At The Beginning Stood The Time

We can see the rooms and thus the distances with the naked eye. But what about time? It remains, at first, something abstract, difficult to grasp. And yet man has succeeded in determining the time to the nanobearch. How was it possible to penetrate into such exact spheres? What evolutionary steps had time-gauges on the way to the omnipresent wristwatch, and what great personalities were driving the history of mechanical timekeeping? We would like to address these and similar questions in the article series “In the Beginning of Time”. Read in the first part how the time measurement developed from observing the stars and a shadow to the first pocket watch.

The Sun And The Time

If so, it has – since the Big Bang has brought time to go – efforts to make them measurable. In order to be able to make predictions of weather and thus also to improve conditions for harvesting and sowing, the people of antiquity first observed the recurring cycles of nature, ie the seasons and the distance from new moon to new moon. The need for a more accurate time measurement grew with the settledness of the human being and the emergence of the division of labor as well as the ensuing striving for organization and coordination. The Sumerians made a revolutionary success in 3000 years BC: They put a staff in the ground and watched the course of the shadow to be able to share the day’s course with them. The ancient Egyptians were somewhat more bombastic, who, with their obelisks, erected entire monuments. The Babylonians, on the other hand, are responsible for the schematic breakdown in hours, minutes, and seconds of the known sexagesimal system with the basic number 60. The combination of sundials (for the display of the hours) with sand- and water-clocks (for the display of the minutes), later also candle-clocks and in the far east incense clocks, was sufficient for centuries.

Tower Clocks Make The Time Public

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, and with the beginning of the early modern period, in the European cities the striking of belltower bells began to determine the rhythm of the day. It is said that the later Pope Sylvester II had developed the first documentary mechanical watch. In the Magdeburg of the late 10th century, he is said to have erected a clock driven by stone weights. Such clocks already had a gait accuracy with a deviation of about plus / minus ten minutes per day. In contrast to the sundials, they also had the advantage of defying any weather. The important contribution to the establishment of such a wheel clock was the invention of the inhibition. The inhibition, which was normally constituted by the escapement wheel and the escapement, with a regular stopping of the wheel train, ensured a better conversion of the impulse induced by the weights, and thus caused the smooth running of the wheel-clock. From the basic principle, this technical process has not changed so far.

Watchmaker Develop The Portable Watch

At this evolutionary stage, the clock moved in the face of the public, as it was visible in the urban space from the towers for everyone. If the wheel clocks were still built and repaired by locksmiths or riflemen, watchmakers gradually specialized themselves from their guilds. The profession was mentioned for the first time in 1269, when a watchmaker at Beaulieu monastery received a beer and received an invoice for it.

In the meantime, the guild of the watchmakers focused on the refinement of the processed material and on the complicated miniaturization of the individual parts. Just replacing the weights with a spring drive towards the middle of the 15th century brought the decisive advance for the development of smaller clocks. This enabled the Nuremberg watchmaker Peter Henlein about half a century later to build relatively high-quality, but above all wearable watches. His “Nuremberg eggs” were still somewhat massive, but already had a reserve of about 40 hours. As with all mechanical clocks of this epoch, the time was indicated by an hour hand only.

A Groundbreaking Realization

On the way from the church tower over the living room into the pockets of men, however, there was still a long way: In 1583, the universal genius Galileo Galilei developed the theory that the oscillation duration of a pendulum is determined only by the length of the suspension and not by the amplitude. The time interval in which a pendulum of a certain length oscillates back and forth thus remains constant with the passage of time.Christiaan Huygens took advantage of this realization and in the middle of the 17th century he built the first pendulum. This realization, however, was not only for pendulum clocks, but also for all types of timepieces with oscillating speed controllers and thus should also pave the way for the development of the pocket watch. A further milestone is the invention of the balance, which also goes to Huygens’ cap and helped the pocket watch to the final breakthrough.

