Here at Martin’s jewellers we are fascinated by watches. The humble pocket watch should never be underestimated as it has a rich and interesting heritage, and more uses than may at first meet the eye. As with many aspects of the modern sophisticated world, the primitive form of timekeeping was discovered by the ancient Egyptians; they used sundials and measured time by the position of the sun. A lot has changed since then but the evolution of the watch goes on. Here we present the most fascinating facts about watches and a hidden secret…

  • The first time reading devices were created around 15000BC by the ancient Egyptians. These are still familiar in the form of the sundials which are now used more for outdoor decoration, but were relied upon by the Egyptians to tell the time of day.
  • Water clocks followed sundials in 11000BC, and were more accurate because they were controlled by water pressure flowing through the outflow pipe into a vessel where it is measured. A float attached to a rod will indicate the time as it matches a scale on the vessel’s side.
  • In the 15th Century there was a transitional period of the clock-watch, which was worn like jewellery round the neck. These only had an hour hand, and were so inaccurate that they were more for decoration and were often crafted into shapes.
  • Watches developed in the Tudor period and were first worn round the neck or stowed in pockets. Wristwatches were thought of as too feminine.
  • The origin of the word “watch” is debated. Some say it came from the nautical industry, when “watchmen” used small mechanical clocks to record the time of their shifts on their “crow’s-nest” watch towers. Others think  it came from the Old English word woecce which meant “watchman”, because it was used by town watchmen.
  • Watches were made possible by the invention of the mainspring, which is credited to Peter Henlien of Nuremburg in 1511. Timepieces were able to move away from weight driven design and could also be made on a smaller scale.
  • The pocket watch finally evolved into the wrist watch during the First World War because soldiers found it highly impractical to have their time keeping devices in their pockets ; having them strapped to their person was much more practical.
  • In 1969 , the two Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wore Omega Speedmaster watches on their legendary voyage to the moon.
  • In most adverts, catalogues, TV shows and places where you will find pictures of watches they are almost always set at 10 minutes past ten or 10 minutes to two. This is because the angle that the arms create at both these times creates a rough “smile” shape upon the watch face, therefore subliminally encouraging you to be positive.
  • And finally…watches can be used as compasses. Yes that’s right, take your bog standard analogue wristwatch and turn it into a multifunctional device. Here’s how:


How to… Use your watch as a compass

When you think about it, it’s more obvious than it seems. It takes 24 hours for the Earth to rotate on its axis and a clock’s hour hand makes two complete rotations per day. Therefore, quite like a sun dial, the sun will appear in a certain direction at a certain time; it is always in the West by the time it sets. Be aware that this method won’t work on extremely cloudy days, so don’t rely on it as a method for finding your way!


  • Line your watch up so that the hour hand points directly towards the Sun. The point directly between the Sun and the 12 mark on your watch is south.
  • One you have found South, North will be right behind it, pointing the other side of the watch face.
  • For daylight saving hours, the method still works but instead South will fall directly between the Sun, which is lined up with the hour hand, and the 1pm mark.