Exclusivity is often a decisive factor when talking of luxury and luxury goods. In today's fast-moving society, time is also considered a luxury and we know that this, in particular, is very limited. This is one reason why mankind began measuring this as early as 3000 BC. Today, more than 5,000 years later, much has changed in terms of the measurement of time, which is why we would like to introduce some people who – aside from Rolex' marketing genius Hans Wilsdorf and legendary designer Gérald Genta – have also made significant contributions to the history of watchmaking. These are ten of the most important watchmakers and their inventions.
The 10 most influential watchmakers
1. The inventors of our understanding of timeAs was mentioned before, mankind already measured time more than 5,000 years ago, however, in those days it was still very imprecise by means of the sundial. This method of measuring time date back to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians.
A thousand years later, it was finally the Babylonians who invented the sexagesimal system, also known as the sexagenary or base 60 system. This system restricts numbers to a value of up to 60, and the number 60 should give some people a clue: this numerical system was able to stand the test of time against medieval systems of European scholars and remains in use to this day. In accordance with the system, one minute has 60 seconds. This makes the Babylonians definitely one of the most important watchmakers, or rather time keepers of history.
2. The first non-weather related clockThe world's first clockmaker referred to by name is an ancient Egyptian prince named Amenemhet, who lived around 1555 to 1505 BC and produced a clock in honor of his pharaoh the likes of which the world had never seen before. This groundbreaking invention was able to divide the night into 12 hours, taking into account the duration of the dark hours of night, which vary according to the seasons.
This stroke of genius did not come about because of elaborate gear wheel configurations, but rather was due to two simple jugs. The water flowed from the higher positioned jug through a small hole drilled at a special angle into a lower positioned jug. This construction became known as a water clock, which Amenemhet had described on his own epitaph: "I [...] made a water clock for His Majesty Amenophis I, which was correct in every season. Summer and winter it showed the hour in its place. Nothing like it has been made since prehistoric times." As the inventor of the water clock, Amenemhet must be present among the most influential watchmakers in our opinion.
3. Al-Jazarī and his masterpiece: "The Elephant Clock"Our third clockmaker is no other than the inventor and engineer of the first artistic automated machines: al-Jazarī. He was one of the greatest Islamic engineers and authors of the 12th and 13th century. In addition to locks for doors and other mechanical devices, he created designs for clocks for the princes and kings of his time.
"The Elephant Clock" by al-Jazarī was one of his designs and has been reconstructed in more recent times with the help of his notes. What may surprise many people is that it worked. "The Elephant Clock" is especially impressive because of the unspeakably complicated and expert nature of its mechanical construction. This is how it works: In the elephant's belly, there is a hidden water tank that slowly fills a bowl with water. The bowl pulls on a rope, which in turn turns the figure of a writer on the elephant's back. The pen of the scribe indicates the minutes. After half an hour the bowl has sunk so far that a ball in a basket on the canopy under which the writer sits loosens and turns a cogwheel. This cogwheel causes a disc to turn, which makes a mechanical falcon whistle and indicates the hour in half-hourly steps. The ball then falls into the mouth of a snake, which swings down with the ball in its mouth. The snake pulls the bowl out of the water tank by a wire and places the ball in a basket. The ball then hits a cymbal, makes a sound and the process starts all over again. The process is repeated automatically until the basket with balls on the canopy is emptied. This basket has to be refilled with balls twice a day in order to display the time continuously.
For this strange and at the same time so elaborate mechanism, al-Jazarī has a well-earned a place among the most important clockmakers.
4. Pouzait and the Jump SecondJean-Moïse Pouzait was the director of the first watchmaking school in Geneva. In 1777, he created a mechanism for powering the second hand that was independent from the watch's movement and could be stopped separately. As a result, Pouzait is considered the creator of the Jump Second (French: Seconde morte), which refers to the classic tick-tock movement of the second hand.
Today, the jump second is standard on virtually every watch and it is hard to imagine life without it. Therefore Pouzait with his invention is worthy of the title of one of the most influential watchmakers of all times.
5. A whirlwind in the watch industryAbraham-Louis Breguet, the founder of the watch manufacturer Breguet, was not only a passionate watchmaker, but he also achieved several milestones in the history of the watch industry thanks to his keen understanding of mathematics and physics.
