Lessons from History

Illustration of pocket watch and Victorian man. Image courtesy Pixabay.

Illustration of pocket watch and Victorian man. Image courtesy Pixabay.

Who purchased the first ever wristwatch? Here’s a clue – it was a woman. Give in? Ok – it was Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples and the watch was sold to her in 1810 by Swiss horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet founder of Swiss watch maker Breguet. If we stretch the definition of wearables to include mechanical devices then women were the early adopters for wearable technology in the form of the first wristwatches.

Why did the men of the time choose not to adopt one of mankind’s greatest inventions? According to David Boettcher’s fascinating history pages it seems that anything worn on the wrist would be considered too effeminate and so most middle and upper class civilian men stuck with pocket watches until just after World War One. Military adoption of what were called wristlets, that had begun in the Boer War became common amongst infantry officers in the trenches coordinating the blowing of their whistles to signal to their men that it was time to go “over the top”. When the war ended and thousands of officers returned home with their military wristwatches, a social norm was demolished. Men could now wear wristwatches without being laughed at. Rolex and others soon exploited the new opportunity. The market for men’s pocket watches subsequently collapsed.

What can we learn from this? Firstly social norms and fashions have already shaped the wearables market. They are almost certainly continuing to do so. Secondly a technology incorporating a display that lives on the wrist is more valuable than one that lives in the pocket.

Which great technology of our time currently lives in our pockets?

Mark Catchpole              First published on 19th February 2016         All rights reserved

Mark is a wearable technology consultant with Wearable Consultants based in Cambridge, UK. Please get in touch via mark@wearableconsultants.com