Watch and clock technology have been evolving for centuries

Updated 3/28/2018 12:27 PM
  • A photo from the West Coast Clock & Watch Museum in Vista, California, shows the inner workings of a pocket watch from the 1900s.

    A photo from the West Coast Clock & Watch Museum in Vista, California, shows the inner workings of a pocket watch from the 1900s. Courtesy of the West Coast Clock & Watch Museum

"How do the mechanisms in a watch work?" asked a young member of the Schaumburg Township District Library Writing Club.

Going back in time, hundreds of years before the common era, sundials marked the hours.

Driven by government work and business needs, societies used hours to keep schedules. Combining time and public safety, the Greeks and Romans used the watch system -- sentries patrolled an area to keep it safe from intruders and criminals.

Later, when towns installed clocks, these watchmen shouted out the hours while patrolling their shifts, or watches.

Hundreds of years later, watch duties are still a central part of the security system on ships.

As time passed, the need for a more portable and accurate means of timekeeping drove inventors to create more manageable sized clocks.

In a pattern that most nearly matches that of the computer -- first a gargantuan, room-sized calculator and overtime wound down in size and cost while expanding in functionality -- the watch is the miniature of the larger table clock, the even bigger grandfather clock and the grander village clock that ticked hours and minutes for an entire town.

In the mid-1500s, pocket watch inventors realized they could craft a thin strip of metal, make a coil, wind it into a disc to create an energy source.

As the coil unwinds, it drives tiny gears that move the clock hands, making the palm-sized version possible.

The mainspring drives the wheels that turn the gears that move the minute and second hands. These beautiful works of art were capped by gold hinged covers, often embellished with intricate designs, and worn on a chain or waist loop.

Until the late 1800s, each tiny piece was handmade. Manufacturers of the 1900s constructed watchmaking machines that punched out the parts so pocket watch pieces could be made and assembled inexpensively and affordably.

World War I commanders popularized wrist watches, which flipped the pocket watch winding stem from the 12 to the 3 position and added brackets for a wristband.

The invention of quartz watches in the 1970s eliminated the need for hand-winding watches, changing the industry again. Handcrafted, hand-wound watches are once again a top-shelf luxury item.

The most popular watch now is the Apple Watch, a combination computer, phone and timekeeper, with an estimated 33 million sold since they entered the market in 2015.

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