Stories about the history of watches

The best watch book

When I first became interested in watches and watchmaking, I started looking for books about watches, especially traditional timepieces like manual winding and automatic watches, and their history. So, I realized that there were mainly two types of books: on one end, many technical watch repair books, and on the other, books displaying beautiful photographs – coffee table books- but mostly devoid of any technical aspect. Therefore, those ones were not really useful books for people who knew little about watchmaking, and approached for the first time to this extraordinary world. Many people, in fact, are passionate about watches, but do not have much knowledge in the field. So, I asked myself: what if I wrote it?

At that point, I started to ask myself some questions. First question: what, primarily, does a person who starts to get interested in watches and clocks want to know? So, I began to rearrange what watchmaking consists of.

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History of watches

1) History. To delve into the history of the clock, I started with the history of time measurement. Initially, people measured the passage of time with the sundial, an instrument that merely recorded the sun’s position. For years, the sundial, on the wall or on the ground, was the only means of calculating the passing of time. The first clocks, properly so called, date back to the thirteenth/fourteenth century and were highly inaccurate and wall clocks. The first pendulum clocks date from the mid-17th century, and were also the first clocks to measure time accurately. In fact, pendulum clocks were accurate to the second. After pendulum clocks, came the first pocket watches and then the first wristwatches, in the first half of the 20th century.

Read also: Why is Rafa Nadal’s watch so expensive? 

Horology and manufactures

However, the history of the clock is not only a history of mechanisms and calibers. Straddling the line between instrument and jewel, the watch also has an essential history in its manufacture. British watchmaking, for example, experienced a period of glory between the mid-17th century and the end of the 18th. Meanwhile, in about the middle of the 1700s, Lépine invented calibers, a revolution in watchmaking. Other important milestones in watchmaking include the discoveries of Abraham-Louis Breguet, a legendary figure in watchmaking history, like the automatic watch, the anti shock system, the tourbillon. In addition to patenting the tourbillon, Breguet founded in 1775 the famous Breguet watch manufactory, still in business today.

The history of watchmaking, told in the book The Watch Manual, the best book on watches, continues with the birth of mass-produced watches and the passage from the pocket watch to the wristwatch. An iconic watch among wristwatches is the Santos, made by Cartier in 1904 for aviator Alberto de Santos Dumont, who wanted a watch to view in flight easily.

 

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Cartier Santos 100

Contemporary icons in watches

The Bauhaus also produced several watches that would become icons, especially those designed by Max Bill, and the Reverso, produced by Jaeger-Le Coultre. It was the prelude to the “golden age of watchmaking,” just after World War II. The star of that period was Gerald Genta, one of the most famous watch designers, who designed several icons and founded his own manufacture.

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Gerald Genta

Read also: Gerald Genta, a true icon

The quartz watches

The golden age of watchmaking ended with the arrival of quartz, which seemed to have permanently flattened the market for mechanical watches. On the contrary, in recent years, the mechanical watch has been experiencing a new life. With the arrival of smartphones and smartwatches, the mechanical watch gained a new status, which brings it closer to jewelry, rather than a simple device to tell the time. And that’s why more and more enthusiasts, even very young people, are getting into watches and watchmaking. And that’s why I had the idea to write a book about the noble art of horology, which many readers consider the best watch book.

2) The best watch book to learn the Types of Watches

One thing that may be of interest to those approaching the world of watchmaking for the first time, is to learn more about what types of watches exist. In fact, it is not enough to say “watch.” Watches can be grouped by styles, so that we will have pocket watches, ceremony watches, or even watches for different occasions, for example grand evening or wedding. Then, the book The Watch Manual delves into the different types of watches, depending on the uses. For example, it illustrates chronographs, diving watches, regulators, antimagnetic watches, pilot’s watches, trench and military watches, and military watches. But that’s not all: a chapter is dedicated to calendars, a chapter to chronometers, then to ultra-thin watches, and skeletonized timepieces. Then, there is an in-depth look at tourbillons, carousels and open hearts, and exotic automations and complications.

Read also: Are watches jewelry?

3) Watch elements

In a best watch book, you cannot miss a section dedicated to the elements of which a watch is composed. In fact, to really understand what we’re talking about when we consider the elements of a watch, you need to know the exact definitions of the pieces that make it up. This is a technical section, in which we analyze dials and hands, cases and materials, and the special crystals for watches. The chapter then delves into straps and bracelets, the various finishes and decorations, and the marks and inscriptions that you find in the typical watch.

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4) How do watches work?

Knowledge of a watch starts with the understanding of how it works. For this reason, the best watch book devotes an entire section to understand how a watch works. First, it explores the difference between a mechanical watch and a quartz watch by studying their mechanisms. Then it looks at what elements make a watch work: mainspring, wheels, balance wheel, the jewels, the escapement. Then you analyze the anti-shock systems, and methods for winding, for manual and automatic watches. Finally, you delve into how watches have evolved, from the first wristwatches to smartwatches.

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Watches and style

5) The section of the best watch book dedicated to style lovers tackles the great debate of our day: do watches follow fashion? Or again: are watches jewelry? Of course, there is no answer, everyone looks at watches the way they prefer. However, it is essential to know the style and styles, choose the right watch for each kind of attire, and, of course, for each occasion. For example: what is the appropriate size for a wristwatch? How big should the dial be in relation to the wrist? What should the strap look like? Does it have to fit the clothing? And then: how to choose a watch? What are the rules? A watch lover generally passes seven phases, and The Watch Manual explains what they are.

How to build a watches collections

When approaching watches, in the beginning, it’s not easy to find your way around brands and models, in a world that seems virtually endless. If you want to start a watch collection, it’s good to get acquainted with the ten watches that made modern watchmaking history. Then, it would help if you considered how many pieces a minimum watch collection should/could contain. This section of the best book for watch collectors helps to deepen the motivations of a collection, therefore choosing how to invest in the models that best suit the collector’s preferences.

