views updated May 23 2018



NAICS: 33-4518 Watches, Clocks and Parts Manufacturing

SIC: 3873 Watches, Clocks and Parts Manufacturing

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 33-4518101, 33-4518106, 33-4518108.


Timekeeping devices come in a great variety of sizes, the largest of which are clocks on top of church towers and public buildings and the smallest being digital devices used in machines to control time-sensitive processes. Clocks are named after the word bell, clocca in Latin, because the earliest mechanical clocks announced the time by applying a hammer to a bell. Visual displays of time came a little later. The word watch derives from the Middle English, wacchen, meaning to wake. To keep a watch originally meant to keep a vigil, to be alert while others slept. The watches of the night performed by guards and sailors later lent their name to small devices that actually measured the time of a period of duty. A watch is typically carried by its users on a strap around the wrist, in a pocket, or on a chain around the neck. Being small and portable, watches appeared late in the development of timepieces. Modern watches are said to be analog, if they have a clock face with pointing hands, or digital, if they display only numbers that change.

Dividing Time

We measure time uniformly in order to coordinate our activities. The passage of time is the most common of all experiences, yet also the most mysterious. We speak of the flow of time but have also always divided it into segments—thus into day and night, into seasons, into lunar months, and into years. To divide time precisely a mechanism is needed that moves with the same speed at all times, never speeding up or slowing down. Also needed is a fixed point of reference against which we can measure the movement. Our most basic clock movement is the movement of the earth itself. The earth's rotation about its axis measures the day. The sun's fixed position relative to the earth is the fixed spot used to mark one revolution—thus from noon of one day, when the sun is directly overhead, to noon of the next day when the sun is at its zenith. The earth's rotation around the sun, a period referred to as a year, is the basis of our calendar. The fixed point of reference is the visible cosmos itself. Once a year constellations are located precisely in the same sky positions at the same time on the same day.

The ancient Egyptians established an accurate calendar when they observed that on the longest day of summer, the summer solstice (June 21), Sirius (the Dog Star), appeared at dawn on the Egyptians' horizon exactly at the same time as the sun, known technically as a helical rising. They counted the days between the repetition of these events and thus produced a calendar of 365 days. They divided the year evenly into months of 30 days, and dedicated the remaining five days to festivities marking the passage from one year to the next. Modern methods of measuring the year and day have become more precise but have not really changed. All clocks and watches measure time as set by the cosmic clock's movements, thus: (1) the earth's movement around itself and (2) the earth's movement around the sun.

The earliest clocks used to divide the day into hours—sun dials—also used the earth itself as the clock movement and the sun as the fixed spot. To make a sun dial a circular surface is divided into even pie slices. A vertical plate or rod is then put in the center. With this plate, called a style, pointing to the north, the shadow cast by sunlight will move at a uniform motion from one marker to the next.

The ancients also used other similar analog devices that they calibrated by trial and error until they had them right. The flow of sand through a tiny aperture produced the hourglass. Here the uniform flow of particles of roughly the same size provides the uniform movement. The size of the aperture provides the control. Water clocks, used until effective mechanical clocks were invented, used a steady flow of measured water into a tank or container, the sides of which were marked to indicate the hour. Small devices were used to measure minutes. Both sand and water clocks made use of gravity's uniform pull to create movement. Candles made uniformly thick were used to measure time as they burned down. Marks on the candle indicated subdivisions of time. Candles were useful because, unlike sun dials, they also worked in the dark.

The first clocks as we know them today arose in the thirteenth century. No records have survived to show who invented mechanical clocks. These devices, however, also used the force of gravity to get their energy. The earliest clock makers wrapped rope around a drum and suspended a heavy weight from the rope. As the weight pulled on the rope, the drum turned. The turning drum moved a shaft to which gears were attached. The gears were arranged in such a way that, once an hour, a lever tripped a hammer and the hammer struck a bell. Later, the same gearing was employed to move an hour-hand around a visible clock face. Later yet, a minute-hand was added. The real innovation, however, was not the harnessing of gravity. Medieval man had already mastered falling water to drive flour mills. The trick lay in a method of metering out the force of the pulling weight uniformly and precisely so that the time intervals between the ringing of the bell were always the same. The earliest clockmakers invented the escapement. Until electronic vibrations were deployed to measure time in the twentieth century, this invention was the key breakthrough to giving us accurate time.

