Wristwatches are a global phenomenon: highly collectible, varied, and intricate. As the successor to the pocket watch, wristwatches dominated portable timekeeping in the 20th century and were often handed down through generations within a family. In addition to these antique and vintage watches, many newer limited editions have been produced by watch makers, and are sought by collectors.

Originally designed as decorative bracelets for women, wristwatches became popular among men during World War I (they were easier for the military to use than pocket watches). The first wristwatch for men was created by Cartier and called the Santos, after Alberto Santos-Dumont, a pilot who asked Cartier to create a watch he could use on his flights.

The first waterproof watch, called the Oyster, was created by Rolex in 1927. They also created the first automatic wristwatch for commercial use, known as the Bubbleback.

After World War II, men’s watches became more elaborate, offering new features such as calendars and built-in radios. In 1972, the first LED watch was created by the Hamilton Watch Company, apparently inspired by the digital clock in the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Wristwatch collectors tend to focus on specific manufacturers, in addition to design, ornamentation, and rarity. Key collectible brands include Omega, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Hamilton and Illinois, Wittnauer, Elgin, Bulova, and Gruen.


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National Watch and Clock Museum

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