Stories about the history of watches

What is the Kinetic watch movement? How does it keep accurate time?

The Kinetic is an interesting evolution of watch technology; it is worth learning a little more about this evolved tech, which is powering lots of watches worldwide, even today.

In very short, the Kinetic tech is a hybrid tech that mixes mechanical and electric components. Kinetic is the evolution of the electromechanical watches of the 1960s; it blended these two techs together and was ultimately replaced by quartz-based movements. Its original name was AGS (Automatic Generating System), and its concept dates back to 1972.

The company worked on it until it presented it at the Basel Fair in 1988, where its name was still AGS. It assumed the Kinetic name some years after.

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Kinetic vs. Electromechanical

When the electric novelty broke into the mechanical field, which was used by watches since their beginning, the research went into two main themes.

 The first had the objective of providing electrical energy to a standard regulatory device (traditionally, a balance wheel), or as it happened, to a new system, like the diapason powering the Bulova Accutron.

Several electric watches of the first kind came out, with three leading different solutions as to drive the balance wheel through electrical impulses:

1 – Moving coil system, contact controlled: watches with a balance wheel, integrated coil, fixed magnets, and mechanical contacts.

2 – Fixed coil system, contact controlled: watches with a piece of refined iron attached to the balance wheel, a fixed coil, and mechanical contacts.

3 – Transistorized watches with balance: had a balance wheel, a transistor acting as a switch, and no mechanical contacts.

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The Bulova Accutron Movement

The evolution of the Kinetic movement

The manufacturers ranged widely, from companies such as Hamilton (the first manufacturer to launch an electric movement, the Hamilton 500, in 1957), Timex, LIP, and ESA, among the others. The second was just the opposite. It provided mechanical power to charge a quartz-based system.

 The Kinetic was one of the first systems to follow this latter principle. It was among the first, but others were in the pipeline, including the one by Jean d’Eve, which released its system, the Samara, concurrently with the Kinetic. But the latter gained more traction, and ultimately succeeded.

Between the two, the Kinetic path was far more promising. The quartz-based mechanism is much more precise than any mechanical-based one, and it is sturdier as well. So, eventually, the Kinetic became widespread and was reworked through the years to create new models and new complications.

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kinetic movement

Seiko Kinetic Movement

Essentially, the Kinetic mechanism is a sort of automatic-quartz movement

As you can see in the diagram above, the Kinetic features a quartz watch mechanism driving the hands and keeping the time, with a stepping motor (so the second-hand moves in bursts, and does not flow along with the dial). This motor does not get electrical power from a traditional chemical button battery, but from a capacitator. The capacitor essentially has the same function as a chemical battery; however, it is fixed, instead of removable and rechargeable).

The capacitator holds power coming from a traditional energy-generating unit; the rotor revolves around itself and magnetically charges the capacitator, saving energy for a few days.

The first Kinetics had issues with recharging, but these technical glitches were ultimately resolved. The Kinetic movement was improved in time and, eventually, it provided the foundation to design another innovation based on the same hybrid principle. In this case, combining a mechanical foundation with a quartz-timed regulation system.

The Spring Drive, an improved mechanism that debuted around 2000, took the higher end of the business.

Today, the Kinetic mechanism has been updated. It is still produced and used in watches of the Seiko company, precisely in its middle-end. At the same time, the Spring Drive is the movement mounted inside the high-end Seiko electromechanical watches, especially in the Grand Seikoline.

kinetic movement

The Grand Seiko Spring Drive Movement


These systems, essentially quartz-based or quartz-controlled, offer impressive timekeeping capabilities, which far surpass the features of the true mechanical watches.

However, some die-hard enthusiasts still lament the quartz invasion inside their mechanical movements: so, Kinetics, and Spring Drives, end up in this middle ground that separates tradition and innovation, with a foot here and another there.

And because of this same fact, it will neither be here nor there.

