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Today most of us wear a wristwatch but did you know that they date back over a hundred years.

25/10/2023     Blog

Today most of us wear a wristwatch but did you know that they date back over a hundred years.

During the 1920’s and 30’s wristwatches would replace the fashion for pocket watches.  A wristwatch was a far more practical and easier watch to wear and were issued to the military during the First World War in reflection of this. Accurate timekeeping was now necessary, and watches became everyday items instead of expensive possessions few could afford.  Following the war, a new market emerged and by the end of the 1930’s sales of the wristwatch were outnumbering the pocket watch.

The design of the earliest wristwatches was not that different from the pocket watch. The face was a smaller version and was attached to the straps with wire ‘lugs’.  The earliest versions from the 1920s and 30s were usually simple rectangular or circular faces, reflecting the fashion of the period for geometric shapes and clean lines. During the 1940s and 50s, wristwatch design expanded to include more extravagant creations and unusual shapes with many watches taking on more of the stylistic traits of jewellery from the period.

The early military watches are very collectable and sought after at auction and are sometimes identified by a broad arrow head on the dial. 

Value is determined by many factors including the maker, the materials used, the style and date of the watch as well as the type and complexity of the movement. 

Some of the makers to look out for include the famous Rolex, Omega and Cartier as well as the lesser known Hamilton and Elgin.  

Rolex was established in 1905 at Wilsdorf & Davies in London. Hans Wilsdof started his first wristwatch factory on the basis of his theory that the wristwatch would became more popular than the more dominant pocket watch; a gamble that definitely paid off. 

They moved their headquarters to Geneva after the First World War because of the unfavourable economic situation in the Uk. In 1926 they introduced the first waterproof watches known as the “Oyster” range. Mercedes Gleitze the first woman to swim the channel wore a Rolex Oyster which kept perfect time whilst she attempting to swim the channel. After this Rolex displayed the watches in fish tanks to advertise their waterproofing.

Even today every Rolex watch is hand made and uses the most expensive stainless steel in the world known as 904L and is resistant to rust, corrosion and pitting.

Rolex is the only watch maker to have its own gold foundry so it can regulate the quality of gold used. A fun fact is that Rolex wristwatches that use Roman numerals IIII is used instead of IV and is known as the watchmakers four as it is thought to be more visually pleasing.

Watches can of course range in price from just a few pounds to many millions. A Rolex Daytona 6239 made in 1968 fetched a staggering £17.75 million at auction.

Here at Sheffield Auction Gallery we sell watches for every pocket in our fortnightly silver, jewellery and watch sales.