The art of watchmaking: an age-old craft said to originate as far back as the 16th century. But what is the status of this historically essential tradition in today’s time? With current technological advances, is watchmaking still held in the same regard as with days gone by when cell phones, digital clocks, and other electric, time-telling gadgets didn’t exist?
As far back as one can remember, time has been told through the use of ingenious creations by forethinkers of the time: for the ancient Romans it was water clocks; the Mayans, astronomy; and for the Egyptians, the sundial.
Though there is much debate circulating the actual date and place of invention, some sources say the first mechanical clock was created in England in 1275.
Many inventions in history have been the result of desperate times and the ingenuity of a culture to improve their lives and survive in spite of. The timely creation of the watch is one of these instances.
Religious reformer John Calvin changed the course of history when, in 1541, he banned the wearing of jewelry in Geneva, Switzerland. In order to preserve their livelihood, gold, and silversmiths had to adapt their skillset and developed the art of watchmaking. And thus, the now historic Swiss watchmaking industry was born.
The increased popularity of wrist watches is also attributed to 19th century wartimes, during which their size and mobility in comparison to pocket watches was an indispensable necessity to soldiers in various parts of the world.
But since then, times have changed, and with it, so have the devices that keep it. Around the world, the vast amounts of information now available, including time, and digital gadgets that carry that information, are too vast to count.
For many watchmakers, their craft is one that has been passed down by generation, holding with it a precious history and pride tied to the family name and specific watchmaker’s brand. So where do they exist now in a society of swift digital advancement and information overload?
With technological innovations like the Apple watch, many predict the fall of the luxury watchmaking business will soon come to fruition. With the buzz of a potential “ice age” around the corner for Swiss watchmaker’s businesses, some say the “smart watch” is the next revolutionary wave in time keeping.
Other industry experts believe that while they may offer limitless features at the turn of the wrist—catering to our society’s ever-increasing need to stay online and connected— the smart watch will not replace the traditional time piece as a watch icon, and the industry of old will survive.
While the future of the watch business is still yet to be determined, one thing is certain: within the world of watchmakers and connoisseurs, traditional watches are still artful creations worth global admiration and innovative design. One such beacon of this unyielding appreciation for watches is Baselworld, an annual tradeshow held in Basel, Switzerland that features the finest jewelry and watchmakers around the world.
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