Read also Gerald Genta, the ultimate watch designer

Essential collectible watches

Choosing the best watches to buy, in fact, is neither trivial nor straightforward. First of all, you have to learn to know them. And for this, you need to read, inform and study, and keep constantly updated. Collectible watches can be new, second-hand, vintage, historical. The Watch Manual, the best book on watches, helps to know and distinguish watches based on their origin. The origin and provenance of a watch help to determine the value. Once purchased, it is necessary to maintain them in operation by taking care of them, keeping them constantly in order.

The things to know, check, and control when buying a vintage, second hand or historical watch are different. For example, you need to know how to date correctly the watch, learn how to verify the origin. Or, be prepared for any problem, and know how to intervene with repairs.  In addition, in today’s world, you need to take some precautions when buying watches online. The Watch Manual offers some advice on not taking too many risks when buying a watch online.

A person approaching the world of watches for the first time, sometimes feels a bit uncomfortable asking for things that seem obvious. The Watch Manual was created precisely to answer all the questions of newcomers, even those that seem more straightforward.

Discover more on Thetruthaboutwatches.com

The best watch book for practical infos

6) The best watch book, unlike coffee books, offers practical info. Do you want to start a watch production? The Watch Manual contains some guidance on watch production. Where are the most important brands, how to start production, and how to create a brand, through examples of real case histories.

7) Finally, in a genuinely good best watch book, you cannot miss the icons of watchmaking, from designers to the most beloved and established brands. The book contains descriptions and a brief history of 65 of the most famous watch brands:

Audemars Piguet – Baume Mercier – Bell & Ross – Blancpain – Breguet – Breitling – Bulgari – Bulova – Cartier – Casio – Certina – Chopard – Citizen – Corum – Doxa – Ebel – Eberhard – Edox – Eterna – Fortis – FP Journe – Franck Muller – Frederique Constant – Girard Perregaux – Glycine – Hamilton – Hublot – Invicta – IWC – Jaeger Le Coultre – Jaquet Droz – Lange & Sohne – Longines – Louis Erard – Maurice Lacroix – Mido – Montblanc – Movado – Nomos – Omega – Orient – Original Glashutte – Oris – Panerai – Patek Philippe – Piaget – Rado – Raymond Weil – Richard Mille – Roger Dubuis – Rolex – Seiko – Sinn – Squale – Swatch – Tag Heuer – Tissot – Tudor – Ulysse Nardin – Universal Geneve – Vacheron Constantin – Vulcain – Wyler Vetta – Zenith – Zodiac

And at the end of all, the test to choose your ideal watch.

Download an extract of 8 chapters for FREE!!

Chapter 1

History of watchmaking

1.0 – Introduction and history
1.1 – Measuring time: the beginning
1.2 – The evolution of time-keeping: days, hours and the first clocks
1.3 – Peter Henlein and the invention of the first portable clocks
1.4 – The rise and fall of British watchmaking
1.5 – Lépine and the revolution of calibers
1.6 – The genius of Bréguet
1.7 – Watches and serial production: the rebels of watchmaking
1.8 – Pocket watches go to the wrist
1.9 – Louis Cartier and the Santos
1.10 – The Bauhaus and Max Bill
1.11 – The Golden Age of horology
1.12 – Gerald Genta
1.13 – The Quartz Crisis
1.14 – The recovery of the watch market
1.15 – Horology today: the trends

Chapter 2

Technique: how watches work

2.0 – How watches work
2.1 – How a mechanical watch works
2.1.1 – Mainspring and barrel
2.1.2 – Jewels
2.1.3 – Escapement
2.1.4 – Balance wheel
2.1.5 – Shock-absorbing systems
2.1.6 – Winding: manual and automatic watches
2.2 – Electromechanical watches
2.3 – How a quartz watch works
2.4 – Modern evolution in watches

Chapter 3

Watch elements

3.0 – Watch elements, techniques and definitions
3.1 – Dials and hands
3.2 – Cases and materials
3.3 – Watch crystals
3.4 – Wristbands and bracelets
3.5 – Finishings and decoration
3.6 – Marks, brands, reference numbers
3.7 – What does Swiss Made mean

Chapter 4

Watch types

4.0 – Movements and complications
4.1 – Pocket watches
4.2 – Dress watches
4.3 – Marriage watches
4.4 – Chronometers
4.5 – Diver watches
4.6 – Antimagnetic watches
4.7 – Regulateurs
4.8 – Pilots watches and fliegers
4.9 – Trench and military watches
4.10 – Complicated watches
4.10.1 – Calendars
4.10.2 – Chronographs1
4.10.3 – GMT and world timers
4.10.4 – Chime repeaters, sonneries and alarm watches
4.10.5 – Tourbillons, carousels and open-hearts
4.10.6 – Automates and exotic complications
4.10.7 – Ultra-thin watches
4.10.8 – Skeletonized watches

Chapter 5

Style and manners

5.0 – Style and manners: the Seven Phases
5.1 – The great debate: fashion watches
5.2 – Ladies’ watches
5.3 – Watch etiquette
5.4 – Sizing a watch on the wrist
5.5 – Is a watch an investment?
5.6 – The aspiring collector
5.7 – How to create a collection
5.8 – The six-watch collection
5.9 – Ten watches you need to know

Chapter 6

Buying. selling, servicing watches

6.0 – Knowing, buying and taking care of watches
6.1 – New watches and the waiting list
6.2 – Second-wrist, vintage and historical watches
6.3 – Haute horlogerie
6.4 – The shady world: homages, frankens and replicas
6.5 – Watch modding
6.6 – Refurbishing a watch
6.7 – Servicing a watch
6.8 – Buying and selling watches
6.8.1 – Dating the watch
6.8.2 – Checking a broken watch: the common problems
6.8.3 – The quick checklist of watch quality
6.8.4 – Buying a watch online
6.8.5 – Taking care of your watches
6.8.6 – Water resistance, dos and don’ts

Chapter 7

Making watches

7.0 – Modern watch manufacturing
7.1 – Creating a new brand: the trends of the industry
7.2 – Watch manufacturing case histories
7.3 – Crowdsourcing and its characteristics
7.4 – The big events in horology