The Escapement

The goal of the escapement is to get as close to uniform movement as possible—much as the earth's rotation is uniform. In an hourglass time is controlled by the average size of the grain of sand and by the size of the hole through which the sand must pass. In a clockwork controlled by weights or by springs, the force exerted on the mechanism must also be metered out in equal increments. The escapement was the means to do the job. Figure 228 shows the basic diagram of an escapement mechanism and the associated wheel, called the escape or balance wheel, that the escapement actually controls.

The escapement may be viewed as a sort of teeter-totter mounted above the wheel which, in turn, is being moved by a weight—or later, by a spring. Hooks at either end of a shaped bar are capable of stopping the wheel. When one of the hooks, called pallets, engages the wheel and stops it, the other one is free, floating above the wheel. The lower pallet temporarily stops the wheel, but the force of the turning wheel overcomes this braking action and causes the escapement to pivot around its center point in the other direction. When the escapement is pushed away by one tooth of the wheel, it oscillates like a teeter-totter so that its other end comes in contact with another tooth of the wheel and stops it in turn. In Figure 228 the movement of the escapement is illustrated by firm and dotted lines.

The first such escapements resisted the turning of the wheel by carrying weights at both ends. Increasing the weights would slow the clock down, while decreasing the weights would speed it up. Eventually, by trial and error, exactly the right arrangement of weights was found to produce uniform movement. Later, following work carried out by Galileo Galilei (1565–1642) on the pendulum, the weights on the escapement itself were replaced by a pendulum attached to the escapement. In this scheme the weight driving the clockwork itself was measured out and regulated by the lesser weight of an oscillating pendulum, by means of which the two pallets stopped the balance wheel at regular intervals. The actual inventor of the pendulum clock was the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Chris Huygens. Huygens applied Galileo's observations of the pendulum to create the first pendulum clock in 1656. Galileo's groundbreaking insight was that a pendulum took the same amount of time to make wide swings as it took to make narrow ones. Galileo himself used a water clock to prove his observations. With this he had discovered a phenomenon that exhibited uniform motion naturally, ideal for the regulation of a timepiece. The phenomenon itself derives from the behavior of matter in a gravitational field. A pendulum moved by a measurable amount of force, that supplied by the wheel, will always return to its starting position in exactly the same amount of time.

Escapements continue to control the time-keeping functions of mechanical clocks in current times as in the thirteenth century, but instead of weights, a mainspring or battery power is used to supply the force for moving the clock mechanism. Instead of a pendulum, a much smaller oscillating balance spring provides the escapement itself with its force of resistance. The balance spring tightens and loosens in repeating succession as the escapement moves back and forth. The movement of the escapement produces the characteristic tick-tock sounds of watches and clocks.

In 1928 W.A. Marrison of Bell Laboratories applied discoveries about the behavior of quartz crystals to produce the first quartz clock. Quartz is silicon dioxide, a very common substance, and also the principal component of sand. With quartz clocks, therefore, humanity has once more returned to sand as its chief time-keeping mechanism—but with a huge difference. Quartz crystals can be shaped into minute tuning forks and produced so that they oscillate, when exposed to a current of electricity, at a precise and unvarying frequency. The power of quartz watches is supplied by batteries. The quartz watch translates the high-frequency oscillations of its quartz tuning fork into an alternating current, and then uses it to drive the watch's mechanism or to produce a digital display. Since the unvarying frequency provides the equivalent of uniform motion, no escapement is necessary. Quartz watches are therefore simpler. The first quartz watch was produced by ETA SA of Switzerland in 1962. Seiko of Japan introduced the first commercial version of the product in 1969. Quartz watches are very accurate—losing or gaining no more than one second of time in ten years.


The first spring-driven clocks were introduced in the fifteenth century, soon followed by the first watches. The German Peter Henlein is credited with creating the first portable timepiece in Nürnberg around 1500. He also created the steel mainspring. The timepiece reportedly had a gold top, a dial with an hour hand, and small Braille-like knobs that allowed the time to be read even at night. The portable timekeepers were typically worn around the neck, or were pinned to a jacket or shirt. These portables soon become more complex and ornate. The Puritans are credited with the first pocket watch; they shunned displays of wealth and kept their gold watches in pockets, retrievable by a chain.

Watch and clock production began in Geneva, Switzerland, in the sixteenth century, owing largely to less rigid guild regulation of watchmaking than in France and England. In the mid-1700s two of the first luxury watch companies emerged: Blancpain, in 1735 and Vacheron & Constantin, in 1755. By the mid-nineteenth century, Swiss production was surpassing English production and setting the standard in mechanical watch production. Around this time American watchmakers also began to catch up with British and Swiss producers. Some European watchmakers had come to America. A few early American companies were able to produce large quantities of affordable watches. In 1895 the Waterbury Watch Company (the future Timex) and Robert Ingersoll created the Yankee Watch, a mass-produced pocket device costing $1. They sold 5 million watches. Pocket watches were becoming a necessity in the most important high-tech industry of the time—railroads. Railroad workers needed them to keep trains running on time—and to keep them from colliding on the same tracks.

