At 7 a.m. the alarm clock rings, at 8:30 a.m. we go to the office and at 7 p.m. to football training – our daily routine is precisely timed. But how did it happen at this time of day that determines our daily routine? And how did it get on our wrist? In the following you will learn since when it is actually known “what time” it is and we always keep an eye on the time.
Dates then and now
Inviting friends or family to dinner these days is easy. You set a time and when everything is ready, the guests are already standing outside the door together. But how exactly did it work before there were watches? In those days, people used to orient themselves to external events, such as the position of the sun, or they would arrange to meet “at dusk” or “at the cock-crow”. Depending on the interpretation of this formulation, the meal was either not yet ready or already cold – or the appointment was already gone. One did not take it so exactly.
Time has its origin in the monastery
Already the Babylonians divided day and night into twelve sections, but exact times are not very long ago. The strict division of the day comes from the monasteries, where the ringing of the hours set the rhythm for the monks and nuns for their work and prayer phases. At some point this was also adopted by the cities, where the ringing of the public hour bells was, for example, the sign of the opening and closing of the city gates, while the church bells announced the upcoming mass. The duration of the hours was based on candle, water or sundials and varied according to place and season. The sundial was invented by the ancient Egyptians about 5,000 years ago. It is circular with several time sections. However, it was only possible to measure time during the day in sunlight. The water clock was independent of the time of day, just like the hourglass that followed it and the so-called wheel clock from the 14th century. The wheel clock already contained the first basic elements that can still be found in mechanical watches today: It had a balance wheel, a less accurate predecessor of the balance wheel used today.
The emergence of a precise time
The development of an exact time did not begin until the 14th century. At that time, mechanical watches and striking mechanisms from Italy set off for the whole of Europe. This meant that every citizen could find out what time it was, until when he was allowed to work or when he had to leave for an appointment. At the beginning, mechanical watches had rate deviations of 15 minutes per day. In the course of the following decades, however, they became increasingly accurate. However, the time of day varied from city to city, so that each individual location was practically a separate time zone. The one correct time did not exist. As unbelievable as it may sound nowadays, these differences caused hardly any problems. Since the change from one city to the other was only possible by long journeys, the time difference was rarely of importance.
Economy demands uniformity
However, this changed in the 18th century, when the call for synchronous time became louder due to increasing trade and traffic. For the postal service in particular, a generally valid time was essential in order to deliver items as agreed. The factories of the industrial age ultimately marked the end of vague calculations of time. Time became an economic resource and public clocks with precise minute and second displays spread. A binding uniform time has only existed in Germany since 1893, thanks to the railways, whose timetables had to be determined to the minute. The synchronisation of the entire country was therefore indispensable and thus the milestone was set for the modern world with exact timing as we know it today.
The time always with you
The invention of the wristwatch was, of course, enormously helpful in keeping up with important deadlines. Nowadays, it is worn on the wrist as a matter of course, but the wristwatch has only been around for about 200 years. In those years it has also undergone a remarkable development. After time had become so important, pocket watches came on the market. In the beginning they were made by locksmiths, because watchmakers did not even exist yet. The new timepieces were quite large and usually attached to chains or straps. Men carried them in their vest pockets, women on their necks. At first, however, they were expensive luxury items and only accessible to the nobility, and the ordinary citizen had to continue to follow the city bells and other clues.
From the pocket to the hand
When the balance wheel and balance spring were invented in the 15th century, the construction of more precise watches and the reduction of the case became possible. In 1812, Abraham-Louis Breguet produced the first known wristwatch at the request of Queen Caroline Murat, Napoleon’s sister. This new type of watch, however, needed time to find favour in society. It was not until the end of the 19th century that many ladies decided to wear a watch on their wrist. Men, on the other hand, still preferred pocket watches at that time, the wristwatch was considered “feminine” – but for them too, it was to be the watch form of the future. At some point, however, men also noticed that it was sometimes a little impractical to have to take the watch out of the pocket every time to read the time. If you carried out an activity with both hands, this was a difficult to impossible task. For this reason, Louis Cartier designed the Cartier Santos in 1904, the first wristwatch for men. It is named after his friend, the flying icon Alberto Santos Dumont, who had no chance of knowing the time when flying. This was also the birth of the first timepiece in the popular watch category of pilot watches. Santos is still today a central and extremely popular collection of Cartier. The first German wristwatch was a “Darling” by Thiel in Ruhla, Thuringia, and was launched in 1912.
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