How old were the early mechanical clocks?

Timekeeping has been a part of our daily lives. We use clocks to keep track of our schedule and the things we need to do. But, have you ever wondered how mechanical watches began?

While sundials were discovered and initially created in Ancient Babylon, it was the Greeks and Egyptians who incredibly benefitted with the said timekeeping device. However, after the Roman Empire’s descent, the sundial was limitedly used and hardly gained attention. It was only in the 12th and 13th century when Europeans engaged in trade and became knowledgeable about the Chinese water clocks and Islamic clocks. The idea became the basis of European inventors to create their own watches and improvise the timekeeping device with their own designs.

Mechanical clocks first appeared during the latter part of the 14th century. However, one problem is their weak power sources as weights drove them. It was only in the early 1500s when mainspring was invented when German locksmith Peter Heinlein created small portable clocks, which rapidly spread throughout Europe.

While the said watches were challenging to produce, fragile, and imprecise, they have served as the foundation of the next generations of clocks and started many watchmaking industries in the world. And, soon enough after the invention of the mainspring, crews were introduced, allowing the production of even smaller and more handy watches.

In 1600 to 1675, mechanical clocks and watches were primarily used for aesthetics and decoration. While there were little alterations in their mechanical framework, their high production value instead had enticed powerful, noble, and people throughout Europe. Precious gems and metals, and luxurious designs were used to stunning watches for the well-off people.

From 1675 to 1700, the balance spring removed one setback of watches – being imprecise. With its invention, timekeeping has been more accurate, and only a few minutes difference can be observed due to some mechanical flaws. Through this improved exactness, the minute hand has become a standard among all watches made.

In terms of fashion, men began carrying pocket watches bolted on a small chain fastened to their coat and belt. Prior to this innovation, men sported watches as pendants on their necks.

Innovations then continued to be more abundant in 1700 to 1775. Improvements were boosted by the growing needs of the scientists and sailors. One of the significant inventions at the said era was the marine chronometer that solved the major problem calculating longitude while at sea using celestial navigation.

Since watches and become adequately accurate to be utilized in more complex operations and daily needs, the price regular, wall, and table watches incredibly lowered. Thus, enabling it to reach a relatively bigger size of the population. The lever escapement has become the most significant innovation from the 1775s to 1900s. Combined with the growing manufacturing industry, the production of watches even became cheaper and more dependable, also resulting in the quick rise of various fashion styles.

Starting in the 1900s, significant improvements in metallurgy and industrial production finally made watches reach everyone. Electric clocks and computer-controlled digital watches become present and more available since.

More Readings:

Clock (Wikipedia)

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