The first wristwatches appeared late in the nineteenth century. Patek Philippe claimed to have created the first Swiss wristwatch for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868. These watches, known as wristlets, were worn by women alone. Men still carried pocket watches; wearing watches on the wrist was deemed too effeminate for men. Ironically, the military would play a vital role in changing this view. Soldiers found it easier to check their wrists rather than fumble around for their pocket watch in combat situations. Soldiers could also use wristwatches to synchronize maneuvers with greater precision. Bowing to practical necessity, army contractors began to issue inexpensive, mass-produced wristwatches for artillery and infantry officers. To meet U.S. military demands in World War I, Robert Ingersoll and Waterbury Watch Co., companies that would soon merge, modified thousands of small Ingersoll pocket watches to become military-issue wristwatches. They added lugs to the watch so that a canvas strap could be added. Ingersoll also created the first watch designed for nighttime use with luminous hands and numbers. These military watches were popular with soldiers; they continued to use them when they returned to civilian life. Other men soon adopted the practice.

Louis Cartier created the Santos wristwatch in 1911, often credited as the first wristwatch for men. Cartier created the watch for his aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont. In 1924 John Harwood filed the first patent for a self-winding wristwatch. Self-winding watches utilized a small weight inside the watch capable of moving within a space as the user's arm moved. The moving weight was used to activate a gear that rewound the spring. By 1930 wristwatches and pocket watches were believed to have had equal shares of the watch market. Military watches would become even more popular in World War II.

In 1945 quality wristwatches began to acquire complicated features developed first in pocket watches. These included alarms and so-called moonwork—displaying the phases of the moon. Watches were now shockproof and waterproof. The first use of electrical power in watches was as a source of energy to replace the mainspring, and therefore to remove the need for winding watches. The Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, released the first battery-powered watch, the Hamilton Electric 500, in 1957. The American system of watch manufacturing encouraged the standardization of parts, which meant a watch's battery could have a recognizable brand. One type of battery could be used in different types of watches.

Seiko beat others in introducing the first commercial quartz watch. Hamilton released the Pulsar, the first digital quartz watch, in April 1972. The watch had no hands and no moving parts. Time was computed and then displayed using computer logic circuitry and a light emitting diode (LED) display. The Pulsar was popular briefly. Watchmakers would then turn to liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, which required less battery power.

The Swiss, meanwhile, continued to make their mechanical watches and ignored quartz technology. Timex became the most popular watch brand in the United States, with a 45 percent market share in 1973. By 1978 electronic quartz watches were starting to outsell mechanical watches. By one estimate the Swiss saw their share of the overall watch market fall from approximately 30 percent in the early 1970s to 10 percent of the market in 1983. The number of Swiss watchmakers fell from 1,619 in 1970 to 632 in 1984. There were 90,000 people employed in the industry in the early 1970s. By the early 1980s employment had fallen to 25,000 people.

The Swatch Group was a Swiss effort to recapture market share in the quartz watch market, controlled by Seiko and Timex. The company, formed in 1983, also controls fine watch brands such as Breguet, Omega, and Blancpain. The first Swatch brands were released in the Swiss market in 1983 and entered the United States in the mid-1980s. The Swatch was approximately 80 percent cheaper than a standard Swiss watch, retailing for $25-$40. It came in a number of fashionable designs and colors, and was both water and shock resistant. The Swatch could also be easily mass-produced; it had only 51 moving parts compared to the 130 parts in a typical watch.


The domestic industry for manufacturing watches and clocks in the United States has been playing an ever-diminishing role in the total market for watches. The industry as a whole achieved shipments valued at $641 million in 2005. Of this total the industry exported goods valued at $256 million, selling $385 million worth of its production to the domestic market. Total demand for watches and clocks in the United States in 2005 was $4.3 billion at the producer or wholesale level. Total demand, also called apparent consumption, is calculated by taking domestic production, reducing it by exports, and adding imports. Domestic production, viewed through this lens, contributed only about 8.9 percent of U.S. demand. Imports dominated the market throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century. Results for the 2000–2005 period are shown in Figure 229.