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In addition to the first automatic watch with an oscillating weight and double mainspring barrel, Breguet is also responsible for inventing the tourbillon, which he presented in 1795. This enabled pocket watches and wristwatches to be accurate without being affected by gravity. Breguet was also responsible for the free escapement, the Breguet overcoil and the Breguet hands, which today even adorn his namesake brand's logo. The tempered steel of Breguet hands are unmistakable in their shape and a distinctive feature from the manufacturer. One of his greatest achievements is arguably the invention of the first wristwatch. The Swiss finished his work on this in 1810 for Caroline Murat, the youngest sister of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. However, the watch was only finally completed two years later.
Breguet was a true pioneer in the watchmaking industry, with the inventive genius on par with that of Gyro Gearloose, and undoubtedly one of the most important watchmakers the world has ever seen.
6. The founder of fine watchmaking in GermanyWhen one man single-handedly turns an entire region into a hotspot in the watchmaking industry and, on the side, works as a watchmaker, entrepreneur, mayor of a small town and member of parliament of a federal state, then that is more than remarkable. Ferdinand Adolph Lange, founder of the watch manufacturer A. Lange and Söhne, was not only an extremely talented watchmaker, but also understood how to make production of watches more effective through the division of labor. He founded his company in 1845 with a loan from the Royal Saxon Government and chose the small, economically disadvantaged town of Glashütte for his headquarters.
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Even though Lange had neither trained personnel nor the necessary infrastructure at the beginning, he decided to found his own watch company and provided economic growth and new jobs for the small town in the Erzgebirge region. Furthermore, he repeatedly encouraged his employees to pursue a path of independence and to found their own companies. As a result, Lange is partly considered the reason for the success of the watch industry in Glashütte and the prosperity of the region.
Due to his entrepreneurial spirit and commitment, A. Lange laid the foundation for the flourishing Glashütte watch industry. He is considered the founder of fine watchmaking in Germany, making him one of the most influential watchmakers in history. A. Lange and Söhne is still one of the most successful luxury watch manufacturers in the world today.
7. Inspired by friendship: The first men's wristwatchIn its early days, wristwatches were almost exclusively considered a fashion accessory for women. For men, timepieces were still common in the form of pocket watches, which were usually attached to a chain and carried in a jacket or vest pocket.
This would change at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos Dumont wanted a watch from which the time could be easily read in the cockpit during a flight without having to take one's hands from the control stick. He approached his friend, the French jewelry and watchmaker Louis Cartier, with his request. Louis Cartier agreed and designed the world's first men's wristwatch with a leather strap for Santos Dumont in 1904. The project, originally planned as a one-off production, quickly became so popular that it was not long before wristwatches for men became a very popular accessory.
The Santos watch model, named after the pilot, is still an important part of the Cartier range over 100 years later to this day. Louis Cartier is thus regarded as the forefather of the men's wristwatch and made a significant contribution to watchmaking history.
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8. Harwood’s automatic timepieceWhile the first wristwatches in history were powered with a manual winding, the 29 year old Briton John Harwood designed the first automatic wristwatch with an oscillating weight in 1922. Two years later, he was granted a patent for his invention in Switzerland.
The first automatic wristwatches were subsequently produced in collaboration with Blancpain and Fortis. Fortis was later to become the first company to manufacture automatic wristwatches in mass production. With his invention, Harwood literally changed the course of time and truly earned his place at the summit among the most influential watchmakers.
9. Progress and decline all in one: The quartz watchQuartz watches caused great problems for the watch industry in the 1980s due to their low production cost and high accuracy. The quartz crisis drove many manufacturers to the brink of financial ruin or even to bankruptcy.
Part of the blame for this crisis can probably also be attributed to Udo Adelsberger and Adolf Scheibe. The two Germans developed various quartz watches at the "Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt" (Imperial Physical Technical Institute – PTR) in 1932, with the help of which they were able to prove irregularities in the earth's rotational speed. They succeeded in making a watch that was more precise than the Earth's rotation, which had been used as a reference for time measurement until that time. Adelsberger and Scheibe created the hydra, which would cause problems for manufacturers of mechanical watches during the quartz crisis. Nevertheless, the two of them set an important milestone in watchmaking history with the invention of the quartz watch, which deserves to be mentioned.
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10. A new type of measuring time: The atomic clockIn 1944, the American Isidor Isaac Rabi received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his magnetic resonance method for studying the magnetic properties of the atomic nucleus, which formed the basis for the development of the atomic clock.
Rabi Although Rabi has little to do with the craft of watchmaking, the atomic clock that he developed is the most precise way of measuring time. It has a deviation of only a few seconds every few thousand years and is still considered the standard for setting other clocks according to time. Rabi is therefore not a watchmaker in the true sense of the word, but like the Babylonians thousands of years ago, he revolutionized the manner in which time is measured. Therefore, his achievement definitely should be mentioned.