A watch, in its purest definition, is a portable timepiece worn on the wrist. It’s also either attached to a peripheral lanyard for the placement in one’s pocket or worn around one’s neck. From the 15th century on, watches evolved from spring powered mechanical models to devices using quartz vibrations and electronic pulses to measure time.
Throughout the years, watches have been adapted for many uses in the Western world. Even the most common type of watch, the wrist watch, didn’t become as popular until the early 1900s, where men of World War 1 used the watches more often as they became more convenient than pocket watches.
As the 1900s went on, many watch manufacturers continued to evolve the device to take on new forms and purposes within the developing world. By the 1950s, watches had become luxury items to the rich and famous, an oft sought out commodity to those who desired it. The decade saw to a bevy of famous watch owners, including the likes of James Dean, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Buzz Aldrin.
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, as it was passed through the Folgers family. It was an 18 carat gold pocket watch that exchanged hands from its original owner throughout the 1700s and 1800s. The last known owner was James Athern Folger, the founder of Folgers Coffee Company.
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 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.
For today’s generation, the electronic watch with quartz movements remains an inexpensive option for many. The most expensive and luxurious type? These watches 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. One has to think the future of watches with the advent of cell phones will focus almost entirely luxury and fashion. Knowing the current time can be found anywhere – but you can’t wear an iPhone with high fashion.