The Evolution of Timepieces From Measuring Devices to status Symbols

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SINCE human knows the difference of the day and night, mankind has tried to measure every singles time that they have passed or faced. We have invented many devices to evaluate the time. Long ago, The Ancient Persian used the sundial to know the time exactly, while other used candle to quantify it. It is recorded that the most precise timekeeping devices of the ancient world were the water clock or clepsydra, invented by the Egyptian around the reign of Amenhotep I (1525–1504). The device was able to measure the hour even at night, apart from its superiority; the water clock required manual timekeeping to refill the water flow. Later in the 11th century, Chinese inventors created the first mechanical clocks that driven by an escapement mechanism.

In Europe, water clock and Chinese mechanical clock has inspired European people to build a better timepiece and uses. In history of European Voyager said that Ferdinand Magellan used 18 hourglasses in each ship to determine the time and as navigation tools. In the same continent, timepiece has met their place to meet the perfection. Compact, easy to use, and social class symbol. Indeed, it was not a short journey, it took nearly a hundred years from a wardrobe-sized pendulum clocks to pocket-watches, and about 320 years needed to accomplish the wristwatch that we known today. Size can change; technology can reinvent, and fad can come and go, but social status symbol still stich on it.

We can say that watch or previously pocket watch was born to be a status symbol other than a time measurement device. It was due to the complexity and craftsmanship of watchmaker in the first era of pocket watches. Those made them were highly priced. Thus, people who were wearing watch only the rich people or royal families. Through its history, watches were not being time measurement device only. It set some values to human culture. Since then, many people like to wear a distinctive watch from a well-known watchmaker.

In 1830 through 1850, watches came to the industries worldwide. The name of Vacheron Constantine was appearing in the industries. He created an anchor escapement which mass produced later by his student Antoine Lechaud. Nine years later, he invented a pantograph that used standardisation watch-parts. Due to their works, watches era now entering industrialization era and shifting from exclusive watchmaker shop to mass-produce watch company.

In 1920, watchmaker managed to build the first wristwatch in the world. It called as “trench watches”, sized as big as pocket watch and made with pocket watch movement. Although it such big size, only women wore it at that day. Later there was a custom between men and women. Pocket watches were identical with gentlemen and wristwatches went to the ladies. Wristwatches appeared to the fashion since The World War I as a result of their used by soldiers, who need more space on their hand. The trend prolonged until now and made pocket watch went out of fashion by 1930.

The watch technology was growing in search of the best suit of power source. Pocket watch used mechanical movement that utilize escapement mechanism to control the unwinding spring in order to regenerate periodically energy release. Thus, we need to spin manually the crown to get the watch energy. Except we get annoyed to have new habit in every several times, mechanical movement are less accurate.

Nowadays, most of watches use electronic movement that have few or no moving parts in it. They use tiny quartz crystal to generate piezoelectric effect that provide stable time base. The other advantage quartz crystal can be used together with mechanical movement, resulting to the traditional analog display with electronic power source. Seiko was the first company that put it into large production in 1969. They named the product as Seiko 35 SQ Astron.

Although electronics cell gives us breath for longer time than mechanical movement power source, we are still need to change the cell if it was drain out. The next issue according to the electronic movement is about environment concern. The cell that we use to powered the watch contain some element that harm to the environment. Thus the horologers, people who expert in time measurement, are seeking the alternative power source.

There are two brilliant ideas, and had widely produced, to replace the cell. First, they had managed the spring to replenish by itself through hand movement. Seiko with Their Seiko Kinetics implemented it. The other used light power to recharge the cell, like what Citizen did with their Eco-Drive line. They use solar cell beneath the dial and it will convert any form of light into electrical energy to power the watch, a lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Thus, the owner does not need to replace batteries every other year and the watch will function “forever”.

When the technologies seemed to be stuck at one point, some producer put fashion related item, such precious gem or metal. We may find one watch has USD 25 millions, sound ridiculous, isn’t it? However, the fact there is a watch at that price. It made by Chopard. The gaudy timepiece is adorned with three heart-shape diamonds–a–15–carat pink diamond, a 12 carat blue diamond, and an 11 carat white diamond. There is also 163 carat of white and yellow diamonds over the belt.

To be more realistic and down to earth, some watches have their own social value. Rolex, for instance, are made to the person who has personal achievement and mature personality, whereas Omega refer to adventurous people who are hunger for great achievement in their life. Colourful watches represent to the youthful life of teenagers and kids. Its owners translate to how they want everyone else saw them. Relating to the fashion, wristwatches not only be a timepiece to measure the time. It altered to be an iconic accessory to the bearer hands and value. (Andreas Setiadi Sanusi)

Jakarta Globe, August 28, 2009