What is the watch Queen Elizabeth wears?
The «Invention» of the Wristwatch
Who invented the wristwatch? In reality, it may have been a sixteenth century metal worker who around 1570 made a bracelet watch for Queen Elizabeth. But when they ask this question most people mean who invented the man’s wristwatch. Was it Rolex or Omega; or perhaps Girard-Perregaux? Well it certainly wasn’t Rolex, because I have wristwatches made by Omega and IWC that were made before Rolex existed. What about Girard-Perregaux, who claim to have supplied the German Navy with wristwatches in 1880? That story is apocryphal, which is a polite way of saying that it is made up.
Although many watch manufacturers claim to have invented the wristwatch, such a simple thing as strapping a watch to one’s wrist didn’t actually need to be «invented» — it is obvious. That is why there is no patent for the wristwatch; something obvious cannot be patented. However, the story of how the watch came to be worn on the wrist, or at least on a man’s wrist, is interesting.
In their monumental «Technique and History of the Swiss Watch» (ISBN 0 600 03633 2, and weighing in at nearly 2.5kg, truly monumental) the authors, Eugène Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis, relate the following story about the invention of the wristwatch: «Much has been written about this subject, and we ourselves have heard the following story from an old engraver: A good woman, seated on a bench in a public park, was suckling her child. In order to observe the time, she had attached her watch around her arm. A passer-by was struck by this naive ingenuity. On his return home, he soldered two lugs on to a lady’s watch, and added a strap.»
Are Jaquet and Chapuis really expecting us to believe that the combined brains of the watch industry, which had produced such mechanical complications as the chronograph, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and the tourbillon, were unable to come up with the idea of soldering two bits of wire on to a watch case before they saw the «naive ingenuity» of this good woman? Emphatically No!
Professor Jaquet and Doctor Chapuis were two very eminent horologians. Professor Eugène Jaquet was Principal of the Geneva School of Horology, and Alfred Chapuis was Doctor Honoris Causa of the of the University of Neuchâtel. Just about every watch manufacturer claims to have been the first to make a wristwatch, and this story is Jaquet and Chapuis poking fun at these claims. Notice how they say «. and we ourselves have heard the following story . «, pretending to throw another (obviously ridiculous) story into the mix, whilst at the same time pointing out that strapping a watch to ones wrist is merely «naive ingenuity» and not a massive technical breakthrough.
Creating an open face wristwatch with the 12 in the right place on the wrist, the seconds display at 6 o’clock, and the crown at 3 o’clock, requires much more than just soldering a couple of wire lugs onto a fob watch. The first purpose made men’s wristwatches were created in the early 1900s by the paradoxical move of putting a savonnette movement into a specially made Lépine case, which I explain at purpose made wristwatches. But this was not difficult technically, and it certainly didn’t hold up the use of wristwatches by men.
If wearing a watch on one’s wrist was such an obvious idea, as Jaquet and Chapuis point out, and in fact women had been wearing them for centuries, why did it take so long for men to catch on to the idea of the wristwatch? There are two aspects to this question, technical and social. They were;
- Would men wear something that looked like a bracelet?
- Could a watch small enough to be worn on the wrist keep accurate time?
Rather than a massive technical breakthrough where some genius had a flash of inspiration, the true story of the man’s wristwatch is of how it overcame these social and technical barriers.
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The Earliest Wristwatches
Queen Elizabeth receiving a «wristwatch» in 1571. From 1926 Gruen Guild advert
One of the earliest references to what we would perhaps now call a wristwatch, or at least an «arm watch» was the new year gift received by Queen Elizabeth from Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, in 1571. It was a richly jewelled armlet, having «in the closing thearof a clocke, and in the forepart of the same a faire lozengie djamond without a foyle, hanging thearat a rounde juell fully garnished with dyamondes and a perle pendaunt.» What exactly this item was is not known because it no longer exists, but it clearly contained a spring driven clock or watch, and was intended to be worn on the arm, presumably somewhere where the watch would be easily visible, which would mean the forearm or wrist. The imaginative illustration shown here is taken from a 1926 Gruen Guild advert and shows Robert Dudley presenting the queen with her wristwatch.
In fact, as David Landes points out in Revolution in Time, as soon as the spring driven clock became small enough to be carried about and worn as an ornament, it was inevitable that someone would do so. And someone to whom cost was no object would then have one made that was smaller and finer and better; and they would then be emulated, and so the trend would spread.
