World War 1 and the establishment of the wristwatch
Watch & Bullion10 January 2018 | 2 min read
The first world war is one of the most influential militarily conflicts in human history, for it is no doubt one of the most impactful events in shaping the modern world.
One of the lesser known products of the great war is the wristwatch. Yes sure, wristwatches already existed before world war 1, but they were often just pocket watches placed on a leather strap. As such, they were most commonly an accessory for women rather than an important gadget for the average citizen.
A pocket watch converted to a wristwatch
Public perception changed greatly though, and in 1916 1/4 of all soldiers already wore wristwatches. A big reason for this came as a direct result of a military tactic called the creeping artillery barrage. Careful synchronization between artillery gunners opening up a field for infantry to advance behind demanded accurate timepieces for the soldiers to coordinate these moves.
The watches themselves also developed drastically due to the harsh conditions they were subjected to on a daily basis. Tougher crystals were developed and luminous dials incorporated. Finally, the cherry on top was the fact that more and more pilots started using wristwatches which proved more practical in combat. This gave wristwatches a coolness factor which they had not previously enjoyed.
A vintage Bell & Ross pilot watch
In 1917 the wristwatch was deemed so essential to the soldier that the British War Department began issuing wristwatches to all combatants. This lead to the wristwatch becoming an integral part of the modern soldiers uniform.
Gaining usefulness and enjoying a broad exposure set the stage for the success of wristwatch post-war. So much so, that by 1930 the ratio of wrist- to pocketwatches was 50 to 1. Next year it will be 100 years since the end of the first world war, but its effects remain with us to this day.