The Clock Moves Into The Private Room

The widespread use of the pocket watch meant that a broad mass of the population could now direct their daily work by hours, minutes, and sometimes even seconds. Some even make the assertion that these new possibilities of precise time measurement were only able to get the clarification up and running. The fact is that the importance of the church clock diminished and the monopolist of the time was taken to the then clerical government. At the same time, second-precision watches enabled more thorough technical experiments and allowed true quantum leaps in the natural sciences. This also ensured the organization of economic processes in enterprises, which gradually expanded beyond the area of ​​the family living and working area. The production and other business processes should ultimately run like a Swiss watch movement.

A new era had begun. And the path paved for the great art of Haute Horlogerie.

In the first part, we learned how the time was first moving with sun and shadow, as well as finally through church steeples into people’s pockets. In part 2 of our series “In the Beginning of Time,” let us now take a look at how the spirit of invention and the achievements of some geniuses turned watchmaking into a true art form, Haute Horlogerie.

The Spring As A Drive

It has always been the intention of inventors to create equipment that provided the greatest possible benefit with as little effort as possible in terms of material, force and time. Like no other profession, the construction of mechanical timepieces required a combination of logical thinking, meticulousness and skill in the processing of the individual parts.Prior to the time of machine tools, presses and the like, the tooling of a precision mechanic was still composed of scrapers and files. After all, with these instruments and some talent, processing with an accuracy of ± 0.05 mm was achievable. Above all the establishment of the tensioned spring as a drive (instead of the weights) was ultimately responsible for an evolutionary jump in the mechanical watch technique. The watchmakers were now able not only to realize new functions, but also to keep space and weight low through the more economical use of materials. In addition, less and less time was required for the production of the ever-smaller watches, and the now portable timepieces always reached more and more circles of the population.

Time Travels The World’s Oceans

In the exploration of the world’s sea, exact ship chronometers played an important role, but they were used to determine the degree of longitude. It is no coincidence that the naval power of England supported the emerging watch industry. The so-called length problem was finally solved by John Harrison in the middle of the 18th century by creating a watch that was not only particularly seaworthy, but also had an unprecedented rate accuracy of only five seconds in 161 days. He designed the grasshopper escapement, a method for balancing temperature fluctuations, a special elevator mechanism, and a suspension that could compensate for the wave movements of the ships.

Hopp Schwiitz

In the course of the 19th century, however, the Swiss watchmakers gradually took the place of the English. In villages like Joux and La Chaux de Fonds, farmers had begun to use the harsh winters to repair pocket watches or to produce parts and then sell them – for example, in Geneva.Already in the years around 1700, Daniel JeanRichard relied on the expertise of these early watchmakers. In Le Locle, he built up a first, original kind of watch manufactory, introduced the work division there and is now regarded as the founder of the Swiss watch industry.

A pioneer of watchmaking is Abraham-Louis Perrelet from Neuchâtel. He developed a pocket watch in the 1770s, which could relate its energy solely by the natural movements of its wearer. Together with the Lütticher watchmaker Hubert Sarton, he is therefore the inventor of the automatic elevator with a rotor and changer. Perrelet is said to have built his last timepiece at the age of 95 and was regarded as a great coryphae of his guild to the old age.

Breguet And The Great Art Of Haute Horlogerie

However, as a personal milestone on the way to the modern Haute Horlogerie is Abraham Louis Breguet.He is still regarded today as the greatest genius and the most creative head of watch history. He was able to count both Napoleon and his adversary Wellington, and at the most he supplied most of the princely houses and the bourgeois elite of Europe. A whole host of groundbreaking inventions or improvements are coming to his account: he perfected the automatic lift and made the friction-reducing installation of rubies popular. The clock world owes its creative imagination to a shock protection of the balance named “Parachute” and an improvement of the course accuracy through the “Breguet spiral”. He also made an eternal calendar for the first time, which combines the display of the date, the weekday, the month, the year and the moon phase. Today, however, Abraham Louis Breguet is associated mainly with the invention of the tourbillon – a mechanical rotary cage to compensate for differences in friction, which at that time could significantly improve the precision of the pocket watches, and is still a particularly complex and precious complication.