Chapter 8

Icons of horology

8.0 – Icons of horology
8.1 – People
8.2 – Brands
Audemars Piguet – Baume Mercier – Bell & Ross – Blancpain – Breguet – Breitling – Bulgari – Bulova – Cartier – Casio – Certina – Chopard – Citizen – Corum  – Doxa – Ebel – Eberhard – Edox – Eterna – Fortis – FP Journe – Franck Muller – Frederique Constant – Girard Perregaux – Glycine – Hamilton  – Hublot – Invicta – IWC – Jaeger Le Coultre – Jaquet Droz – Lange & Sohne – Longines – Louis Erard – Maurice Lacroix – Mido – Montblanc – Movado – Nomos – Omega – Orient – Original Glashutte – Oris – Panerai – Patek Philippe – Piaget – Rado – Raymond Weil – Richard Mille – Roger Dubuis – Rolex – Seiko – Sinn – Squale – Swatch – Tag Heuer – Tissot – Tudor – Ulysse Nardin – Universal Geneve – Vacheron Constantin – Vulcain – Wyler Vetta – Zenith – Zodiac

Chapter 9

Resources

9.0 – Practical resources
9.1 – Notes on watch servicing
9.2 – Tools and supplies
9.3 – References and bibliography
9.4 – Glossary
9.5 – Test: find your ideal watch

Still not sure? Please, download an extract of 8 chapters for FREE!!!

Watches have always represented objects of social signifiance, from their very start

Whatever you do, a smart-anything that you buy today will be obsolete in a couple years, and will be tossed in the bin, replaced by the new, improved version. A watch will never become obsolete, because it already is, so you will not toss it in the bin – unless it is a smartwatch, that is.

This means that whoever buys a watch, does not buy it for its function as a timekeeper. Watches have always represented objects of social signifiance, from their very start.

The first, horrendously imprecise, watches were styled to be worn attached to a chain hanged on the neck of the wearer, so other people could see that they owned a watch.

Through the 1600s and 1700s, the official portraits of gentlemen and ladies showed them toying with their watch or clock. Would you have posed for your official portrait showing something that was not precious to you?

Of course not.

Discover why Rafa Nadal watch is so expensive

History suggests this fact to us: we should only listen to it.

Jewels in watches: what are they and why are important

The first popular watches

One of the biggest revolutions of the modern times was the Roskopf watch – also known as The Proletarian Watch, named so by its maker, Georg Friedrich Roskopf. Finally, the luxury of owning a watch – and the social status of owning one – was open to everyone.

This watch was the ultimate social leveler. And showed to the commoners that they too could own something that was previously reserved for the upper class.

So, you really think that watch companies would really cry wolf for the emergence of next-to-be-obsolete smart devices? The stats of the industry tell us that the emergence of the smartwatches have influenced the watch industry in the lower and middle end, eroding some space and contribuing to the polarizing of the watch business. As of today, the world of watches is divided between low-end and high-end. The middle end, where smartwatches dwell, is becoming more and more like a battlefield, where continuing competitors enter, and few remain.

A watch is not a commodity

And for what? The watch market has recovered the COVID crisis, and has now reached the stats it had in 2019. The Swiss industry – which is composed by high-end manufacturers – is selling less units, but the total turnout has leveled up with the score of 2019. This means that the manufactured watches are more costly ones: check this graph showing the best watch markets for Swiss exports.

And this is precisely the point. A watch is more and more everything but a commodity, but lots of people just keep on ignoring this simple fact.

It is not the concept of time that fascinates watch lovers, but the concept of measuring it with a stylish obsolete mechanical tool that looks awesome on their wrists and derives from a tradition that spans 500 years.

I do not exclude that some people are fascinated by the concept of time. But the main modern explanation of wearing a luxury waych (which, to remind to my readers, is NOT the same as saying a precious watch) is the pleasure that you get by wearing it.

But it wasn’t always like this. The conquest of time – and the possibility of checking it – was a social issue. From the beginnings of horology, only the rich had access to the measurement of time. The social importance of a man was testimonied by his watch. If you had a watch, you were considered a gentleman. A watch back then was a status symbol, and only the affluent could afford to buy one.

Discover why the best watchmakers are from Switzerland

Watches as art masterpieces

You can see the precious craftsmanship in this watch by Caron, a French watchmaker who was the master of the famous Lépine, around 1750. Watches back then were truly art masterpieces.

The majority of people could not afford to buy a watch, as it was too expensive, so they depended from public clocks or the clocks installed in their places of work.

You can see a macro above with a detail of the pin pallet escapement. You can see one of the two pins used in this escapement.

It was so simple and revolutionary that the whole of Swiss industry boycotted Roskopf and his watch, refusing to work for him. He finally found some companies in France which agreed to produce a fist batch of watches for him.

He deposited and trademarked his watch, and started to manufacture it – and sold an incredible amount of watches. Finally common people could achieve their dream of buying a watch.

The first precious watches

These first Roskopf watches were not as precise as the traditional ones, but they had the merit of being affordable and good-looking. The watch face was often decorated, and the manufacturers used alloys for the cases which looked like silver (of the most common was called Argentan, or German Silver), so people started to wear their watches and “increase” in social status.

The switch to having multiple timepieces came later, when watches started to migrate to the wrist and became truly industrialized, so it has become more a commodity than a status symbol.

However, a fine watch of today retains the characteristics of exclusivity that make timepieces so relevant – and carries all the weight of this technological evolution that has rendered the possibility of checking the time so widespread that it has become difficult to understand how important it really is.

I am explaining in more detail the evolution of watches and watchmaking in my book, The Watch Manual – so if you are interested in getting to know more about this topic, please take a look.

Please, download an extract of 8 chapters free

When the first watch was invented?

Watches have been invented around 1500 in Central Europe, and they derived from sundials.

In the northern hemisphere, where horology originated, the shadow from the gnomon of a sundial seems to move clockwise during the day – so ancient clockmakers adapted this concept to visualize the passing of time on the clock face.

If watchmaking had been invented in Australia, we’d be using counter clockwise analog watches by now. Choosing one direction or another is not a question of doing something right or wrong: it’s establishing a convention, a standard – like driving on the right (ok, this is something we are still working with currently – in most of Europe and the US you drive on the right, while in the UK and former parts of the Commonwealth like Hong Kong you drive on the left. And my Indian friends joke that the traffic there is so chaotic that they drive wherever they can).

