Watches: A complete guide to the modern era of watchmaking

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 18, 2018.
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Over the course of the last few months, Hodinkee editor-at-large Joe Thompson has written an extremely in-depth history of the watch industry as it has changed and evolved over the last 50 years or so. The series was broken out into four parts (OK, technically five, since one of the sections was actually two separate stories itself), looking at the invention of quartz watches, the explosion of fashion watch brands, the reinvigoration of mechanical watchmaking, and the early days of the smartwatch. Frankly, there is nobody on planet earth with a better first-hand understanding of the people, products, and strange little events that have shaped watchmaking during this time than Joe.

Here we have rounded up the entire series, so you can catch up on any instalment you may have missed or do a quick little historical review as 2017 closed. The entire saga comes in at a little over 15,000 words, and every single one is worth your time. Get a cup of coffee (or something stronger), sit back, and enjoy.

Part 1: The quartz revolution

Our story starts in the last week of December 1960. The world didn’t know it yet, but quartz watches were about to completely take over, changing how most people keep time on a daily basis. The Japanese were at the forefront of this revolution, but the Swiss quickly realised they had to get in the game too or risk obsolescence. There’s no way to overstate the impact of this first revolution and its effects are felt through the other three too.



Part 2: The fashion watch revolution

By the time this chapter in the story starts, quartz watches had all but completely supplanted mechanical watches on wrists worldwide. Now major international companies were realising the potential of more affordable quartz watches to become serious fashion statements, and a number of important brands — many of them still around today, in some form or another — grew to fill this new space.

Part 3: The mechanical watch revolution

We take the reality of mechanical watches completely for granted today. It would never occur to most modern enthusiasts that less than 30 years ago it was entirely conceivable that the mechanical watch would go extinct before the end of the 20th century. Luckily for us, some very smart people with some very bold ideas came along and reinvented what a mechanical watch could be in a big way.

Part 4: The smartwatch revolution

For the final chapter of the story, Joe looks at the smartwatch and how the very concept of an advanced, multipurpose digital timekeeper has evolved over the last few decades. The road from Dick Tracey’s wrist communicator to the Apple Watch was anything but a straight path, and there were some pretty entertaining detours along the way. The best part here is that the end is yet to be written. — Bloomberg