Everyone knows that watches and Swiss go together, a pairing nearly as tight as Swiss and cheese! Ever wonder why? The answer may surprise, being more complex than you might think, and having nothing at all to do with the characteristics of the Swiss people or watchmakers.
It all started in the 1500s, when the watch industry arose from religious persecution in France, specifically from suppression of the Protestant Huguenots by the dominant Roman Catholic Church. Among those French Protestants who fled to Geneva, Switzerland, where their leader John Calvin resided, were jewelry makers who were strict observers of the Calvinist belief that bodily adornment was sinful. So they turned to watchmaking to veil their appreciation of beauty in a functional form. This explains the preponderance of French names in Swiss luxury watches.
The first watches that could be worn by a person, though not on the wrist, were called clock-watches. They were bulky and not very accurate. Watch-Industry&id=2579366). The pocket watch, which appeared in the 1600s, heralded the link between watches and fashion, as high society of that period was very much concerned with sartorial splendor. It was the upper class gentlemen of Europe who proudly carried these impressive (though still inaccurate) timepieces in their King George-inspired waistcoat pockets.
It wasn’t until 1868, three centuries after the start of the industry, that the first wristwatch was produced, and 20 more years before the first ladies’ wristwatch appeared, complete, of course, with a gold and diamond bracelet.
Today the luxury watch industry is a huge business that is limitlessly appealing to human vanity, and there are many who collect these timepieces by the dozens. The diversity and ingenious design of the watches are boundless, and the connoisseur is familiar with such terms, derived from the original French craftsmen, as escapement, guilloche, and tourbillon. These diminutive and often highly artistic masterpieces may boast such technological wizardry as a display of the rotation of the earth, and sell for nearly $100,000. Another, considered an 18K gold classic, goes for a mere $29,500, and is made by the same company renowned for making the most expensive watch in history, now said to be valued at $9 million. A world-famous American brand makes a watch that features a dial and bracelet set with 428 white diamonds.
Besides vanity and admiration of their aesthetics and technological features, are there deeper psychological roots that might explain the sometimes obsessive attraction of luxury watches? An episode of a cable TV show about “addictions” tells of a man who travels the globe to acquire his targeted luxury watch, then repeats the process as soon as he returns home. Turns out that his father died when he, the collector, was just a child, and his mother tried to compensate for his loss by always buying him nice things, a behavior he carried over on his own into adulthood. Well, as the French, the first luxury watch makers, might say, “Chacun a son gout” (“To each his own”).
- Written by Alan Ruskin
Alan Ruskin is a journalist and filmmaker in Los Angeles. He is originally from New York City where he attended Columbia University, earning a B.A. in English and Master’s degree in Film. His goal is to contribute artistically to a better world.