Last weekend I lost my favorite wristwatch. I’d noticed earlier that the band was beginning to show signs of wear and had planned to take care of it ‘soon’, but like most other things in my life these days, I put it off until it was too late. I do have other watches, several in fact. I collect ones that reflect different aspects of my mood and personality. I have one with a dragonfly on it and one that is for ‘dress up’ occasions and one that is very bold and colorful for when I’m in a fun mood. But, while this particular watch was not an especially showy or expensive piece, it did have a lot of sentimental value and was the one I wore most often. My mom gave it to me as a Christmas gift about eighteen years ago and I have treasured it ever since.
As luck would have it, I was about 300 miles from my home when I discovered my watch had gone missing. Since I’m lost as a goose without a watch, I immediately rushed out to the nearest department store and picked up a replacement. And because this has become such an indispensible accessory for me, it got me to wondering about just when folks started wearing timepieces on their wrist. I did a bit of research and it turns out that, historically speaking, wristwatches have not been in general use for all that long.
While there are some examples as early as 1500, and Queen Elizabeth I was supposedly given one as a special gift, they were few and far between and were specially commissioned pieces most often for royalty until the mid to late nineteenth century.
Even then men still clung to their pocket watches, viewing wristlets, as they were called at that time, as a feminine and somewhat faddish adornment. In fact, men were quoted as saying they would “sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch”.
The established watch making community was partly to blame for this. They looked down on them as inferior timepieces. Because of their size, few believed they could achieve an acceptable level of accuracy and the vast majority of those being produced were made as decorative pieces with delicate fixed wire or chain link bracelets.
That began to change when soldiers discovered how useful wristwatches could be in battle situations. Military men found pocket watches difficult to handle while engaged in physical combat and began to fit them into makeshift leather straps to wear on their wrists. Not only did this leave their hands free for other things, but being able to check the time at a glance instead of having to dig through pockets gave soldiers a strategic advantage over those less well equipped, especially when synchronization of activities was critical.
Officers in the South African Boer war (1899-1902) were among the first to use wristwatches extensively and the veterans were not afraid to sing their praises both during and after. By World War I, the military not only encouraged the use of wristwatches but began to demand them for the soldiers.
By the 1920s, wristwatches had become the most popular type of personal timepiece among both men and women. Rolex is credited with creating the first water resistant watch, a model of which was worn in 1927 by a female channel swimmer. Both Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh wore wristwatches for their celebrated transatlantic flights. Today, wristwatches have become as much a symbol of status and style as a utilitarian instrument to tell time.
As for my own lost wristwatch, I still cling to the hope that I’ll find it wedged down in some nook or cranny in my car or purse or some such. In the meantime, I’ll use one of the others I own.
So what about you? Do you select your watch(es) for their function, or do you look for one that reflects something of your style and personality?
And just a quick note – To celebrate my very first day at Wildflower junction as an official filly I’d like to give away a signed copy of my March release, The Hand-Me-Down Family (or one of my backlist if you prefer). I’ll be drawing a name of one poster sometime Monday evening.