15th century onwards, watches evolved from spring powered mechanical models to devices using quartz vibrations and electronic pulses for measuring time.

Uses Through the Ages

Throughout the years, watches have been adapted for many uses in the Western world. Even the most common type of watch, the wristwatch, didn’t become quite so popular until the early 1900s. This was the point where men of World War 1 used the watches more due to them being more convenient and user-friendly than pocket watches.

Evolution of the Watch

As the 1900s went on, many watch manufacturers continued to develop the wristwatch device so that it could take on new forms and purposes within a rapidly-changing world. By the 1950s, watches had become luxury items for the rich and famous, a coveted commodity to those who desired it. The same decade also saw a bevy of famous watch owners, including the likes of James Dean, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Buzz Aldrin.

A Historical Item

This phenomenon wasn’t just evident within the 1950s—even from the 16th century, watches worn by United States Presidents and other historical figures became a part of historical watch canon.

For example, the watch used by Benjamin Franklin is known for its notoriety. It was passed through the Folgers family and was an 18-carat gold pocket watch that exchanged hands throughout the 1700s and 1800s. The last known owner was James Athern Folger, the founder of Folgers Coffee Company.

Tomas Jefferson’s Gold Pocket Watch

Thomas Jefferson was another owner of a famous gold pocket watch. This watch was inscribed with a dedication to his wife Martha Jefferson and contained a locket of her hair.

The Watch Without an Owner

The gold Marie Antoinette Breguet pocket watch became famous based on the fact that it never reached its proposed owner. The watch was commissioned for Marie Antoinette in 1793, taking over 40 years to complete, well after her death.

The Anonymous Watch

A pendant watch hailing from Augsburg, Germany is believed to be from the late sixteenth century.  It was powered through a very primitive system, which regulated driving force through a spring-loaded mechanism rather than the more modern chain system. We don’t know who the watch belonged to or who made it, but we can view it in the Watch Museum at Le Locle, Château des Monts.

The watch is a good example of the earliest portable horology, especially when you consider the lack of industrial tools for the tiny components back then. The watch itself is such a wonder that the story behind it is probably more impressive than the timepiece itself.

We can see that the structure for the watch comprises of a sundial and a single hand. There was also a compass so that the watch can easily be reset. This construction wasn’t changed until the spiral balance-spring was invented in 1674 by the mathematician Charitan Huygens.

The John Harrison H4 Marine Chronometer

John Harrison was an artisan-carpenter, known for developing large wooden clocks in the longcase style. Eventually, he hit upon the innovation of a carriage watch. This was an accurate timepiece that promised to take the nation by the storm. In fact, the watch gave rise to a competitive revolution in clockmaking industry. This was mainly due to the fact that it was probably the first timepiece to give such an accurate performance even when the wearer was in the middle of the sea.

The Leroy 01 pocket-watch

In 1900, this pocket watch was presented at the World Fair in Paris. It was launched when the Industrial Revolution was at its height, with watchmakers complicating things more than necessary. At this point in history, the elite classes were in a very serious competition to outdo one another. This was done with the blatant display of their wealth and success. naturally, watches were right there in the midst of this rivalry.

This was also the time when watches started becoming less of a mere timepiece and became more like symbols of power and wealth. Hence, people wanted more and more horological complication inside one portable case. The Leroy 01 was the first in this game, with a 71-mm diameter that included several contraptions along with a time-keeping device. It hence included the display of times in 125 cities, interchangeable sky maps, an altimeter, a barometer, and numerous other features.

Rolex Oyster from 1927

Rolex is a  company that’s started from a small family business to a huge global brand that’s recognized the world over. While the watches are fashion statements in themselves, they’re also known for their excellent accuracy and performance. During the First World War, the company had to deal with issues related to accuracy and reliability. Hostile situations during the war made this issue all the more urgent

With the first Oyster watch, Rolex finally managed to present a reliable solution. Their marketing campaign included getting Mercedes Gleitz to wear the watch during that historic swim across the Channel, and the rest is history.


For today’s generation, the electronic watch with quartz movements remains an inexpensive option for many. The most expensive and luxurious types are typically designed for the purpose of the workmanship and design of the device.

Luxury watches are also rather archaic in nature—these watches use mechanical movements powered by springs, apart from electronic movements, and stand even less accurate than modern electronic watches. The rise of the watch as a famous luxury item is thanks to these historical figures owning these types of watches in their lifetime.

With the advent of cell phones, we can only predict that future of watches will focus almost entirely on the luxury and fashion they symbolize. We have several options when it comes to telling time, but you can’t wear an iPhone with quite the same fashionable flair as a high-end wristwatch.