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. 

Discover also The Watch Manual

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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Why watches need jewels?

When we hear about mechanical watches, we often read about that term like “jewels” or “rubies,” and we often fantasize about the hidden riches inside our watches. There are some fiction stories also related to thieves stealing the jewels of a watch!

Well, the term “ruby” or “jewel” refers to tiny artificial stones (jewel bearings), set inside the watch. They are shaped like a torus, are human-made, and I must add, practically worthless – there’s no way to become rich by stealing jewels watches.

Read also: Are watches jewels

how many jewels in a good watch

Ruby and jewel in watch movement

If you examine a watch movement, you can notice that these rubies stand in particular places; so, they are not ornamental, even if they do feature a definite decor effect. They are usually set in pairs – one above and one below – in correspondence of the pivots of the gears; generally they are drilled through with a tiny hole. You can see it here (it’s a cross-section), on the right, what happens.

The pivots of the gears are set precisely through these stones, one up, one down, so they can rotate freely. And why using jewels instead of plain metal bearings? (mind you, lots of watches use bearings too – especially lower-cost mechanical watches and quartz mechanisms).

The answer is, because of attrition. A jewel is harder, even if more brittle than its metal counterpart, so the steel pivot rotates inside it more effortlessly and with less grinding on it than it would in a bearing made of metal (usually, brass). The static coefficient of friction of brass-on-steel is 0.35, while that of sapphire-on-steel is 0.10–0.15, so three times less. It means a smoother and better transmission of movement, less attrition, and extended durability of the watch without constant maintenance.

As you can easily imagine, setting a jewel inside a micro-mechanics element like a bridge of a watch is a complicated issue. This means that jewel setting was reserved for higher-quality (and higher cost) watches.

how many jewels in a good watch

When jewel bearings were introduced in watches?

Nicolas Fatio (or Facio) de Duillier and Pierre and Jacob Debaufre introduced jewel bearings in watches around 1702. Still, they did not become widely used as they were very costly. The first jewels were, indeed, shards of real gemstones. Watches often mounted garnet, quartz, or even glass; only the top quality ones mounted sapphire, ruby, or diamond jewels.

In 1902, everything changed, because Auguste Verneuil developed a chemical process to create synthetic jewels. Hence, they became quite cheaper and gained widespread use in watchmaking. Jewels in modern watches are generally rubies or corundum, one of the hardest substances known (apart from diamond).

So, modern watches tend to use jewels on every part that is subject to constant grinding of metal against metal. This includes the pivots of the wheels of a typical wind-up watch (wheel train, escapement wheel, balance wheel), as well as two other critical elements: the pallet fork endings and the single impulse jewel in the center of the balance wheel.

Along the more ordinary torus shaped jewels housing the pinions of the wheel train wheels, we also have some unique jewels called capstones. These jewels are necessary in wheels where friction is critical, as the balance wheel pinions. They can prevent the shaft of the wheel from touching the surface of the jewel, and also, can create a space calle “oil cup” which helps to lubricate the mechanism better. More often than not, these capstones are held in place with shock-resisting mechanisms, such as the Incabloc.


Read also: Are watches jewels?

how many jewels in a good watch

How many jewels in a good watch?

Before the introduction of shock-resisting systems (around 1932), the best wind-up mechanical movements without complications mounted 15 jewels. After that, the jewels rose to 17. Automatic and complicated movements usually mount more jewels.

From their introduction, watch manufacturers defined the quality of the movements using terms such as “XX Jewels,” where XX was the number of jewels that he watch contained. This term diffused itself in product descriptions, becoming a natural equivalence to the public of “more jewels, more quality.”

So much that some companies, between which Waltham and Orient, launched on the market watches featuring 100 jewels movements. These movements used aesthetically-placed jewels, which had no function whatsoever, except to let the manufacturer say that there were 100 jewels inside the watch. This example is a practical effect of the fascination that a name like “jewel” can have on someone who does not know the functional aspects of jewels inside a watch.

We should note that this practice, which was deceiving for the customers, was first condemned, and then prohibited. Today, a manufacturer cannot place jewels inside a movement that have no practical purpose. If it does, he cannot refer to them in its communication.


Read also: Are watches jewels?

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