Read also Watch precision and their development in time

The first watches: not really accurate

As a note, when watches were invented, the world still used variable hours to track the passing of time during the day and the night – but no-one, except astronomers, really cared much about that, as most clocks were so inaccurate that a mistake by a couple hours was pretty common.

One of the most precise was the Astrarium clock by Giovanni da Dondi, made around 1385, which had a hour hand and could track the minutes in groups of tens – but as the name implies, it was an astronomical clock, so its use was mainly for scientific purposes, showing the positions of the planets.

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Astrarium clock by Giovanni da Dondi, ca. 1385

Clocks started to become much more precise after the development of the hairspring by Hooke and Huygens, around 1650 – and by that time, hours had become “fixed”, so measurable by a precise tracking instrument like a clock.

1740: the cuckoo clock

The very first German cuckoo clock was made in the village of Schonwald by an inventive German clockmaker by the name of Franz Anton Ketterer. The clocks before him featured elaborate moving features including dancers, a skeleton which turned over an hourglass each hour and even a cow being struck by a butcher’s ax.

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One of the first cuckoo clock, made in the Black Forest, ca. 1760

In the late 17th clocks with long cases were made. In 1876 a man named Henry Clay Work wrote a song called My Grandfathers Clock and in the early 20th century they became known as Grandfather clocks. Meanwhile the cuckoo clock was invented c. 1775. The stopwatch was invented in 1776 and the electric clock was invented in 1840. The quartz crystal clock was invented in 1929 and the atomic clock was invented in 1955.

In Britain each town had its own time and it was not standardized until the 1840s with the coming of the railways. International time zones including Greenwich Meantime were formed in 1884.

Watches were very bulky until c.1675 when the spiral hairspring was invented and modern pocket watches evolved.

The electric watch was introduced in 1957 and the quartz crystal watch was introduced in 1967.

Read also Watch precision and their development in time

The watch precision has developed tremendously in time

Since the establishment of fixed hours, clockmakers have strived to render the watches as precise as they could, through different, ingenious devices.

The Salisbury Cathedral Clock, circa 1385

We know from experience that tests conducted on the oldest surviving mechanical clock in the world, the faceless clock of the Cathedral of Salisbury, dating approximately to 1385, have discovered that the watch precision that this timepiece obtained was remarkable, within two minutes per day.

Such a performance – which was indeed very good for the time – would be replicated by watches only much later, and thanks to lots of development by figures like Galileo and Huygens.

Indeed, around 1650, another scientist called Robert Hooke theorized something that would be important for watchmaking: the theory of harmonic oscillations, which would be important for two key elements of the watch: the mainspring and the balance wheel. And as both of them use a spring in their operation, the smartest of my readers have understood about what we are talking about.

Read also Why Rafael Nadal’s watch is so expensive?

The application of Hooke’s Law

In short, a spring impart to a weight suspended on them a movement that is “harmonic” – it follows a constant sinusoidal oscillation path, if released.

In the ideal condition of no attrition, it would continue to oscillate like this forever.

But even if it doesn’t, if we continue to apply constant force to it making it move in such a way, the oscillation will continue regularly.

And this is the main principle we apply to watches.

The regulatory device of a watch works like this. That is, it is based around a harmonic oscillator of some kind.

The first harmonic oscillators used in watches were the balance springs. They are the tiny spiralling springs that lie on top of balance wheels and make them oscillate back and forth following a harmonic oscillation.

The increase in watch precision: electromechanical watches

In the quest for better precision, watchmakers discovered that a tuning fork emits  a fixed vibration that is based on harmonic oscillation as well. The diapason was miniaturized and used as a regulating device in watches such as the Bulova Accutron.

Bulova Accutron Spaceview. Tuning fork on the center/top.

The evolutions of electromechanical watches – which debuted in the 1960s – have brought us the quartz-based system, which works on a different system based on a similar concept.

The oscillator in a quartz watch

In a quartz-based watch – the first one was the Seiko Astron, which was launched in 1970, we find an oscillator composed by a quartz crystal that is cut in a small tuning fork shape on a particular crystal plane.

When subject to a current, this crystals vibrates at a specific frequency – which is subject to the electrical current applied to it. This frequency was originally 32,768 Hz (some of the latest quartz movements vibrate at higher frequencies). insuring a very high watch precision.

Today, we are exploring other solutions to create a harmonic oscillator. The next frontier in this research will be the use of silicon elements. Several promising calibers have been manufactured, like the Zenith Defy. However, the industry is still using either mechanical-based regulating elements based on balance wheels or quartz-based systems (and their evolutions like the Seiko Kinetic and the Seiko Spring Drive.

A swan-neck regulator on this mechanical watch movement

How do you regulate these systems?

Obviously, when a watch comes out the factory it is not precise at all. It must be regulated to achieve a good precision. And watchmakers have developed ways to regulate the different movements so they perform at the best of their possibility.

The mechanical watches use an ingenious regulator placed obeve the balance wheel bridge (known as a balance wheel cock) – it is a regulator that can be turned to adjust the dimension of the hairspring. Diffenet dimensions would lend the balance wheel to beat slower or quicker.

While the regular watches had a lever, more precise ones have micrometric adjustments regulated by a screw. Some modern watches use different systems to regulate, such as counterweights placed on the balance wheel itself.

In a quartz-based watch, regulation is not possible. That is, it is already built in.

You can see this black blob under the orange arrow? It covers a small microchip which controls the operations of the quartz movement. This means that the quartz resonator (the grey cylinder you see on the left) has a built in correction that intervenes if it feels that the vibration rate of the watch is out of the range.
In the first quartz movements, watchmakers could intervene to regulate the watch through a tiny screw, but as time passed, the circuits were streamlined and simplified, and the microchip was inserted to resolve the issue from the beginning.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual. It is a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
please CLICK HERE

Pilot’s timepieces have illustrious fathers: Flieger watches.