In addition to the watch referred to above, it is known that Elizabeth had a watch set in a ring. And it was not only a timekeeper, it also served as an alarm; a small prong gently scratched Her Majesty’s finger at the set time. It was probably not a precision timekeeper, but it was certainly a tour de force of miniaturisation for the sixteenth century and showed that there was no technological reason preventing the making of wristwatches.
1868 Patek Philippe Bracelet Watch
©Patek Philippe SA Genève
Over the succeeding centuries, smaller and smaller watches continued to be worn by wealthy people as impressive novelties; bracelets, wristwatches, finger rings and even tinier still. These miniature watches were expensive trinkets of little useful purpose; more exotic jewellery than practical timekeepers. In 1876 it was reported that the Duc de Penthièvre, a grandson of Louis XIV of France and his mistress Madame de Montespan who had a passion for watches, wore watches in his waistcoat buttons, and had ordered a set for shirt and wrist studs.
The first wristwatches we have details of were small watches on bracelets (bracelet-watches or montres-bracelets) intended for ladies. An account book of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot of Geneva mentions in 1790, «a watch to be fixed to a bracelet.» When Eugène de Beauharnais married Princess Auguste-Amélie of Leuchtenbergin 1809, the Empress Josephine presented her daughter-in-law with two bracelets, one containing a watch, the other a calendar. These were made in 1806 by the Parisian jeweller Nitot.
In 1810 the famous French watch maker Bréguet Pronounced «Bre-gay» was comissioned by the Queen of Naples to make a wristwatch, which was completed in 1812. Patek Philippe made the key-winding bracelet watch shown here in 1868 for the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary.
Similar developments were taking place in Switzerland. In February 1889, Albert Bertholet of Bienne registered a claim, which was granted Swiss patent number CH 576 in April 1889, for a «Montre bracelet simplifiée» or simplified wristwatch, which implies that there must have previously been a more complicated wristwatch.
Bertholet’s simplification was to do away with the winding and setting by crown and stem. The watch was wound by turning the bezel, which was geared directly to the mainspring barrel; to set the hands a gear, which engaged directly with the cannon pinion, was brought to a small slot in the side of the case so that it could be turned with a finger. This is strangely prescient of similar arrangements in the Harwood self winding watch.
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Technical and Social Challenges
By the middle of the nineteenth century many, if not most, watch makers were producing bracelet watches, often with elaborate enamelling and jewelling of saphires, rubies, or diamonds. These early pretty, jewellery like, bracelet watches were worn by ladies. Men considered that wristwatches were too small to be properly engineered in order to keep time accurately; and too prone to damage by shock, or contamination with dust and moisture due to their exposed location; and, perhaps most damning of all, effeminate: because wristwatches were only worn by ladies.
A gentleman who wanted to keep track of time carried a pocket watch, usually tucked into a pocket of a waistcoat, a garment introduced by King Charles II in the 17th century, on the end of a long «Albert chain,» a chain introduced by Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, which had a clip at one end to attach to the bow of the pocket watch and a bar at the other to fasten it to a button hole to prevent the watch being dropped. This was a long standing fashion of how a true gentleman dressed to present himself to the world.
Apart from fashion, there was another challenge for makers of wristwatches to overcome. Portable watches had developed from miniaturised spring driven clocks in the 15th or 16th century, and had been gradually made smaller and slimmer. But there was a general perception, which had an element of truth about it, that an accurate watch needed to be of a certain size, and that to make it small enough to be worn on the wrist would be to sacrifice accurate timekeeping.
The final challenge that a wristwatch had to deal with was what safety engineers call «hazards». The environment within a waist coat pocket is relatively benign; warm, dry and relatively protected from shocks. But strapped to the end of an arm, the wristwatch is exposed to all manner of hazards and rough treatment, it is prone to getting knocked, exposed to dust and splashed with water. All of these hazards presented problems to watch movements of the time, which did not live in hermetic cases, and therefore would get gummed up if dust mixed with the oil, rusty if moisture got in, and were prone to shocks breaking the delicate pivots of the balance staff, only a few 10ths of a millimetre in diameter.
