Home Continuing Series Historical Horology Historical Horology: A Brief History of Complications

Historical Horology: A Brief History of Complications




I bet you’re thinking that I’m just recycling an older Historical Horology post, and try to pawn it off as something new, right? Far be it for me to pull something like that! When you get into the history of watches, if you don’t focus in on a single brand, it’s hard not to talk about movements and complications, as that’s where we see the changes truly occurring.

In an article over on ABlogToWatch, Richard Paige (who, by the way, creates watches under the brand R. Paige) gives us a humorous look at how complications have developed. He starts us back to 1510, where one fellow, Peter Henlein, figured out how to replace the heavy weights used to provide energy in clocks with a spring (resulting in what we know, today, as the mainspring). While it was definitely a leap forward (you weren’t reliant on church bells or the town crier to know the time), accuracy wasn’t that great. You only had an hour hand, but considering they were only accurate to within 10-30 minutes per day, that was good enough.


Fast forward to the late 17th century, and the spring-driven balance wheel has come into existence, which brought accuracy to the 10 minutes per day mark. This also meant that another hand could be added to the dial. That’s right, a scant 160 years after the watch was introduced we finally saw the minute hand come into existence! And when we jumped into the 18th century, that’s where we saw the seconds hand come into being.

Mr. Paige also gets into some editorializing on other less useful complications – some of which I agree with, and some I don’t. Then again, that’s the beauty of this passion of ours – the waters are wide enough and deep enough to allow all manner of ideas and opinions. One big point that I do agree with from his article is that, as the technology came along, and we were able to further sub-divide our day (first hours, then minutes, and finally seconds), we increasingly have the feeling of having less time. One danger of knowing how much time, exactly, has passed, I suppose.


Wherever you come down on these views, the article (found here) is a quick and informative read.

All images courtesy of ABlogToWatch

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