If you are a bit sensitive to the charm of vintage timepieces you cannot escape the lure of watches like the Flieger watches. What we call Fliegers were a kind of pilot’s watch built on specifications from the German Luftwaffe. However, they can be traced back to WWI, as we can see from the (huge) Flieger we see in the top image.

From their birth, they evolved following the development of planes, becoming the typical watch we stereotype today as the quintessential Flieger. Their actual name was “Beobachtungsuhren” or “B-Uhren” (observation watches).

The B-Uhren watches were used as a navigation instrument during the flight, and especially, as a backup device for navigation of the cockpit instruments failed.

The B-Uhren had very specific requirements

These watches had some very strict requirements, defined by the  Reichluftfahrtsministerium (RLM), the “Imperial Air Ministry”. And several companies, both German and foreign, started manufacturing this kind of watches, of which there were different types.
The main specs were the following:
A diameter of 55 mm. The B-Uhren were very precise watches, made for navigation purpose, so they relied on the most precise pocket watch chronometer calibers – and the bigger the caliber and the balance wheel, the better for precision. The movements had to be certified as chronometers in six positions and three temperatures, and were subject to a special certification which happened in a lab near Glashutte;A very big and legible dial, with a dark background and blocky, big numerals in a white paint that could be easily seen. At 12 o’clock, Fliegers had a triangle with two dots, so pilots could check the watch and understand the hour at a glance;

Lumed indicators. The numerals were filled with a large amount of Radium-based luminous paste, so to be easily visible at night;

Very big crown. Big, and easy to manipulate even when wearing gloves;

The strap was long, sturdy and riveted. It was made to wear over the flight jacket sleeves.

How a Flieger was ordinarily worn

The original manufacturers of Flieger watches

We know that only five companies manufactured the original issued Fliegers.

1 – A. Lange & Söhne – The most famous German company made a total of 6,904 watches between 1940 and 1945 using their cal. 48/1 .  The watches were assembled by other companies like Huber (Munich), Felsing (Berlin), Schieron (Stuttgart), Schätzle & Tschudin (Pforzheim), and Wempe (Hamburg).

2 – Wempe – It was a jeweler turned watchmaker, and assembled a small production of B-Uhren mounting a Revue movement cal. 31. This production (it is said of less than one hundred pieces) is known by collectors as the Wempe Carl Thommen, Revue K 31, B-Uhr.

Wempe Carl Thommen, Revue K 31, B-Uhr

3 – Laco (Lacher & Co) – We do not know how many watches Laco made, but it used the Durowe D5 movement to make its Fliegers. The movement had a large (22 mm) balance and a simple regulator.

4 – Stowa (Walter Storz) – This company instead mounted the Unitas 2812 movement inside its watches, which has a better regulation system with a swan-neck  adjustment. In February 1945, the Stowa factory in Pforzheim was razed by an Allied bomb raid.

5 – IWC – Last but not least, IWC made a total of around 1,000 B-Uhren for the German Luftwaffe using the caliber 52 SC (officially “52T-19”’ H6 S.C.”).

Apart from these companies, which made simple timekeeping watches, we we know that several chronographers were used. Some mounted Swiss movements from Omega, Longines, and IWC, but others were built on scope by companies such as Hanhart and Tutima.

Durowe D5 caliber in a Laco Flieger

Some technical notes

The big movements used in B-Uhren were sturdier and more precise than smaller ones: very roughly, the bigger a balance wheel is, the more precise a watch gets. Incidentally, these watches used modified movements that featured a central second hand.

This was achieved through design of a new caliber, or through a pass-through wheel mounted outside the main bridge that connected the second wheel to the center wheel pinion of the watch so to move the second hand.

What you see here is the Durowe movement – and it has been modified to add the centra wheel. Look at the additional bridge that has been added over the bridge of the center wheel.

This is a movement of high quality and precision, by the way: look at the huge balance bimetal wheel with counterweights. All the while, it lacks the the swan-neck regulator with a calibrating wheel that you see in the Thommen movement manufactured by Wempe above.


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual. It is a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
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Why the best watchmakers come from Switzerland?

This is one of the questions people who are not into horology tend to ask to watch lovers. And while the world perceives Rolex as the best watch company there is in the world, the biggest part of the iceberg is hidden under water.

The quick answer to this question is that they are really not.

While Switzerland, for many concurrent reasons, and a little bit of luck, has been the Promised Land of watchmaking for the past 150 years does not mean that it still continues to be the One and Only Mecca of quality watchmaking. And we should take a step back and remember history.

A quick history of watchmaking

Even if one of the first historical clocks is the Astrarium by Giovanni de Dondi, made in Padua, Italy around 1350 (that you can see in the top image), we traditionally consider that  modern watchmaking was founded in Germany in the beginning of the 1500s, in the city of Nuremberg. In the museum of the city we can find several Nuremberg Eggs, the first portable watches – which were more like clocks.

John Harrison’s H1 chronometer

These first watches were improved during the 1600s with the invention of the balance spring by Huygens and the discovery of the qualities of jewels by Fatio de Duillers. While these discoveries came by foreigners (Huygens was Dutch, and Fatio was French), both of these improvements happened in England. These technical advances spurred the work of exceptional watchmakers like Mudge (the inventor of the lever escapement) and Harrison (who developed marine chronometers and bimetallic balances). Harrison’s discoveries were instrumental for establishing the dominance of the British Navy at sea during the period. And they brought immense riches to the country which became an international Empire.

Then in the late 1700s to the 1800s another great evolution in horology happened in France with watchmakers like Lepine (the inventor of calibers) and especially, Breguet (automatic winding, tourbillon, shock-absorbing systems).

Breguet Souscription, 1800s

Both transformed the world of watchmaking and rendered it almost modern – check some of their timepieces, which look very different from what was done by their British competitors. This was also the time when the powerhouse of British horology waned into nothingness.

Switzerland came later in the game. Of the Big Three, two companies were founded in the mid-1800s. Only Vacheron Constantin hails from 1755.

From that time we have seen some impressive feats in watchmaking made in the USA, mostly in the period betweeen 1850 and 1900 and in Japan, especially in modern horology history, with the invention of the quartz movement.

Modern watchmakers come from everywhere

The modern global production of watches reaches true excellence.

