Cartier, the French jewellers say they were the first to create the modern wristwatch in 1904. Louis Cartier, founder of the luxury brand, was friends with the Brazilian inventor and aviation pioneer, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who spent most of his adult life in Paris.
In 1901, Alberto Santos-Dumont told Louis Cartier that it was extremely difficult to read the time from a pocket watch, because he needed both hands to fly. After some research, Cartier came up with “the first modern watch worn on the wrist”, as it says on the company’s website.
There is still a range of watches called the Collection Santos de Cartier.
However, another clock-maker, Swiss brand Girard-Perregaux is said to have started producing wristwatches in large quantities for the German military as early as the 1880s, again because pocket watches were impractical, especially if you were carrying and using weapons.
These were watches for men, but for women it seems there were earlier versions, as timepieces could be worn as pieces of jewellery and were set into bracelets for the wrist or even for the arm.
This has led another Swiss company to claim it created the first wristwatch. Breguet is now based in Switzerland but was founded in France by a brilliant horologist, Abraham-Louis Breguet. The company says that documents held in Paris “prove beyond any doubt that, in response to a commission from the Queen of Naples, June 8, 1810, Breguet conceived and made the first wristwatch ever known, the Breguet watch number 2639.”
The watch no longer exists and there are no drawings but the company still pays homage to its founder, who created: “a timepiece of unprecedented construction and extraordinary refinement, namely an exceptionally thin, oval repeater watch with complications, mounted on a wristlet of hair and gold thread.”
There are two further documents which show that a watch number 2639 was sent for repair in 1849 and then later in 1855. No trace of the watch has ever been found but the company sells a range of ladies watches it calls the Reine de Naples (Queen of Naples).
The entry in the Guinness Book of World Records says the First Wristwatch was none of the above, but was one made by Swiss watch maker, Patek Philippe in 1868. The entry says it was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary and was intended to be worn as a piece of decorative jewellery and that this was the first true wristwatch in the modern sense.
It goes on to say that men continued to prefer pocket watches as they were felt to be more masculine, and only began to wear them later because they were more practical.