The true story of the wristwatch, or at least of the man’s wristwatch (because as we know ladies wristwatches had been available for centuries) is of how it overcame these technical and social barriers to become an essential part of every man’s wardrobe — just as the finest and most complicated wristwatches still are today, despite the fact that, with every gadget from phones to computers having a clock built in, they are no longer needed to tell the time!
To move on to the next chapter in the invention of the wristwatch, please go to the page about wristlets and converters.
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If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.
All the watches of the Royal Family
Today we are talking about one of the most famous families around the world: The British Royal Family.
This family is composed by the current King or Queen of United Kindgom and by those close to the sovereign. This family does not only represent the head of state of the United Kingdom but it is a true icon worldwide.
Representing a whole country the Royal Family members have to maintain an elegant and sober style while carrying out their duties such as participation in national festivities, or undertake visits from local or foreign politician in order to keep strong diplomatic and economic relations.
All the watches we will see in this article will be just that: elegant and sober. Obviously what’s sober for them could not be for us normal people but for sure they are still far from reaching rapper’s level (Coff Coff Drake).
Queen Elizabeth II
Let’s start with Queen Elizabeth II which reign lasted an incredible time of 70 years. Every person on planet earth has probably heard at least one time of Queen Elizabeth II.
In this old picture the Queen is wearing a Patek Philippe Ellipse Lady reference 4138/1G.
This wristwatch is crafted in 18 karat white gold. The integrated bracelet is also made in the same precious material.
The blue soleil dial is rounded with a set of baguet diamonds, amounting to 3,40 karats.
This very fine and elegant piece really fits the Queen style, as we said earlier a sober and elegant look is required since the Queen represents the whole country.
The market value for this watch sits around 20.000 USD
Queen Elizabeth II: Favourite Watch For Holidays
Queen Elizabeth II used to spend her holidays at the Balmoral Castle, known as the Scottish home of the Royal Family.
In this picture, the sovereign was wearing an Omega De Ville with a quartz movement.
This Swiss-Made timepiece is made in 18 karat yellow gold and has a champagne dial.
Due to the shape it may seem bigger than in reality, but the already very small diameter makes it very portable even for a lady.
Queen Elizabeth II: Patek Philippe Full Gold
Coming back to the Queen’s Patek Philippe, in this picture Queen Elizabeth II was spotted wearing a Patek Philippe «Ladies Calatrava».
This watch is made in 18 karat yellow gold. The particularity of this wristwatch is the bracelet called «Beads of Rice»: this bracelet is in fact composed by small grains of rice made out of gold. The result that we have from this composition is pleasant and elegant.
The small size of the case (20mm) makes this watch only suitable for ladies.
The white dial completes the classic look of the watch.
Queen Elizabeth II: Most Expensive Watch Ever?
As a final piece for Her Majesty The Queen we have picked probably the most luxurious and expensive watch in her collection: the Patek Philippe Ellipse reference 4975/1G.
This watch is encrusted with diamonds on the bezel and in the hour markers. The timepiece also features a pearl bracelet.
We are talking about a unique piece made exclusively by Patek Philippe for Queen Elizabeth II, so there is no way you can find the same model somewhere else.
In this picture the Queen is wearing this exquisite timepiece in occasion of her Jubilee in 2012 marking the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne.
We cannot tell the market price, but we can guess that if the watch will ever be auctioned, it will easily go over 50 million USD in value.
King Charles III: Lover of an Unusual Brand
Now it’s the turn of Elizabeth II son and current King, King Charles III.
After Queen Elizabeth II death in September 2022, King Charles III became the oldest monarch to assume the British throne at 73 years old.
In this picture the actual King of United Kingdom is wearing a Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Chronograph reference PF00678.
Parmigiani Fleurier is quite a young brand, starting his production in 1996. At the beginning they weren’t even making watches, but either building mechanical artifacts such as music boxes etc.
To craft their first watches Parmigiani seeked help from Zenith, which provided movements to mount on the Parmigiani’s chronographs.
The list price for this timepiece sits around 15.000 USD.
Lady Diana: Class
Now it’s time for Diana Frances Spencer or as we remember her: Princess Diana.
Probably the most popular woman of her time, being the real fashion icon of the royal family.
In this picture Lady D was spotted wearing a Cartier Tank in yellow gold, probably the watch that best represent her and which is more remembered for.
Inspired by the First World War’s Tanks the Cartier Tank was first introduced in 1917 and has quickly become one of the most iconic timepieces.