Credor Great Wave Tourbillon watch

Despite the late start – mostly from the end of the 1800s – the contemporary companies from Japan have little to envy to Swiss watchmakers. Some of the brands like Grand Seiko and Credor rival the best Swiss companies.

This watch from Credor, a brand that is little-known in the West, has technical and artistic contents that far surpass its relative obscurity. It is a rendition of the famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa. While you might object to its style, you cannot deny its craftsmanship and technical qualities.

We can assert the same about the German brands from Glashutte, of which the most celebrated is Lange und Sohne, also a tad more exclusive and expensive than most swiss brands.

Roger Smith Series 2 (courtesy Deployant)

And the best British watchmakers, like the late George Daniels and Roger Smith, have resurrected the excellent tradition of British high-end horology in the UK. The first, who invented the coaxial escapement, has left his entire workshop on the Isle of Man to the second. Today, Mr. Smith makes no more than 12 watches per year, completely handmade. On another note, remember that the same Rolex was originally founded in London.

And we should not forget the modern contributions to horology by a French company like Cartier, which has literally invented the modern “commercial” wristwatch when they launched the Santos and the Tank. Before them, pocket watches were the norm. After the launch of these two models, quickly imitated by other watchmakers, the use of pocket watches started to decline.

A very special edition of the Santos by Cartier

And last but not least, do not forget that while Switzerland might be the place where horology has flourished more extensively in the last 200 years, the “seeds” the blossomed often came from somewhere else.

Foreign watchmakers immigrated in Switzerland

Watchmakers migrated to Switzerland, mainly for religious reasons. Many Huguenots – who were Protestants – originally came from the Catholic France and relocated to Geneva. For example, the Swiss family of LeCoultre had Huguenots roots.

FP Journe Chronometre Bleu

The immigration to Switzerland – not anymore for religious reasons – has attracted a large number of professionals in the land between the Alps.

Among the best modern watchmakers currently dwelling in the Confederacy we find FP Journe and Christophe Claret, who are French. Rexhep Rexhepi, who’s Albanian. Konstantin Chaykin, who’s Russian. Kari Voutilainen, who’s Finnish. The McGonigle brothers, who are Irish. The Gronefeld brothers, who are Dutch. Svend Andersen, who’s Danish.

And last but not least, with a bit of chauvinism. Giulio Papi, Vincent Calabrese (the author of the Golden Bridge for Corum), and Antoine Preziuso, who are Italian. Even the mighty Gerald Genta came from an Italian family originating from the region where I was born myself, Piedmont.

So, to assert that Swiss watchmaking has no rivals around the world is a gross exaggeration.

Swiss watchmaking is still the number one reference in the field. However, the rest of the horological world has not stood still.


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual. It is a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
please CLICK HERE

How did the inventor of the first watch know what time it was?

While this question might sound silly, it isn’t – big time (and the wordplay is intended).

One of the first Nuremberg Eggs

The long path towards establishing a universal time system is long and convoluted, and starts from the beginning of history. The first clocks were invented around 1300, but the first watch – that is, a portable clock – comes from around 1505, invented in Nuremberg, Germany, by a certain Peter Henlein.

This would be one of the earlist watches. You cannot see its dial because the lid is closed, but this kind of watch (called Nuremberg Egg) had only one hand – the hour’s – because it wasn’t precise at all. The precision of watches would improve only later, with the invention of the hairspring around 1650.

Also, remember that the calendar was unlike ours, as well.

The old calendar

At that time, people still used the Julian Calendar, as the Gregorian Calendar that we use today was introduced in 1582 only. And the majority of people still used variable hours, not fixed ones as we do. Variable hours were introduced as a divider of the day and the night so to follow prayers which had to be uttered in some moments, dictated by specific books called “Liber Horae”.

A page from a Liber Horae

This meant that in winter, when the daytime is less, the day hours were shorter, and in summer they were longer, and for the night hours it was the opposite. But well, it was enough for the needs of the population.

Of course, this made no sense for scientists. Especially, to track the activities that were not influenced by the hours of the day and the night – and with this I mean the movement of the stars.

Fixed time vs. variable time

The need for a fixed time standard happened very early in the development of human civilization.

Astronomers understood that to measure the movement of the stars (which do not move – the Earth moves, but anyways) they had to use fixed units and not variable units. This would go as far away as the Babylonians and the Sumerians, which established the numerical system that we use even today both for tracking time and angles, based on a sexagesimal division. Of course, back then they did not use it to measure time, because they did not have the tools to do that.

This clay disc, here, tracks the night sky dividing it into eight regions. This Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh. The function of this clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed, but the function seems to be astronomical and magical.

Eventually, people switched to use the current system, that is, fixed time, based on the division of time in 24 hours, calculated from mid-day to the next mid-day, and watches proliferated around Europe.

Every major city had an observatory, and the observatory was the official time tracker for the city and its neighborhood.

This means that each city had its own way of tracking time, as the mid-day depends on where your city is located in respect to any other city of the planet. The astronomers would measure it, and so, decide the official time for the city.

The problems with city-based fixed time

Of course you understand that this was a huge mess, since every city would be regulated on its local time. There was no universal time – but we have to add that there was little need to have one.

Today, the situation is way different.

We all know that the world is today divided into 24 major timezones, all set apart of one hour to one-another, and we have established that the so-called GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) is calculated at the Observatory of Greenwich, in London. The line is known as the Prime Meridian. All other timezones are expressed as + or – X hours from this measurement.

Also, remember that this convention was agreed upon only around 1880, proposed by Sir Sanford Fleming, a Scottish-born Canadian scientist who was very active in railroads.

Sandford Fleming in a ceremonial photo

Before then, each and every city on the Earth had its own time – which proved to be a nightmare for any kind of communications (like telegraphs or railways). As you can see, establishing a common time reference allowed the creation of more reliable communication, and avoiding mishaps, like two trains coming in opposite directions and crashing because of bad timing (most railways were single-track).

The work of men like Sandford Fleming and Webb C. Ball, the founder of the Ball Watch Company, were instrumental in developing the acceptance of the Universal Time and the precision of watches as well: in that time, railroad chronometers were among the most precise watches on the planet.