Here are a few events that traced the history of the invention of the chronometer

1712 – The British Parliament passed the Longitude Act

The Scilly naval disaster of 1707 was a terrible shipwreck involving four British ships which was caused by an error in navigation. After that, the British Parliament offered a huge amount of money, £20,000 (equivalent to over $5 million dollars of today), to whomever found a method for determining longitude at sea. The first nation which would achieve a strategic result, as it would dominate the naval routes, and so, the commerce.
This Act had the effect of intensifying the independent research of watchmakers to solve the issue – and get
the lucrative reward. The French King instituted a similar prize as well.

1715 – Development of the deadbeat anchor escapement for pendulums

George Graham developed this kind of escapement, used in pendulum clocks. The first inventor of the anchor escapement, though, was rumored to be Robert Hooke; however, the first working version was made by Joseph Knibb around 1670. However, the original design suffered from a recoil effect. Richard Towneley redesigned it in 1675; it seems that George Graham was the first to refine it further and use it commercially around 1715. Today some pendulum clocks still use the Graham escapement.


George Graham

1715 – Thomas Mudge (1715 – 1794)

Thomas Mudge was another central figure of watchmaking, occupying a place in history of chronometer. An apprentice to George Graham, Mudge around 1755 invented the detached lever escapement – which is today known as the Swiss lever – the prototype of the escapement we still use today in watches. In 1765 he published a book, “Thoughts on the Means of Improving Watches, Particularly those for Use at Sea.”
He moved to Plymouth in 1771, where he developed different models of marine chronometers. He was nominated Clockmaker to George III in 1776, and one of the watches he made for the King is still conserved in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.


Thomas Mudge

1717 – Pierre Le Roy (1717–1785)

Le Roy was a notable French clockmaker, very active in the field of chronometers, so very important in the history of chronometer. Born in Paris, he was the eldest son of Julien Le Roy, a clockmaker to Louis XV who had worked with Henry Sully. He was extremely prolific, having invented the detent escapement, an extremely precise type of detached escapement, the temperature-compensated balance and the isochronous balance spring. However, he always was on the losing side when compared with his business rival, Ferdinand Berthoud – something that eventually led him to an enbittered retirement from active watchmaking. Nevertheless, his developments are considered as the foundation of the modern precision clocks.

1721 – Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721 – 1790)

Pierre Jaquet-Droz was the founder of the Maison of the same name, one of the oldest of Switzerland. He was also the notable inventor of mechanical constructs known as automates, which he used to demonstrate his Maison’s mechanical skill. From 1768 to 1774, together with Henri Louis Jaquet Droz and Jean Frédéric Leschot, he built three of them. Named the “writer,” the “lady musician,” and the “draughtsman,” they are now conserved at the Museum of Art and History at Neuchâtel (Switzerland).
Jaquet-Droz was very active in the creation of singing bird boxes and developed chiming elements and gongs so to adapt them to watchmaking.


Pierre Jaquet-Droz

1721 – Improvement of the cylinder escapement

Graham finalizes the cylinder escapement invented by Tompion. This improvement was so crucial that from 1726 Graham used this escapement in all of his watches instead of the verge. The French watchmaker Julien Le Roy, the father of Pierre, in 1728 received one watch equipped with this escapement and recognized the superiority of the system. Invention of the Graham mercury clock Pendulum clocks were very precise timepieces, but watchmakers noted that they slowed down in summer. This observation determined that thermal expansion and contraction of the pendulum rod because of temperature changes was a source of error. So, the invention of temperature-compensated pendulums solved the situation. Graham was the first to produce a compensated pendulum through the use of a mercury counterweight.

Mercury Pendulum

1722 – Invention of the grasshopper escapement

The history of chronometer made another step with John Harrison. He developed this complex, but very precise escapement during his researches for competing in the Longitude prize. The grasshopper was a low-friction escapement for pendulum clocks, that he originally devised for a turret clock in the stable block at Brocklesby Park in Lincolnshire. He used this escapement design in his first three marine chronometers, H1 – H3, eventually returning to a modified verge escapement for his H4 chronometer.

