Fashion wristwatches have become a must-have wardrobe staple, even in the age of the smartphone. Wondering how these accessories went from practical necessity to a timeless fashion statement?
Even though watches aren’t considered essential anymore, hundreds of millions still get sold each year. Their popularity is rooted in history – and you’ll love learning just how it happened.
Whether you wear a watch daily or you’re debating whether or not you should get one, this guide will show you why we still love these accessories so much. Keep reading to learn the full history of the fashion watch!
Before we could wear watches, we had to learn to tell time. The earliest predecessor of the fashion wristwatch actually isn’t a clock – it’s a sundial.
Sundials have been around since before humans started to record history. That’s a long time!
It’s possible that we started telling time before language or agriculture were invented. But we know for sure that by 3,500 BC, sundials were in frequent use in Egypt and China. These are two of the oldest civilizations that we have documented.
Of course, sundials had some major drawbacks (such as not working at night). Soon, human innovation brought us the next great thing in telling time.
Candles that burned at a set rate were used for a while to tell time, and then hourglasses were invented. Finally, someone came up with a mechanical clock, and its accuracy was refined over hundreds of years.
The First Watches
The first pocket watch, or pocket-sized clock, was invented in 1505. The term “watch” came from the sailors who used it to time their shifts on deck, or watches. The name has stayed around in the decades since.
By the late 17th century, watches were becoming popular and started to be considered a fashion statement. However, they weren’t yet worn on the wrist: fashion pocket watches came first.
Some of these pocket watches weren’t accurate at first, but inventors gradually found ways to help these miniature clocks work better.
The Invention of Wristwatches
It’s not entirely clear who invented the first wristwatch, but historians agree that it happened sometime in the 19th century. However, it didn’t become popular across the world until the 20th century.
At first, wristwatches weren’t well-loved in America. They were seen as feminine, a fashion statement only for women. It was also believed that they were too small to possibly be accurate.
These perceptions changed during World War I.
American soldiers and Europeans both started to strap pocket watches to their wrists to make them easier to see. Soldiers needed to be able to tell the time at any given moment.
By 1916, major news outlets were reporting that wrist watches were here to stay. Pocket watches fell out of favor, and wristwatches became standard wear. Although they were an important part of the fashion of the times, many people wore them out of necessity.
The Expansion of the Watch Market
Now that everyone was wearing watches, companies saw the value of tapping into this market.
A luxury watch market started to emerge over the next few decades. Companies like Rolex turned the wristwatch into a statement piece. This set the stage for newer luxury watch companies like Watches of Wales to come later.
Today, these brand names are beloved in part because they have a history. We don’t just wear watches because they look nice – we wear them because they help us tap into the past.
Watches started to turn into status symbols in the mid-20th century. Pop culture, such as the James Bond movies, drove people’s watch choices. These accessories became aspirational – you could wear the same watches that your icons did, even if you couldn’t quite afford to dress like them.
Modern Fashion Wristwatches Emerge
The world of the fashion watch wasn’t done changing yet. In the ’80s and ’90s, a fashion watch revolution changed the game.
For a while in the 1970s, Seiko was the top watch brand. Their branding hinged on the idea that their watches used a new quartz technology. Back then, it was revolutionary, and it put their brand on top. But it was only a matter of time before other brands started to adopt the same tech.
The quartz watch soon became commonplace, and Seiko lost its place on top. But new watch brands were prepared to take its place.
Clearly, technology couldn’t make a brand stay ahead of the game. Other brands would always adopt the same technology in time.
The new watch branding hinged on fashion instead. What mattered most wasn’t the inside of the watch, but the outside.
New popular brands like Guess and Fossil led the movement. The technology was nothing new, but the look was. This movement also brought the idea of “watch wardrobing” into play for the first time: people were encouraged to buy different-looking watches for different occasions.
It was easy to see why one might need more than one fashion watch. Some of the looks were excessive, even outrageous.
A good watch no longer needed to be designed for everyday wear. There were now statement watches and special-occasion watches.
Long before the modern smartwatch was invented, these brands already removed the concept of the watch from its primary function: timekeeping. The ability to tell time was now secondary to the ability to make a statement.
When smartphones came about, this concept helped watches stay relevant. People already weren’t wearing watches for practical reasons. Today, the fashion watch remains as strong as ever.
Why Do You Wear a Watch?
Modern consumers now have more reasons than ever to wear wristwatches. They tell time, make a fashion statement, work as status symbols, and much more. What can your watch do for you?
Of course, a watch is just one piece of your accessories game. For more fashion tips, don’t miss this post!