The solution of Universal Time

As you can see the map here, this system was and is hardly ideal. For example, there are some countries, like China, that adopt a single timezone, but their extension is so great that it spans a five-hour solar time difference!

Spain actually is mostly located on the west of Britain, still it uses the GMT +1 timezone, and so on.

If we were to use the old system, that is, based on the mid-day of each city, it would be much more precise – but it would be impossible to track all the different timezones. And what would happen on trains and planes?

So, if we step back a little and arrive to our friend Henlein in 1505, and his ancestors creating clocks before him, he would set his clock based on the official time set by the city of Nuremberg, as each city set its own time.

And the clock and watch makers and users referred to this “official” time when setting their own watches.


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
please CLICK HERE

Diver watches, the history of fighting against water.

Diver watches represent a very modern obsession, starting in the Fifties with the launch of the Submariner by Rolex and the Fifty Fathoms by Blancpain. But the waterproof watch, which today has been renamed “water-resistant”, is the modern heir of another kind of timepiece, which was much acclaimed at the beginning of the century: the dust-proof watch.

People noted that watches subject to extremes in climate, that is, temperature, humidity, and the like, began to behave erratically. Dust was one of the main culprits. It entered into the movements and tended to accumulate in the recesses, namely the settings of the jewels where the pinions of the wheels turned, effectively slowing them down by building friction.

We should also note that watch oils used back then were organically-based, subject to natural decay, and gooing. Water had similar issues because it instead provoked the formation of rust inside watch movements.

The first waterproof watches

The first experiments to get rid of dust and water were pretty rudimental, as it was quite challenging to seal away the movement, creating a complete dust- proof and waterproof case. The first companies which tried to eliminate these issues – and managed to do it – were Rolex and Omega.

The first Rolex Oyster, 1926

Rolex was the first to refine a waterproof case in 1926, patented under the fitting name of Oyster.

Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, presented it with these words:

“The oyster is a ‘model’ hostess and will not tolerate any dust or other impurities. […] Well, gentlemen, we have borrowed its qualities and its name. Here is an example of the Rolex Oyster, so- called because it lives in water and excludes all impurities”.

To reassure the public about the qualities of its watch, Rolex, in 1927, contacted an English swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze, and supported her attempt to cross the English Channel by swimming.

The lady had a new Rolex Oyster hanging around her neck, and made it to the other side of the Channel, with the watch correctly working after the feat.

The first Oyster featured the elements that would render it famous, like the screw-in bezel and back, with the two o-rings and the screw-in crown.

The automatic movement, essential to guarantee that the crown remained waterproof, debuted a few years later, in 1931.

Omega instead followed another path: in 1932, it created and patented a double sliding rectangular case, known as “Marine.”

To ensure water resistance, its crown was kept inside the double case.

This watch was the first real watertight timepiece: it was tested and certified by the Swiss Laboratory for Horology in Neuchâtel to withstand a pressure of 135 meters.

Omega Marine, modern re-issue

The development of modern diver watches

In 1936, another famous diver watch appeared: it was the Panerai Radiomir, made by the Italian Maison expressly for the needs of the Royal Italian Navy, to equip its force of frogmen. This watch, however, was originally manufactured by Rolex and rebranded by Panerai. The Panerai Radiomir saw extensive use during WWII, demonstrating its qualities in the field.

Panerai Radiomir watch at the wrist of an Italian frogman, 1941

With the end of the war and the diffusion of leisure scuba diving, diver watches started their expansion as reliable tools for divers. One of the rst models available for public use was the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, launched in France in 1953, which was worn by the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau during his award-winning documentary “The silent world” of 1956.

Jacques Cousteau and his Fifty Fathoms

The Fifty Fathom (its name derives from a nautical measurement of around 1.9 meters, indicating its maximum water resistance) was created at the request of the French Navy. A specific note was that the watch should have a system to show the remaining immersion time left, giving birth to the now typical rotating bezel.

The modern Submariner is still very similar to the first one.

No more “tool watches”

Rolex, which was working on the same concept, launched its model, the quintessential Submariner in 1954, at the Basel Watch Fair. The model surged to glory when it was used by the most famous fictional secret agent of all time, James Bond, in 1962.

From this appearance of the ref. 6538, the Rolex Submariner skyrocketed to glory, bringing the whole brand with it and becoming the style icon that we know today.

The first diver watches were certified water-resistant to 100 meters, like the Fifty Fathoms. Still, technical advancement brought this limit much forward, with many reaching 500 meters and more, to the present record of the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, which has safely reached a depth of 10,928 meters.

One of the other devices used to guarantee the watch worked at high depths was the helium escape valve, so to prevent the watch crystal from being blown o by internal pressure caused by the buildup of helium.

The use of diver watches today to monitor safe diving has been superseded by diving computers. However, a diver watch is a testament to the more heroic times of undersea exploration – and it looks perfect as well at the wrist.


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
please CLICK HERE

In the mid-1800s, watchmaking was much different from what we are used today.

Horology spread throughout the world at the beginning of the 1800s. Still, watches were quite costly. One of the main problems was that the escapement used was still quite complicated to make.

The most used was the cylinder escapement, which was less complicated and costly than the verge-fusee that was in use precedently. Still, it had its drawbacks all the same.

How a cylinder escapement works

The problem was with the escapement wheel. It was very tiny – and still, it had a very complex shape, as the teeth at the end of each “arm” had to be placed in an orthogonal position – that is, with an angle of 90°. You understand by yourself that making such a complicated exploit of micro-mechanics was not a small feat back then.

More, the shape of the balance wheel staff rendered it more prone to breaking while in use.

The result of this two concurrent factors is predictable.

The watches made with this kind of escapement were still quite costly to make and to buy, so they were reserved to the most affluent classes.

The alternative to the cylinder escapement was the lever escapement, which was still very costly. It used a two-pronged anchor, which had to be fitted with two jewels so to ensure the best performance. And until the invention of synthetic gemstones in 1902, these jewels were made of real gems, which had to be cut appropriately for the task.