Grasshopper-escapement colored.gif

Animation of a grasshopper escapement in motion. This shows a modified version which has counterweighted pallet arms and spring stops. Photo Wikimedia Commons


1735 – Founding of Blancpain

Jehan-Jacques Blancpain started making watches in 1735 in Villeret, Switzerland. He was the founder of the Blancpain brand, setting up his first workshop on the upper floor of his house at Villeret, in the area of the Bernese Jura. Blancpain would remain owned by the founding family for two centuries, until the death of Frédéric-Emile Blancpain in 1932. After that, two former aides of Frédéric-Emile, Betty Fiechter and André Léal, bought it, and renamed it (as it was required by law) Rayville S.A., succ. de Blancpain.

Jehan-Jacques Blancpain

1738 – Founding of Jaquet Droz

A very young Pierre Jaquet-Droz started to work as a watchmaker under Josué Robert. He was very talented, and developed a knack for one of the passions of the time: automata. His exceptional skill attracted much attention; so, the governor of Neuchâtel invited Pierre Jaquet-Droz to present his works abroad. In the following years, his workshop became extremely popular; however, sadly, after the death of himself and his son, the company folded in 1791, and was revived only recently.

Jaquet Droz

1755 – Founding of Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin is the oldest watchmaking brand that has been in continuous operation since its founding. It is part of the so-called “Holy Trinity” of watchmaking, along with Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. The Maison is also known as “The Old King.”
It was founded by Jean-Marc Vacheron, a Geneva-based watchmaker, who started to develop some of the
features that would become a signature of the company: watch complications. The Vacheron company prospered for three generations; then, the grandson of the founder, Jacques-Barthelemy Vacheron, found a business partner in 1819, François Constantin. It assumed its logo, the Maltese Cross, in 1880, inspired by the remontoire, a component used on the barrel.

1761 – Ferdinand Berthoud completes his first marine chronometer

While Harrison was struggling to get himself paid by the British Longitude Board, Berthoud created his first marine chronometer for the French. All the major nations were competing to get the most exact chronometer onboard of their ships; France, a longtime competitor of England, was more then interested in Berthoud’s and Le Roy’s developments. Eventually, King Louis XV accepted and financed the first marine chronometer from Berthoud, in 1766.

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The new Illustrated Horology e-book

The Illustrated Horology History is a new e-book that wants to trace the history of watches. It includes the development of everything that the human race has discovered or decided around the concept of time and its measument. 

This is not a technical book, not an exhaustive encyclopedia; it just wants to quickly outline what has happened, when, and who was to blame! This exercise paints an interesting picture, that shows us some different phases in horological history.

We will acknowledge that – as other fields of knwoledge tell us – the cultural epicenters of these technological earthquakes shifted constantly during the years. 

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You will find that for the sake of organization, we have used a color code to distinguish between different topics. Blue is for the presentation of the most famous watch models. Red is for the facts, happenings and discoveries made, in horology. Yellow is for the founding dates of the most important watches brands. Finally, Azure is used for the birthdate of the people who have contributed to the watches and horology industry.

The Illustrated History of Horology

Actually, lots of people who love horology do not have idea when things happened in the specific field of innovation. Knowing history helps you in understanding better the evolutions of fields and markets, like it happened with horology. Through a proper chronology and evolution we can track the people, the periods, the inventions – and their effect on branbds and models.

Also, this helps vintage lovers to better understand when and how some key features in watches evolved; this becomes quite helpful to help them date their timepieces better. So, this is what you will find inside this new chapter of The Watch Manual, named The Watch Manual: Illustrated Horology History – or IHH in short.

Learn more about the best watch book, The Watch Manual

The first edition of this e-book is around 240 pages long, and features around 450 entries divided into four main groups, each one with its color code to help categorize it:





The e-book includes around 200 brands, 60 watch models, 130 innovations/events and 60 personalities. 

The e-book starts with the measurement of time in ancient Egypt, and close with the Altiplano by Piaget, the Ming brand founded in Malaysia, and the Zenith Defy Lab. Don’t miss the chance to learn more about horology history.

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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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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


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.


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.


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

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

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

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