Wristwatches from the Collection of the Museum of Arts and Crafts
Today, the majority of mechanical wristwatches are produced with self-winding movement, while only a small number of models retained manual winding. Automatic winding takes precedence over manual: owner does not need to think about winding his watch, as it winds by using kinetic energy generated by movement of user’s arm.
Production of first wristwatches with self-winding system began in 1922. They were constructed by the English watchmaker John Harwood.
Initially the weight did not turn the full circle, but around 180 degrees, and was using the motion of the rotor only in one directon which was not enough to wind the spring for 24 hours of movement's work. Such construction is known today as hammer or bumper.
In 1930, Rolex improved Harwood’s invention by constructing a rotor which turned 360 degrees around its central axis and could wind up the spring so it has reserve power for 35 hours of movement's work. By the 1960s, automatic winding became a standard in quality mechanical watches.
The dream of many, about the watch that does not need to be wound or worn every day to be self-wound, came through in 1957 when American company Hamilton from Lancaster, Pennsylvania announced at a press conference that it had developed the first electric wristwatch powered by battery. The wristwatch that along with an innovative solution for mechanism had an equally inventive asymmetric casing designed by the industrial designer Richard Arbib, was an immediate hit and it seemed to have a bright future. However, new and perfected designs soon followed and production of Hamilton’s electric watch stopped in 1969.
Bulova Accutron launched in 1960 and developed by an electronics engineer Max Hetzel is the first electronic wristwatch. The number of moving parts was reduced from 27 to 12, and the total number of parts, out of 130 which made a typical automatic wristwatch, came to 27. Moreover, it was guaranteed to be accurate to a minute per month, which was significantly less than even chronometrically certified mechanical watches. Watch used battery for movement, transistor was used as an impulse device and a tuning fork as the oscillator made from Elinvar which vibrated at a frequency of 360 vibrations per second. By 1977 when production stopped, more than 4 million Accutron watches were sold.
Serious blow to the Swiss watchmaking industry was struck in 1969 when Seiko introduced the first quartz wristwatch to the Tokyo market named 35 SQ Astron, in limited edition of 100 items at a price than equaled the price of a smaller Japanese car.
Piezoelectric properties of quartz crystals were already discovered by Jacques and Pierre Curie in 1880. Electrically excited quartz crystal vibrates at frequency of 32.768 oscillations per second.
First prototypes of electronic quartz wristwatch were made in the CEH research lab (Centre Electronique Horologer) in Neuchâtel.
Despite the fact that the prototype of quartz wristwatch was developed in Switzerland, commercial production began two years later in a faraway Japan. Seiko Astron had a crystal quartz oscillator, hybrid integrated circuit and a miniature motor which ran the dial. Its departure from exact time was only a minute a year. Modern quartz mechanisms are produced in vast quantities and the least expensive watches regularly have a quartz mechanism.
What is a jump hour watch? While standard watches tell time by hands rotating over a dial with hour and minute markings, jump hour watches show time through windows with numbers. The numbers are located on movable discs or tapes moved by the mechanism. It should be noted, as the title jump hour itself implies, hour markings written on the edge of the rotating circle jump in the window; while the minute, and eventually second, move continuously. The hour disc moves continuously as well, however, just before the full hour, one spring pushes on the actuating triangular lever which jumps in a space between two cogs which causes sudden turn of certain disc part on which the number is marked.
According to available data, the first wristwatch with digital time display is attributed to prestigious watch making company Audemars Piguet which launched such watch in 1921. It is interesting that the trend for jump hour watches repeats every forty years – twenties and thirties, then in the seventies of the previous century, and finally today.
When we talk about the digital display or respectively digital display of time, many of us immediately think of electronic, or quartz watches. What actually happened that with the advent of quartz watches as rule analog displays were replaced by digital ones? That kind of display allows for various functions that a timepiece might have, without burdening the dial with a mass of numbers, marks, dots, hands… By pressing the buttons, one activates the optional stopwatch, alarm, time in another time zone, day of the week, date. During the eighties, due to innumerable possibilities of digital technology, one could play a variety of games on a watch, and everybody’s favorite option was a calculator.
The first electronic watches had LED display. Its drawback was the large battery consumption; therefore the LED light was turned on only by pressing the button located on the casing side. On the other hand, it meant that exact time could not be read just by looking at the watch, but it required the other hand to push the button. Due to these shortcomings, it was quickly replaced by more perfected LCD (Liquid-crystal) display which significantly reduces battery consumption, and which enabled the reading of data on the display constantly, not just by pressing the button.
