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Birth of the Wristwatch

Posted By: Anthony White FGA, 21st August 2017 Tags: Watches

Alberto Santos-Dumont plane

Q. What is the connection between this plane and your wrist watch?

A. The first-ever wristwatch was invented for its pilot in 1904

A couple of months ago, my wife Jacqui and I toured the Design Museum in Kensington, perfectly timed (by chance) to coincide with the superb Cartier exhibition. Louis Cartier is of course most famous for his ground-breaking jewellery techniques, using platinum to achieve hitherto impossibly delicate and intricate diamond-set designs.

However, this outstanding innovator Louis Cartier was also a friend of pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. In the early 1900s, flying time was very limited by tiny fuel tanks and running out of fuel simply meant you would crash! Pocket watches (then the only timepieces) were not precise enough and anyway impossible to read if you had both hands on the controls of a vibrating and bouncing flying machine!

Louis Cartier considered the problem with his friend and came up with something we all now take completely for granted-- the wrist watch.

His prototype, a superb example of Cartier's innovative and practical thinking, was so successful that it soon caught the eye of fashion aficionados of the early 1900s. The prototype soon went into production as the Cartier-Santos watch, a long-running design now very sought by collectors.

A 1988 Cartier Santos wristwatch A 1988 version of Santos wrist watch

From the early 1900s to the 1940s the vast majority of watch movements were made in Switzerland* and bought by individual watch makers such as Cartier (Jaeger, Vacheron Consantin, Audemars Piguet, Movado, Le Coultre and even Rolex in that time just sold movements to watch manufacturers)

At PSJ we have an 80 year history of watch sales and servicing. In the early 1950s our four watchmakers were fully occupied in servicing mechanical watches in our Princes Street shop. If your watch is automatic, hand wound or has a quartz movement we now have that traditional expertise in our workshop at 7 High Street, Yeovil


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