What is a Watch?

The answer to this simple question is not as simple as you might think. It has never been the case that a watch is a watch is a watch is a watch is a watch… and now, more than ever before watches are more than just little clocks.

Long before pocket sized multimedia devices became human bolt-ons, the essential tool was the wrist watch. It’s enduring practicality and visual appeal has seen it continue to thrive as, variously: a piece of jewelery; a life-style accessory; an essential tool; a personal statement and a desirable must-have.

Historically, the watch evolved from nature dependent devices such as water clocks and sun dials which existed in ancient Greece and Rome if not before. Then in the 1400s spring powered clocks were developed and two hundred years later these were adapted to be pocket watches. It was not really until the twentieth century that miniaturization made wrist watches possible.

There are two types of watches; those with mechanical movement and those with electronic movement. Mechanical watches are the direct descendant of the original watch. With ‘old-world’ craftsmanship applied to cogs, wheels, springs and precision engineering. Strictly speaking they are less reliable, they can be sensitive to temperature, and mechanical components can be sensitive to wear and tear. But the beauty and precision is still very attractive to watch buyers — such craftsmanship in a watch somehow makes it a more personal and precious item.

Electronic watches have no moving parts to talk of. They use the innate electrical potential within a quartz crystal. These crystals emit a highly stable electronic pulse beat, so stable that you could set your watch by it. And indeed that is how electronic watches remain so accurate. They have miniature batteries to power the devices and to move the hands around the watch face.

There are technical innovations within each of these methods, including the incorporation of radio time signal electronic quartz watches which will periodically synchronize the time on the watch with a ‘master clock’, probably an atomic clock located remotely, thousands of miles away, somewhere else on the planet.

There are two forms of display on a watch. Analogue, i.e. a face and hands and digital, i.e. numerical readout through a liquid crystal display (LCD). These days many electronic watches will feature both types of interface on a single watch and mechanical watches can have small digital readouts embedded within them.

In terms of functions on watches, the devices have now started to compete with the mobile phone to be portable computers and multimedia devices. However, where a watch will outperform a handheld computer is that it is more robust, more portable and smaller, enabling it to operate in extreme and specialist conditions. Certain watches such as the Technomarine Abyss Watch ABS05 will be water resistant up to 12,000meters. It is certainly fairly common for quality watch companies such as Tag Heuer to make watches with water resistance of up to 300m and almost standard for a watch to be water resistant to 100m. Other advanced watches such as the Tissot T-Touch have a collection of features presenting an overall performance mix. The Tissot T-Touch watch features a compass, an altimeter, a barometer, a thermometer and water resistance up to 100 meters. All of which extend the functionality of the watch making it ideal for active sports people.

Micro computing innovations have brought a wider range of functions to the watch. Already there are watch-phones to add to USB watches, MP3 players, audio recorders, MP4 video players and other ‘gadgets’. However, watches remain essentially timing devices and lifestyle statements and accessories. Some of the most innovative are the sports performance monitor watches such as the Polar Activity Monitor Watch AW200.