So, the escapement mechanism had to be simplified more and made more affordable and robust to render it suitable for mass production.

This feat eventually happened with an almost forgotten watchmaker, who instead deserves a primary position in the watchmaking Hall of Fame. Along with Breguet and the others who revolutionized the industry.

Georg Friedrich Roskopf

The industrial development of the pin-pallet

His name was Georges Frederic Roskopf (1813-1889), the inventor of the pin-lever escapement and the so-called Proletarian Watch.

By splitting the function of the cylinder escapement in two simpler elements (an escapement wheel and a pin-pallet), Roskopf rendered them much easier to make and lowered the production costs of movements significantly.

In 1860 Roskopf began to design such a watch, with just 57 parts instead of the usual 160 parts or more.
His timepiece could be manufactured industrially and could be sold for 20 francs (which was about two weeks of wage of the average worker) while remaining simple, robust, and of good quality.

This radical approach was met by hostility, as Roskopf and his democratization of time-keeping were considered “dangerous” for the status quo of the industry, and he was openly boycotted. Eventually, he managed to produce his watches in 1867, using ebauches and cases from the Malleray Watch Co., and assembling them in Damprichard, Doubs, France, by M. Chatelain.

Roskopf watches were not fantastically accurate, but they were finally affordable, and everybody could eventually afford to buy one.

From 1867, when they were presented in the Universal Exhibition in Paris, the Roskopf watches sold like crazy through Europe and the USA.
The pin-pallet watches helped bring down the cost of the high-end timepieces as well, which had to be rendered more affordable through the refinement of the so-called Swiss anchor escapement: the one we still use today.

A typical Roskopf movement

Watches and mass-production

The history of Roskopf and his Proletarian Watch matches with another very particular one: the story of an American in Switzerland, who founded a company known as International Watch Company in 1868. He was an engineer and watchmaker called Florentine Ariosto Jones.

And yes, we are talking about the modern-day IWC.

Workers in the IWC production plant

He aimed to combine the Swiss watchmaking excellence with the modern techniques of mass-production, and to export the final products to the USA, a vast market which highly regarded the quality of Swiss watches. It was the beginning of the great industrial boom that would take the USA to become a world leader for 150 years. And the booming internal market of the USA offered lots of possibilities for the most adventurous and bold manufacturers.

The plan of Jones was spot-on. Back then, Switzerland was a rather poor country. People carried out their watch-related activities in rather small, family-run labs, and still had little idea about how to industrialize their skills.

Jones’ plan of opening a modern factory in the traditional watchmaking area was revolutionary. So much that it raised the firm opposition of the French-speaking community who lived in the cradle of Swiss horology, the region around Le Locle. This was the main reason why he would select another place for his dream to come true: Schaffhausen, in the German part of the country.

Finally, in 1875, a modern factory was built – a 45-meter long edifice that could accommodate 300 workers under one roof.

Jones introduced the American mass-production concept, defined as the “sequential series of operations carried out on successive special-purpose machines that produced interchangeable parts.”

Florentine Ariosto Jones

We need to make it clear that he did not invent this system by himself: Jones – then a young man – went to work for one of the best watchmaking firms in America, E. Howard & Co. He eventually rose to the rank of the superintendent of the factory. Still, in 1867 he applied for a passport, and he traveled to Europe, looking for a place to establish a watchmaking business, using the so-called “American System” of watchmaking that he had learned professionally when in the USA.

This system derived from the manufacturing methods developed for the Federal armories at Springfield and Harpers Ferry. And the aim was quite similar: high precision, interchangeable parts were needed for assembling weapons – something that made the system perfect for watchmaking as well.

Jones, though, was more an innovator than a manager: he went bankrupt, and had to sell his company in two years. Still, his contribution was fundamental to launch a business model that would render Switzerland the powerhouse of watchmaking that it is today.


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
please CLICK HERE

 

We often think that digital watches are a modern thing. Well, they are not.

We are not accustomed to thinking that our grandfathers could have been daring and extravagant and innovative. Yet, they were. They were the ones giving us things like the radio, cars, planes.

And digital watches as well.

Cortebert jumping hours pocket watch

This is a lovely Cortebert jump hour watch.

And as you can readily see, it is digital (well, mostly: the second hand is analogic).

Our grandfathers loved modernity as we do, I can assure you – so they created these interesting, and complicated, watches to differentiate them from the usual ones working through an analogic display.

Specifically, this solution, with rotating discs placed under the dial, was used later in the day/date displays that we readily use today.

The way of displaying information has nothing to do with the mechanics of a watch. Indeed, modern digital displays are quite easy on the eye to convey the information in a simple manner without us having to decode it from the position of the hands.

But at the same time, apart from exceptions like this one above, digital displays do not go well into the luxury style. It is very difficult to provide a sense of quality and luxury through a digital display, and the best-known specimens that have been made – while daring and provocative – did not fully achieve this goal.

The next evolution: quartz-based watches

While the mechanical jumping hour watches were nifty, they had this problem. Which was not really resolved with the next generation of watches using a digital way of showing the hours: LED watches.

The Hamilton Pulsar, in yellow gold

The Hamilton Pulsar was an amazing phenomenon in its time – it was launched in 1969. Still, we can safely assert that it has not aged gracefully, especially if we compare it with another watch that was presented to the market just a few years after:

A Patek Philippe 5711

Also remember that both watches had around the same price at their launch.

So, to end my rant, analog watches still represent the quintessential watch, and a watch is much more than a device to keep track of time. A watch defines the style of its wearer, and becomes one of the few ornaments a man is allowed to wear.

Choosing a digital device still broadcasts an image to the others, but it is way different than the one of a – let’s say – Patek Philippe Nautilus like the one above. I am not saying that it is better or worse: just different. And this fact justifies the continued existence of our old friends, the analog-display watches.

Analog watches did not go extinct in the end of the 1800s, when digital jumping hours watches came out.

They did not get extinct in the 1970s, when LED digital watches came out.

And for sure, they did not get extinct in the 2010s, when smartwatches came out.

Even this Apple Watch agrees: there is something reassuring in that old face that we are accustomed to seeing, don’t you think?


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual
please CLICK HERE