The graphic shows the decline of domestic production. In 2000 U.S. producers accounted for 18.9 percent of domestic demand, in 2001 for 19.6 percent, which then declined to less than half of that contribution by 2005. In the meantime exports grew correspondingly. Expressed in annual rates of growth and decline, apparent consumption increased at the rate of 0.2 percent and imports at the rate of 1.7 percent per year. Exports declined at the rate of 3.8 percent and domestic shipments at the rate of 7.0 percent annually, heralding—if these trends in the twenty-first century continue—the eventual disappearance of domestic production altogether except for residual values. Clock consumption is dominated by Chinese imports; watch consumption by Japanese imports.

These data, to be sure, are for the category of watches and clocks combined. Import and export statistics are not detailed enough to permit a clear delineation between the two segments. International data, however, permit us to see the watch segment a little better. Data published by the Japan Watch & Clock Association (JWCA) provide information on unit shipments for both categories globally. In 2006, 1.19 billion watches and 485 million clocks were manufactured. Measured in dollars, however, the watch industry was smaller. On average every clock sold fetches four times the value of every watch sold. Using dollar valuations originally reported in Japanese Yen by JWCA, 37 percent of the global market was in watches in 2006, representing a market at the producer or wholesale level of $2.5 billion.

Data on the U.S. production, available only for 2002 from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, indicate that domestically, watches accounted for 17.8 percent of shipments, clocks for 79.5 percent of shipments, and categories not specified by kind for 2.7 percent. To get some measure of the total U.S. market in watches, these proportions can be applied to 2005 domestic shipments and global distribution as reported by JWCA to imports. Applying these product breakdowns, an estimate of the U.S. watch market in 2005 produces a value of $1.5 billion or 35 percent of the total U.S. market for clocks, watches, and timepiece parts. This value is produced by taking 37 percent of total U.S. watch, clock, and parts imports ($1.5 billion of $3.9 billion in 2005) and adding to that the $69 million of net domestic watch production. The $1.5 billion watch market is based on producer or wholesale values. The retail value of this market is much larger than the producer value, as is true of most markets.

JWCA data for the 2000–2005 period indicate that worldwide, watches were decreasing in unit sales at the rate of 1.1 percent per year, whereas clock sales were increasing at the rate of 3.7 percent per year. The reasons for this movement from small timepieces to large may be due to the ubiquitous presence of alternative, and predominantly electronic, devices also carried on the person, such as cell phones.


Timex Corporation

Timex is a privately-held company, born out of the Waterbury Clock Company and its sister companies, Robert Ingersoll and the Waterford Watch Company. The company supplied a number of inexpensive watches to the market, including the Mickey Mouse watch in 1933. It changed its name to the U.S. Time Company after World War II. The company introduced the Timex in 1950. The watch was immensely popular; over one billion pieces have been sold since its introduction. Timex has one-third of the global market and a similar share of the U.S. market, where it enjoys a 98 percent brand awareness among consumers. It also was one of the first U.S. watch firms to make watches abroad. In 1956 Timex released a series of highly memorable ads in which its watch was put through a series of tests to show its durability. The slogan "Timex Takes A Licking But Keeps On Ticking" is still remembered by many consumers. The company employs 5,000 people and is owned by the Norwegian company Fred Olsen & Co.

The Swatch Group

The Swatch Group was formed in 1983 to produce a fashionable low cost watch that was inexpensive to produce. It releases approximately 140 new models each year and some special-edition models as well. The company owns a portfolio of well-known brands, including Blancpain, Hamilton, Omega, Longines, Tissot, Certina, and Flik Flak. This large portfolio has helped Swatch become the world's largest watchmaker. It is headquartered in Biel, Switzerland, and employed 20,650 people in 2005.

Compagnie Financière Richemont SA

Founded in 1988 by billionaire Anton Rupert, Compagnie Financirèe Richemont SA, often referred to as Richmond, is a luxury goods company. It has a large portfolio of luxury brands, including Van Cleefs & Arpels, Cartier, Baume and Mercier, IWC, Piaget, Jaeger-Lecoultre, A Lange & Söhne, Dunhill, Montblanc, Lancel, and Vacheron Constantin. Luxury watches make up approximately one-quarter of the company's sales.

Montres Rolex SA

Hans Wildorf founded Montres Rolex SA in 1905. The company is credited with a number of innovations, including the first waterproof watch (The Oyster) and having the first watch to show two time zones at once. As of 2006 Rolex had received more certifications for the prestigious chronometer designation than any other watchmaker; a watch must meet exacting precision standards to receive such a label. Rolex SA has three watch lines, the Oyster Perpetual, Professional, and Cellini; there are a number of models available within these three categories. The Rolex enjoys a high level of brand recognition, and Rolex maintains strict policies about who sells the brand and the way it is marketed. It is also believed to spend more money than other luxury firms on efforts to combat counterfeiting.