Chronographs are watches with basic two hands dial – hour and minute; and central independent second hand dial that shows time on a special scale with fine division. It can be started, stopped, and returned to zero position by successive pressure on the stem. Early chronographs usually had only one button, while later had two: first one starts and stops the second dial, while the other returns it to zero position. Contemporary chronographs often have moveable bezels as tachymeters for rapid calculations of speed or distance.
Chronographs have various uses that are marked on the dial and the outer rotating bezel. Such watches are used in industry as a standard, in sports, car racing, aviation, army (artillery), submarine maneuvering, space programs…
On how important chronographs can be, we can see in the example of Omega Speedmaster. Besides being the first watch on the moon, it had extremely important role in Apollo 13 mission in April 1970 that nearly ended in tragedy because of the explosion of an oxygen tank. Precision and options of Speedmaster enabled the achievement of the right trajectory and return to Earth, thus saving the crew of a spaceship.
Early on, hand-made wristwatches were made with an alarm function. Already in 1912/14, the Swiss company Eterna made a watch with that type of mechanism. Movements for watch and alarm sometimes come from two separate springs, and sometimes from one. In the latter situation, of course, the striking mechanism significantly shortens the time between two windings. For instance, if a fully wound spring allows for continuous rotation for a period of 56 hours, 22 seconds of alarm ringing shortens that period to only 38 hours.
Alarm wristwatches generally have two crowns; one for winding the movement and adjusting the hour and minute hand, the other for winding and setting the alarm. The ringing can be turned off by pulling or stamping the crown or stem.
Diver’s watches are considered to be those watches that are water resistant to at least 10 atmospheres (100 m), mostly 20 – 30 atm (200 – 300 m). The first water resistant watch was made in 1926 by Rolex named Oyster. A year later the English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze tried to swim the English Channel wearing that watch which remained sealed and displayed exact time after 10 hours in cold water.
Besides being water resistant, diving watches must meet some standards: a bezel around the dial marking at least every 5 minutes of elapsed time and mark for specific minute marking, clear minute marks, and visibility at a distance of 25 cm in total darkness. They must be resistant to magnetism, shock, salt water.
To ensure water resistance, screw-in crown is also very important; it is often placed in position of 4, 8, or 9 hours so not to interfere with the movements of palm going backwards. Protective glass should be resistant to pressure – acrylic, sapphire…, rubber strap, silicone, steel long enough to be attached to a diving suit, and a number of characteristics that diving watch must meet in greater or lesser extent, depending on whether we are dealing with amateur or professional diving.
Interestingly, most of the so-called Russian watches are known to us by their brand names and not by the factories where they were produced. Who has ever heard of the First or Second Moscow Watch Factory, St. Petersburg watch factory or one from Chistopol? Raketa, Vostok, Slava, Poljot are names that are much closer to us. Interestingly, the two most famous brands – Poljot and Raketa – were made in honor of the first space flight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961.
Every year, Swatch produces around 140 new models, unique and yet still based on the same type of watch. They are designed in Milan, where designers are inspired by the latest fashion trends and cultural atmosphere. In the promotion of the product, marketing plays an important role – celebrities as spokespersons for the brand, unconventional launchings of new models and countless puns with the aim of survival in a merciless world market that day after day poses new challenges and competitions.
The Akteo company has been partner of important cultural events such as Cannes Film Festival and various music festivals, launching for each occasion original models in limited edition. Akteo watches could be found in the collections of Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, in MoMA in New York and San Francisco, in Japan - Museum of Modern Art, Saitama and Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, and, finally in the Museum of Arts and Crafts, Zagreb.
Today Akteo has more than 300 models divided into several thematic sections – Art, Life's Sensations, Professions, Sports, Nature, Civilization, Time. When marketing their products it is always stressed that they are French made, made of stainless steel or titanium, dial protected with mineral glass, equipped with quality quartz movement, water resistant to 50 m depth and that they have two year's warranty. Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that watches are not entirely made in France– they have Swiss movements; most often Ronda calibers, with some exceptions (e.g. ISA in the ladies watch cat. no. 10).
Texts and research: Vesna Lovrić Plantić
Exhibit development, metadata preparation, coordination: Petra Milovac
IT support: Zoran Svrtan
Photographer: Vedran Benović
Texts are adapted from the catalogue "A Century of the Wristwatch" of a temporary exhibition of writswatches held at the Museum of Arts and Crafts in 2014.