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Science And Technology


Development of time telling devices: from necessity to luxury

Author:- Jyoti Jha Chaudhary



When men started to be civilized they were caught with more basic needs besides food, cloth and shelter. Watching time is one of those inevitable requirements without which one cannot expect a system to work. Without knowing time how can one know whether it is time for office or school or meeting? It’s simply impossible to follow a routine without following a time system.

When we consider watch which means a portable device used to know the time  we wish to know the beginning of concept of calculating time. One of the ancient civilizations in Europe started counting days between different phases of the Moon about 20,000 years back. The rough concept of dividing a year into 12 months was supposed to be used in the Babylonian civilization (Asia) in around 2000 B.C.  But dividing days into small unit of time was invented in about 5000-6000 years ago in middle-east and North Africa. The great civilizations of that area, as per our best knowledge, realized the need of time to organize their formal cultural activities. The devices used in ancient days were obviously not very accurate, neither was it fancy and portable like it is today, but it was a beginning. The Sumerian Culture couldn’t mark any of its intellectual inventions in the history but Egyptians are supposed to start dividing the time into small units and invented the sun-clock consisting of a four sided pillar which used to tell time by casting shadows of different length at different time of the day.  But those were not appropriate for night.

The next modified version was water clock, which was first used by the Greeks. The Greeks called the water-clocks clepsydras which mean water thieves. These clocks were used to determine hours at night, but might be used in daylight as well. The next development after water clock probably was the mechanical clocks. There is not any recorded day of the development of first mechanical clock. The early mechanical clocks were using a mechanism called escapement which was first described by a French engineer Villard de Honnecourt in AD 1250. But he did not use it for clock then.

The first mechanical clock was probably made in late 1200s. The first clear drawing of a mechanical clock was made by Jacopo Di Dondi and his son in 1364. The first mechanical clock was developed with hands to rotate in the same direction in which the sundial shadows were moving in the northern hemisphere of the earth where sun- clocks or sundials were invented and used for centuries. In this way the direction of movement of hands of a clock was fixed. It was accepted universally and the concept of clockwise direction was born.

The development of clocks went through many phases. The small handy time telling device, called watch, is invented in the 16th century. The earliest need for portability in timekeeping was navigation and mapping in the 15 century. The first pocket watch was created in 1524 by peter Heinlein. The wristwatch was first invented by Patek Philippe at the end of the 19th century At that time it was considered as women’s accessories. But in the beginning of 20th century it was needed in aircrafts and in World War 2 it was used by army. Apart of being an essential part of human life, the watches are included as a very important accessory in the fashion world. There are a huge varieties of watches categorized according to the purpose, ages of users even budget of users. The watchmakers enhanced their market by recognizing kid’s love for cartoon and fairy tale characters and associating those with their products for kids. Besides these there are large verities of sports watches, water proof watches etc. are available.

Gradually the method kept on improving and so did the accuracy of the device. Speaking of the accuracy, till now, the Atomic Clocks are the most accurate clocks in the world. Though, pendulum and crystal quartz clocks are very accurate but, their accuracy varies according to the changes in their surroundings. For example the function of a quartz watch may be affected by the change in humidity.  So in order to satisfy the scientists’ desire of absolute accuracy, depending on the natural frequencies of atoms is more reliable. An atom vibrates at very regular intervals in nanoseconds.  One nanosecond is a billionth of a second, so it takes one billion nanoseconds to make one second. The first Atomic Clock was made in 1949 in USA. The first Cesium Atomic Clock (more accurate than the previous) was built in 1955 in U.K.

One of the most popular forms of the time telling devices is the digital clock. A digital clock displays time in numeric form. It uses 50 or 60 hertz oscillations of AC power to keep time. The first digital clock was invented in 1956. The biggest drawback with such clocks are that  since they run on electricity and they don’t have permanent memory they must be reset every time they are moved or power is cut off. However battery operated devices are invented to reduce this drawback. On the other hand they are very inexpensive.

The industrial manufacturing of  pocket watches with interchangeable parts was pioneered by Waltham Watch Company, founded by Aaron Lufkin, Dennison  in 1850, The first electrically-powered watch, the Hamilton Electric 500, was released in 1957 by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It used a battery as its source of electrical power, perhaps among the greatest innovations of the 20th Century. Hamilton's solid gold 14k Ventura was the first electric watch manufactured, and it will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2007. Being an essential accessory in fashion world the upper line of price range of watches is touching the sky. Speaking of price the Swiss Watchmakers are winning the race by introducing highly expensive watches. The Swiss watchmakers such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Girard-Perregaux are introducing watches having price tags of six figure amounts in dollars. In 2005 the Vacheron Constantin had launched a watch which adorns the price tag of $ 1.5 millions.

World’s top ten most expensive watch maker companies and highest price of their products are listed below:

  1. The Vacheron Constantin, $ 1.5 million;
  2. Blanc pain, $839,000;
  3. Girard-perregaux, $532,000;
  4. Parmigiani Fleurier, $477,000;
  5. Roger Dubuis, $450,000;
  6. Audemars Piguet, $379,000;
  7. Jaeger-LeCoultre, $310,000;
  8. IWC, $300,000;
  9. Omega, $282,500; and
  10. Reguet, $252,800.


In the world of economy there are many companies who are involved in manufacturing watches. The Citizen Watch Co. Ltd, founded in 1924, has been the largest watch making company in the world since 1986. On 31st march 2006 the company made Net Sales of 125.04 billions of yen by manufacturing and selling watches and clocks (37% of total net sales) and it earned an operating income of 20.5 billions of yen. On 31st march 2007 the net sales and the operating income of watches and clocks segment of this company are supposed to rise to 133 billions of yen and 21.5 billions of yen respectively (these data are based on the information given by the website of the company). Other leading watch making companies in the world are listed below:

In Europe: Accurist watches, Barthelay, Beretta, Barthet, L.Leroy, Max Rene, Squale Srl. ;

In North America:  Aman, Armitron, Fossil, Genaldi, Hamilton, Luminox, MA Luxury Timepieces, The Montana Watch Company, Timex

In Switzerland: Alfex, Blancpain, Breguet, Breitling, Candino etc.
Whether luxurious or inexpensive, watches have become very essential part of human life.