Seiko Corporation

This company began as K. Hattori & Co., Ltd in 1881. Seiko produced clocks in the 1890s and then issued its first wristwatch in 1924. Watch production was split off as Daini Seikosha Co. Ltd. in 1937. Seiko introduced the world's first quartz watch, the Seiko Astron, in 1969. The success of the Seiko led to the creation of a subsidiary of the company in the United States in 1970. The company established more subsidiaries, such as Seiko Optical Products, Inc., Seiko Clock Inc. and Seiko Jewelry Co., Ltd. in the 1990s. The company generated revenues of $1.9 billion in 2005.

Antoine Norbert Patek

This company's founder, Patek, began making pocket watches with his partner Francois Czapeck in Geneva in 1839. They separated in 1844 and Patek then joined up with Adrien Philippe, inventor of the keyless winding system. In 1851 the company changed its name to Patek Philippe. The company is credited with making the first wristwatches for women in the late nineteenth century. The company also made two of the most complicated watches of all time; each had a perpetual calendar, a repeater, and a chronograph. The first was made for Henry Graves Jr. of New York at the beginning of the century; it sold at auction in December 1999 for more than $11 million. The second was the Caliber 89, completed in 1989 to mark the firm's 150th anniversary. The firm manufactures complete timepieces, watches, and clocks.


This company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Loews Corporation and is known as a manufacturer of watches, clocks, and jewelry. Bulova manufactured the first clock radio in 1928 and the first electric clock in 1931. It manufactures clocks for public places such as train stations, office buildings, and airports. Bulova was also highly influential in producing automobile clocks. In 1952 the company developed the Accutron, an electronic timepiece that promised accuracy to within two seconds a day. The timing mechanisms would be used by the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) in its space program. In 1959 Bulova was the first company to offer a one-year warranty on a clock radio. In 1968 it offered the first watches regulated by orbiting space satellites. In 2001 the company acquired the Wittenauer watch brand, and in 2002 it acquired some assets from Heirloom, a grandfather clock maker.


The components of a watch vary depending on its central mechanism. An electronic quartz watch contains a battery, an integrated circuit to control the quartz and the stepping motor, and an oscillating quartz tuning-fork, which divides the time into frequency cycles. It also contains a gear train to activate the hour, minute, and second hands in analog quartz watches.

The traditional mechanical watch is made up of at least 130 parts, with 60 parts in the movement of the watch. The number of component parts is much higher in so-called complicated watches (date, phases of moon, etc.). A watch has completed production when the movement has been fitted with a dial, hands, and case. A mechanical watch contains a barrel or mainspring to provide power, a gear train to transmit the power, an escapement to distribute impulses, a balance wheel to regulate the escapement, and a drive train to activate the clock hands.

As these descriptions make plain, watches are engineered precision instruments. They have very high value in relation to weight. Transportation cost as a percentage of product value is minimal. Watches, therefore, are made in centers of technical excellence and are not dependent on other locational factors influenced by raw materials.


Watches are sold in numerous retail channels. A watch's price will largely dictate where it is sold. Inexpensive models might be available in discount clubs, drug stores, or brand-specific stores (like Fossil, Inc.'s branded products, for example). They might be basic watches, sports watches, or feature licensed merchandise characters to appeal to children. High-end watches might be available at specialty retailers and high-end retailers. These retailers may have to follow certain guidelines in how these brands are marketed to the public.

Wal-Mart was the leading retailer of watches and jewelry, generating sales of $2.7 billion in 2005. Sterling followed with $2.3 billion in watch and jewelry sales that same year. Zale Corp. was the third largest retailer with sales of $2.1 billion. QVC and JCPenney had sales of $1.4 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively.


Many people have watches. The Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council survey estimates that 91 percent of adults had a watch in 2006. The average person is believed to own three or four. Packaged Facts, a market research firm, reports that one in three adults purchased a watch in 2004 and 2005. An estimated two-thirds of these watch purchasers were women, who were buying a watch as a gift for a spouse, a child, or for personal use.

What kind of watches were they buying? Sales in the overall watch category were slipping across the globe. The most troubled segment is that which is selling watches priced below $100. Certain brands perform well largely because they fall closer to the $100 price point and come with considerable brand recognition (Swiss Army, Timex, Seiko, Bulova). These companies have not suffered as greatly because they also make fine watches, which retail for $200-$10,000, although many analysts offer slightly different price points. Inexpensive watches are typically aimed at children and teenagers. This means some children and teenagers are growing up without a watch—a troubling trend for the industry. However, many teenagers just prefer more expensive, stylish watches, according to a Seiko spokesperson. This makes sense, when one considers the cars, cell phones, and fine apparel that are a part of many teenagers' lives.

