From Battlefield to Fashion Accessory

LONDON – The evolution of the men’s pocket watch to the ubiquitous wristwatch has its roots in the wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. World War I was the turning point when the wristwatch became both a strategic military tool and a fashion accessory for men.

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With the centenary of the start of World War I approaching July, several watchmakers are commemorating the simple designs that enabled military leaders to coordinate precision strikes and usher in a new era of airborne battle.

Historians say that the idea of ​​placing small watches on soldiers’ wrists was probably conceived during the Boer War or perhaps in the German navy shortly before; there are some historical accounts that Napoleon was frustrated by constantly having to open his pocket watch during battle. – but most agree that World War I secured the wristwatch’s place, both in military history and at the pinnacle of men’s jewelry.

Wristwatches were only worn by women before the 20th century, and more for decoration than for something as practical as punctuality.

The first wristwatch was manufactured for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe in 1868, according to the Guinness Book of Records. But the first men’s wristwatch is not so easy to spot.
The watchmaker Girard-Perregaux provided what may be the first examples to the Imperial German Navy in 1880, after an officer complained that the operation of a pocket watch was difficult when timing an attack. It is said that he showed his superiors his solution: a pocket watch tied to his wrist. At the request of the military, the company sent watchmakers from La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, to Berlin to begin making small watches attached to bracelets.

The iconic Tank de Cartier watch, created in 1917 by company founder Louis Cartier, was inspired by the Renault tanks he saw on the Western Front as a soldier. After multiple reinterpretations over the following decades, it is now available in 41 variations, with combinations of yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and steel, priced at around $ 1,900.

Legend has it that the design was nameless at first, but when Cartier said it was modeled from a bird’s eye view of the square tank cockpit and side rails, the nickname froze.

“Louis Cartier had the expression that a good idea is an idea that gives life to the evolution of something,” said Pierre Rainero, head of Cartier’s image, heritage and heritage department. “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.”

The tank, with its instantly recognizable rectangular case and Roman numerals, has been a favorite of celebrities like Greta Garbo, John F. Kennedy (who bought one for his girlfriend that read “To Jackie. With love, Jack.” ) And Princess Diana. His prototype was presented to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American expeditionary force in France, a year after the end of World War I, virtually sealing his place in 20th century history.
“There are two ways to see the Tank watch. It’s a tank motif that was created in 1917 when American and French tanks arrived on the battlefield, but in a sense it also started in 1904 when Cartier had the idea of ​​designing a watch to help pilot an airplane, “Rainero said, referring to a watch made by Cartier for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, one of the pioneers of aviation who wanted a simple watch for his cockpit. ” What you get is there evolution of the watch that has reached the purest form for a wristwatch. “

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