Marie Antoinette – Summit Of Breguet’s Creation

As an example of his ability, Breguet introduced a portable watch in the 1820s – about 40 years after the order was received – which combined all known complications. The Prachtexemplar, baptized in the name of “Marie Antoinette”, is the most complex and most difficult work at that time. The timer is not only equipped with a minute repetition percussion, a perpetual calendar and an independently sustainable central second, but additionally with an equations display, an automatic elevator, a gear reserve display and a thermometer. Only one of his groundbreaking inventions did not (yet) succeed in establishing itself as a nation-wide: for the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, he created the world’s first watch in 1812.

Breguet was undoubtedly one of the pioneering pioneers of such well-known watch manufacturers as Patek Philippe and A. Lange, who saw the light of the world during the industrial revolution and, with their increasingly exacting time-knives, set the pace of science and economy. But that is another story.

With the advent of industrialization in Europe, with the perception of time as a scarce and thus economic good, the modes of production also changed and with it the employment of the workers. For example, a watchmaker cleared the work table in his chamber and offered his services to the person who was willing to pay a salary. The daily course of a man was no longer determined by the rising and setting of the sun, but by the clock of the factory; The internal organization and the timing of production processes are becoming increasingly important.

Timetables had to be adhered to, weekdays were reached and monthly reports were drawn up. In addition, the time spread: once seen only on church towers, they are now found at railway stations, in factory halls or in jackets. And the more predictable the time was, the more accurate the time meter had to display the time. From this developed a true mastery of watchmaking, the legacy of which we can still admire at our wrists.

The Haute Horlogerie Is Formed

In the 18 th and 19 th centuries, such important watchmakers asBlancpain (1735), Vacheron Constantin (1755), Girard-Perregaux (1791),Jaeger-LeCoultre (1833), Patek Philippe (1839), A. Lange & Söhne (1845),Cartier (1847), Omega (1848), TAG Heuer (1860), IWC (1868), Audemars Piguet (1875), Breitling (1884) and many more. And all tried to emulate the watchmaker who had raised watchmaking to a new level: Abraham-Louis Breguet. With its inventions, such as the Breguet spiral or the Parachute impact protection, watches could be built smaller and smaller.

But, of course, other great watchmakers also contributed their part to the technical progress of the watch. Thus Adrien Philippe developed the so-called remontoir watch. This pocket watch was no longer raised with a key as before, but was given a crown that inspired a certain Antoine Norbert Graf de Patek to make this Philippe the owner of his watchmaker, who is still famous today.

The Industrial Revolution Reaches Watchmaking

As in the rest of Europe, the watchmakers also increasingly moved to factory halls in Germany. Ferdinand Adolph Lange founded a watchmaker on 7th December 1845 in a sleepy village in the Ore Mountains, in which the silver and thus the lifebloods were slowly but surely dead. Thus he kept the city Glashütte not only before the economic decline, but also gave the initial ignition for the pivotal point of the German watch industry.

In 1848 to 1866, Lange granted the mayor the title of the city. The basis for his success was on the one hand the introduction of the division of labor in the production of the individual watch parts. On the other hand, the development of new, more accurate tools and measuring instruments has given him decisive advances in precision mechanics. In contrast to the smaller guild firms, A. Lange was able to produce his pocket watches despite high quality in such a quantity that they could be brought against the people for a reasonable price.

“One, Two, Three In A Step / Run The Time, We Go With.” (Wilhelm Busch)

If you want to go, A. Lange took the time: during industrialization, ever shorter time intervals, more and more accurate measuring instruments were developed and thus time measurement penetrated more and more exacting areas: from the tenth of a second over the thousandths to the nanobeich.Meanwhile, the time can be determined more finely than the distance or the distance. The step into more hectic times was made. Times, the author of Don Camillo and Pepone, Giovanni Guareschi, commented, “Time has only those who have brought it to nothing. And with that they have brought it further than everyone else.