Analysts believe the fine and luxury watch category drove the market in 2006. The Luxury Goods Institute reported that dollar sales of men's fine watches increased 12 percent from 2004 to 2005. Women's fine watches increased 4 percent over the same period. In terms of unit sales, men's watch sales grew only 2 percent and women's watch sales actually fell 3 percent. Fewer watches were being purchased, but those that were purchased tended to be of higher quality.


The jewelry and gift markets are adjacent to watches, as many watches are purchased as gifts and, in that context, the gift buyer may, on impulse, substitute some other valuable item for the watch. Modern electronic devices almost always provide a clock function and are sometimes used instead of watches. For a subset of watch purchasers, the watch is a fashion accessory. Trends in fashions, thus, indirectly influence watch purchases. Watch bands represent a special adjacent market. Leather bands often wear out before the watches do and need to be replaced; elaborate and expensive bands may be purchased to match existing watches to clothing. Clocks are functionally adjacent to watches in that both are timepieces, but the context of purchase is invariably different, thus clocks never really compete with watches.


Swiss watches are admired for their precision and craftsmanship. However, the Swiss have become aware of the increasing difficulty in getting such timepieces quickly and effectively repaired in the United States. Swiss companies are spending millions of dollars on schools to make sure the watches they sell in the United States can be repaired. In 2007, a group of watchmakers provided $1.1 million to the watch program at Oklahoma State University. Rolex pledged $1 million to a similar program in Minnesota in 2005. Watch programs have been established in Pennsylvania, Washington, Oklahoma, and Minnesota. In these programs, known as the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program, students go through a 3,000 hour program that covers watch history and repair techniques for Swiss watches.

Jim Lubic, executive director of the American Watch-makers-Clockmakers Institute, estimates that the United States now needs 4,000 watchmakers in addition to the 7,000 it currently has. According to the American Watch-makers Association the typical watchmaker is forty-five to fifty years old, has twenty-five years experience and earns approximately $55,000 per year. As many as 4,000 will retire over the next two decades. The Coalition for Watchmaker Education is one organization that has made efforts to attract young people to the profession. The number of U.S. watchmaking schools has fallen to twelve from forty in 1978, and only four schools now certify graduates to work on luxury Swiss watches.


In late 2006 several studies were released that pointed to a trend troubling for the watch industry: fewer younger people were wearing watches. Many of them were also using a cell phone or similar electronic device to check the time. Market research firm NPD Group found in a poll that 36 percent of people under age twenty-five do not wear a watch. According to Piper Jaffray, a New York investment bank, 59 percent of teenagers said they never wore a watch. Approximately 82 percent said they didn't plan to buy one in the next six months.

The Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC) conducted a survey of 7,182 JCOC consumers, focusing on those eighteen to twenty-four years of age, in 2005. They discovered that young people were far more likely to check the time on their cell phone than on their watch. Of the 16 percent in this age group who did not own a watch, 78 percent told time with digital devices and 42 percent cited the ownership of cell phones or iPods as negating the need for a watch.


Watch firms spent $233 million advertising their products in 2005, according to Packaged Facts, a research organization. Luxury watchmaker Rolex was the leader. This is hardly surprising, considering the brand recognition that Rolex has. But it points to a problem in the industry: how should watchmakers draw attention to their product? Some analysts think the industry needs to reinvent itself and become more multi-functional, the way mobile phones have.

The industry may also need to appeal to niche markets. The industry has done so to some degree with mixed success. Military watches are still in demand and are prized by collectors. The sports watch industry has also tried to appeal more to consumers not involved in sports directly. Timex introduced the Iron Man, the first sports watch, in 1986. Sports watchmakers have added functionality, such as features to monitor vital functions. Sports watches aimed at boaters and yachtsmen have also proven popular. But sports watch sales have been up and down, notes market research firm Packaged Facts. The company estimates the sector had sales of $1.7 billion in 2005, with sales expected to climb only to $1.9 billion by 2010.


American Watchmakers and Clockmakers Association,

Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry,

Luxury Board,

Massachusetts Watchmakers and Clockmakers Association,


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"For 42 Percent of Young Adults iPods and Cell Phones Replace Watches." ZDnet. 26 September 2006. Available from 〈〉.

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Longuet, Nathalie, Emmanuel Bruley des Varannes and Helen Waldron. Luxury Goods. Time for Cherry Picking? Societe Generale Cross Asset Research. 24 March 2006.

