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When Did the Wristwatch Replace the Pocket Watch?

In today’s day and age, we have a phone, watch, planner, and more rolled into one handy device. Back in the day, people took the time to dig through their pockets to figure out what time it was. But when did they find it necessary to attach a time-telling device on their wrists?

The watch migrated from the pocket to the wrist during the First World War. Soldiers attached them to their arms to keep coordinated during attacks and to avoid fumbling through their pockets. Before then, the “bracelet watch” was just a silly fad.

The Military Origins of the Wrist Watch

The evolution of the pocket watch started in the late 19th century. In those days, the wristwatch was a strategic military tool rather than a fashion accessory.

According to some historians, the idea of strapping little clocks onto a soldier’s wrist started during the Boer War. It was also said that Napoleon was extremely frustrated with constantly reaching for his pocket watch during battle. But what several historians do agree with is that the wristwatch fad started during World War I. An officer of the German Imperial Navy complained about how it was challenging to operate a pocket watch when they were timing bombing missions with other team members. This officer is said to have shown his superiors a simple solution to their problem; strapping his pocket watch to his wrist. (Source: The New York Times)

Who Made the First Wristwatch?

Women only wore wristwatches during the 20th century. At the time, it was only intended for decoration rather than a tool to keep time. The first wristwatch was explicitly made for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by Patek Philippe back in 1868. The first wristwatch for men was harder to figure out. But according to historical accounts, the watchmaker Girard-Perregaux supplied wristwatches to the German Imperial Navy in 1880. (Source: The New York Times)

Cartier’s Rise to Fame

Louis Cartier, the founder of Cartier, created the iconic Tank watch in 1917. He said the Renault tanks he saw as a soldier inspired him to do so. After several redesigns and reinterpretations, 41 versions of this design come in a variety of combinations of yellow gold, white gold, pink gold, and steel. Prices for a Cartier Tank watch start from $1,900.

They say the Tank watch didn’t have a name at first. But when Cartier said he modeled it from the bird’s eye view of the Tank’s square shape, the moniker stuck.

Louis Cartier had an expression that a good idea is an idea that gives birth to the evolution of something. The tank, in addition to being essential, is so strong that it can evolve in terms of volume and proportion, but you always recognize the Tank watch.

Pierre Rainero, Head of Cartier’s Deparement of Image

It did not take long for the Tank to gain popularity. It was instantly recognized for its unique rectangular case and Roman numerals. Celebrities would spend top dollar to acquire one of these iconic watches. In fact, it has been a favorite of Greta Garbo, John F. Kennedy, and Princess Diana.

There are two ways to look at the Tank watch. It is a tank motif that was created in 1917 effectively when the U.S. and French tanks arrived on the battlefield, but it also in a way began in 1904 when Cartier had the idea to design a watch to help fly a plane. What you get is the evolution of the watch that reached the purest shape for a watch to be worn on the wrist.

Pierre Rainero, Head of Cartier’s Deparement of Image

(Source: The New York Times)

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