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A timeline of the evolution of watches

 From Sundials to SMART WATCHES

Tracking Time Using The Sun

History of keeping time based on the Sun's position goes back to at least 2000 BC. But the disadvantages were that it didn't work inside, at night, or when it was cloudy. Earliest types of clocks also included water clocks, candle clocks and hourglasses.

First Modern-Day Watch Invented

The first modern-day watch was made in 1510 by German locksmith Peter Henlein. These watches, which only had an hour hand, were inaccurate by several hours per day. They were worn by nobility more as a status symbol.


Lantern Clocks

The earliest clocks to appear widely in private homes were lantern clocks. They originated around the 1500s, but only became common after 1600. An original lantern clock has a balance wheel and two weights - one for going and one for striking. They were designed to be fixed on a wall, as high as possible to maximise the drop of weights.

Pendulum Clocks

Precision timekeeping began in the mid-17th century. At the start of the century, Galileo Galilei discovered a property called isochronism about pendulums. He started to design a pendulum clock, which his son began to assemble, but neither lived to complete it.

The first pendulum clock was made by Dutch inventor Christiaan Huygens.


Accuracy of Watches Improved

In 1657, balance spring was invented independently by Christiaan Huygens and Robert Hooke. This improved the accuracy of the watches greatly, leaving only 10 minutes of error time per day


The Era of Pocket Watches

In the 1670s, Charles II of England introduced waistcoats. Watches at this time were reshaped similar to the style of pocket watches which could be easily carried around.


Longcase Clocks

An average longcase clock is accurate to about 10 seconds per day. Until quartz clocks were developed, they were the most accurate timekeepers. The step change in accuracy meant that around 1690, minute hands were added to longcase clocks.


Electric Clocks

Inventors started making clocks with primitive batteries as early as 1815, and around 1840 several inventors independently came up with clocks powered by electric current.


Quartz Clocks

The first quartz clock was built in 1927 at Bell Labs. For the next 40 years, quartz clocks remained confined to laboratories. The first domestic quartz clocks came out in the late 1960s, closely followed by the first quartz wristwatch, the Seiko Astron.

A standard quartz clock or watch has an accuracy of around half a second per day.


Atomic Clocks

Atoms themselves have an oscillation pattern, not unlike that of a balance wheel on a spring. Atomic clocks were another step change in accuracy, later versions achieving one second in a million years and beyond.

Digital Watches And Smartwatches

Mechanical digital watches appeared in the late 19th century. Early digital watches used red LED displays and that technology was then replaced by Liquid Crystal Displays. Later, digital watches were developed that could connect to your computer. These were primitive versions of what would develop into the smartwatch.

Today, a smartwatch can do almost everything a smartphone can do and time keeping is one of its least impressive features.

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