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Shuster, William George. "Watches Remain Vital to U.S. Consumers." Jewelers Circular Keystone. 1 January 2007.

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see also Clocks


views updated May 17 2018


Watches are portable timepieces, used to measure time and intervals. Historically, watches were worn as decorative pendants or carried in the pocket. In modern times, they are branded accessories most frequently worn on the wrist.

A Period of Decoration

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, watches were still considered to be primarily decorative objects because of their poor functionality. Men who could afford them typically wore pocket watches, which hung from a short chain and easily slipped into a waistcoat pocket. Women's watches were traditionally more embellished and visibly worn as a pendant or on a chatelaine.

The century marked a period of rapid technical development. Pioneered by organizations and guilds in Germany, France, England, and Switzerland, inventors introduced new types of springs, encasements, and bearings that allowed for better accuracy and performance under vacillating temperature and position. They also replaced the key-winding watch with self-winding movement. Some English and Swiss watchmakers, who utilized jeweled bearings and newer escapements to control the rate of wheel movement, were able to equip watches with a minute hand, which until then was impossible.

These advancements influenced the design and stylistic components of watches, which became much smaller and slimmer. Greater attention was also paid to the protection of the watch, as they became more useful. Circular or oval faces were encased on either the front or back, sometimes both, by a hinged cover. These covers, made from brass, gold, or silver, often displayed intricate engravings or enamels of pastoral scenes, portraits, or other related designs. Fob watches, which were attached on a short chain or ribbon and often held other gold charms, became popular around this time as well. Although watches still lacked the accuracy they had in later years, they sometimes had calendar, moon phase, or alarm functions.

Advancements in Accuracy and Production

As innovations in springs and bearings continued, watches became more accurate. Watchmakers now tried to make very complicated pocket and pendant watches incorporating calendars, timers, dual time zones, and moon phases. As such, dials became larger and the watches heavier.

The development of mass-production practices and interchangeable parts made it possible to produce watches by machine and in volume. These practices made watches significantly less expensive. In 1892 Timex (then called Waterbury Watch Company) and Ingersoll introduced the Dollar or "Yankee" watch that eponymously expanded the ownership of watches. Although decorative, luxury watches were still popular for women during this period, the functionality and usefulness of the watch increasingly became the focal point of fashionability.

Wristwatches and Alternative Power Sources

There is evidence that watches adjusted for the wrist existed in the late 1500s in special creations for royalty, yet wristwatches were not used in large numbers until the early twentieth century. The first designs were military in nature—they were introduced as chronographs offering multiple-timing capabilities. These wristwatches were used during the Boer War, and later during World War I for their practicality on the front lines. It was easier and quicker to glance at a watch on one's wrist than to rummage through pockets during battle operations.

Despite the wristwatch's legacy of military use, the style spread first to civilian women. Designs for women during the early twentieth century were jewelry-inspired. Art-deco faces, inlays of onyx and marcasite, and straps of black silk or satin joined the more traditional existing designs of silver and gold braceleting.

By the end of World War II, however, wristwatches were worn by both men and women. Pocket watches were now considered outmoded. Simpler and sleeker designs predominated, epitomized by the Movado Museum watch, which consisted of a black dial free from markers or numbers, characterized only by gold hands and a gold dot at the twelve o'clock position. The importance of fashionability continued into the 1960s with young, pop art designs influencing watch case and face designs. Triangles, octagons, and hexagons accompanied standard round cases, and straps came in a greater variety of colors and fabrics.

Simultaneously, technology dominated the accessory, and much of the development during this time centered around new sources of power. In 1957, the Hamilton Watch Company introduced the first battery-powered wristwatch, and in 1970, the use of quartz crystals to produce an integrated circuit resulted in a watch that was infinitely more reliable than mechanical versions. Omega was one of the first companies to bring the battery-operated watch to market, soon followed by the Hamilton Watch Company's introduction of the Pulsar LED digital watch, an expensive innovation in line with the Space-Age obsession dominating the later 1960s and early 1970s. Swiss watch manufacturers, who had long held a reputation in the industry for manufacturing high-quality, precision, mechanical watches saw integrated circuitry as a temporary fad. It was not until the early 1980s, when the Swiss-based Swatch Group embraced quartz technology, and paired it with designs that responded to consumers' desire for accessories that conveyed lifestyle and personality, that the Swiss industry regained its vigor within the watch-making market.

