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