The Brand Speaks

Technological innovation remains an important component of the watch industry. Manufacturers market solar and kinetic watches, and some have introduced models equipped with global positioning systems, or those that link to computers or other portable electronic devices. Yet the wristwatch is also a fashion accessory for which aesthetics and brand are paramount. Fashion watches are associated with lifestyle, and many of the leading watch companies have positioned themselves to appeal to certain segments of the consumer market. Luxury companies such as Rolex, Cartier, Movado, Tissot, Patek, and Breitling, who market through word-of-mouth, high-end event sponsorship, or specialized high-end fashion and lifestyle magazines, still appeal to wealthy consumers. A Cartier watch may cost more than $10,000 and Rolexes or Movados are counterfeited as often as Gucci or Prada handbags. Mid-range watches, such as Fossil or Swatch, continue to sell in mid-priced jewelry and department stores, and Swatch remains well known for its wide range of strap and face styles. These companies have been joined by diversified companies, such as Nike, entering the watch market and promoting wristwatches designed for specific uses such as running or swimming. Lower-priced watches proliferate. Timex was one of the first companies to build its brand on selling through mass-market drugstores and stationery stores. In the early 2000s budget watches can be found almost anywhere: street markets, toy stores, and even inside fast-food kiddie meals. It is as uncommon not to own a watch in the twenty-first century as it was to own one at the beginning of the eighteenth. The watch has truly seen a revolution in time.

See alsoBracelets; Jewelry .


Bruton, Eric. Collector's Dictionary of Clocks and Watches. London: Robert Hale Limited, 1999. Comprehensive dictionary, but may be too advanced for new collectors.

——. The History of Clocks & Watches. London: Little, Brown, and Company, 2000.

Childers, Catherine. Master Wristwatches. New York: BW Publishing Associates in association with Rizzoli International Publications, 1999.

Doensen, Pieter. Watch: History of the Modern Wristwatch: Design; 1950–1983. Gent, Belgium: Snoeck, Ducaju and Zoon, 1994.

Milham, Willis. Time & Timekeepers Including the History, Construction, Care, and Accuracy of Clocks and Watches. London: Macmillan, 1923. Good straightforward overview.

Leslie Harris


views updated May 29 2018


A watch is a portable timepiece, most commonly carried in a pocket or strapped on the wrist. Pocket watches can be as large as three inches in diameter, while wristwatches are smaller, so that they do not interfere with the wearer's movement. Though they are usually worn for practical reasons, so that the wearer can keep track of the time, watches are also pieces of jewelry, which express the wearer's wealth, social status, and sense of style. Watches have become not only treasured family heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next, but also gifts to mark special times in a person's life, such as graduation or retirement.

The idea of the timepieces as an accessory is quite ancient. Romans as early as 500 b.c.e. carried small sundials as jewelry. The mechanical clock was invented in Europe around 1300 c.e., and portable miniature clocks soon followed. By the fifteenth century pocket timepieces became common accessories for both men and women. During the nineteenth century most men who could afford to carried pocket watches, often gold or silver, with decorative covers that closed over the face. The most fashionable way to wear such a watch was tucked into a vest pocket, with a long gold chain that draped across the front of the vest to tuck in a buttonhole, often with a gold penknife on the other end. Working men sometimes carried their watches in a pants pocket for protection. Women, on the other hand, wore their watches in a variety of fashionable ways. Some suspended a watch from a long chain around the neck, while others had a small watch attached to earrings or pinned by a ribbon at the waist.

Evidence of a watch attached to a bracelet comes from as early as the sixteenth century, but the first regular use came during theBoer War between England and Dutch settlers in South Africa from 1899 to 1902. English officers needed to coordinate their attacks, and they didn't want to have to dig in their pocket for a watch. The wristwatch was the answer. The vast military movements of World War I (191418) required even better timing, and soldiers on both sides of the conflict began wearing self-winding wristwatches, which meant that they wound the watch with a small spindle on the side of the watch. Unreliable at first, they were soon made quite accurate. Men returning from the war kept their watches, and they became popular accessories. Soon, wristwatches were made with decorative leather or metal straps and with rich casings of gold, silver, or other precious metals. Wristwatches have been the most common form of timepiece ever since, both for men and women, and are available today in every price range, from a five-dollar plastic watch to a thirty-thousand-dollar gold Rolex.


Dale, Rodney. Timekeeping. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Edwards, Frank. Wristwatches: A Connoisseur's Guide. Willowdale, Canada: Firefly Books, 1997.

Terrisse, Sophie Ann, ed. Prestigious Watches. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.


views updated May 23 2018

watches the watches of the night the night-time; watch originally each of the three or four periods of time, during which a watch or guard was kept, into which the night was divided by the Jews and Romans.