The rectangular shape representing a tank viewed from the top is what makes the watch one of the most recognizable.
This iteration of the Cartier Tank has a white dial and blue colored hands.
Lady Diana: Wearing Two Watches?
Lady Diana was often spotted wearing two watches, it is thought that she was wearing multiple watches because while carrying out her duties around the world she wanted to know what time was at her husband or future husband place.
Why wearing a GMT timepiece when you can wear two watches?
Unfortunately her marriage with the former Prince Charles did not end well.
In this picture of Diana, the Princess is wearing is a Patek Philippe «Prince Charles» Calatrava in 18 karat Rose gold.
The price of this timepiece with a white dial sits around 20.000 USD.
Lady Diana: A Watch For An Occasion
As final piece for Princess Diana we have again a classic Yellow Gold Cartier Tank Française.
This timepiece was worn in occasion of Prince Williams’s confirmation, in this picture of 1997 Lady D was waiting for her son.
Unlike previous spots here Diana is wearing the watch with a full Yellow gold bracelet.
Prince William: Beyond the object
Now it’s time for Princess Diana and King Charles’ children: the first one is Prince William which occurs to be the future King of United Kingdom.
The watch he is wearing in the picture is the only one we ever see him wear, it’s the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M reference 126.96.36.199.03.001.
The reason behind this is really simple: this watch was gifted to him in his late teens by her mother Lady Diana before passing away in a car accident.
This is a pretty special reason to wear a single watch for the rest of your life.
This reference in particular serves well as a job of a 1 watch collection since it has 300 meters of water resistance, making it suitable to do any activity you like.
The appearance of the watch makes it sporty and elegant at the same time, suitable to be worn with a suit or casual clothes.
This spot occurred during Prince William and Kate Middleton engagement.
The price of this timepiece sits around 2.500 USD making it very affordable and accessible.
Prince Harry: The Royal Soldier
The second son born from the marriage of King Charles and Princess Diana is Harry.
Harry served in the British Army for ten years undertaking two tours of Afghanistan and reaching the rank of Captain.
Here Harry was spotted wearing a Rolex Explorer II reference 216570.
It’s the first Rolex that we see in this article, and it’s almost at the end of it, not a very common thing.
The Rolex Explorer II with a white dial is also called by enthusiast «polar» because of his white dial. This watch features a GMT function indicated by the orange arrow shaped hand and a date function.
The particularity of the line Explorer of Rolex is that instead of the famous crown symbol of the brand at the 12 hour mark the explorer presents a triangle shaped indice, to get a better readability in case of low light conditions.
The price of this timepiece sits around 12.000 USD.
Kate Middleton: The Future Queen
As last spot in this article we will talk about one of the latest acquired members of the Royal Family: Kate Middleton.
As the wife of the future King she plays a very significant role in the family.
For her watch she probably took inspiration from his husband’s mother: Diana.
She wears a Cartier watch, in particular the Cartier Ballon Bleu. The French brand seems to be appreciated by Princesses of Wales.
This model of Cartier loses the particular shape of the Cartier Tank but retains many details such as the blue hands, the Roman numerals and the particular crown.
In this spot other than the watch we can see Kate Middleton also wearing the ring that belonged to Princess Diana which William offered to Kate when they engaged.
The price of this watch sits around 5.000 USD.
Unexpected Watch Collectors: Queen Elizabeth II
Sadly, Queen Elizabeth II left us in 2022. We could go on for hours and hours about what a big role she played while she was on the throne for 70 years, but that’s not why you watch geeks opened this article.
Next to an accomplished and sophisticated royalty, Queen Elizabeth II was also a watch collector!
Every brand would kill to have their name associated with the British royal family. Since the queen was a lady of taste, she chose her own watches, and oh boy, were these some incredible watches.
Over her life, she has been seen with 14 different luxury watches. The full extent of her majesty’s collection will, of course, never be known.
Her Royal Highness Patek Philippe
Let’s start with the most well known watches of the Queen, her collection of piece unique Patek Philippe’s. The most famous watch is, of course, the legendary piece Unique 4975, a 1/1 timepiece based on the Ellipse. This watch had a pearl bracelet, a diamond-covered case, and baguette indexes. This was the watch she wore most often. The Queen was a big fan of the Patek Philippe Ellipse. She was also seen wearing a more traditional version of the Ellipse in the 1980’s.
The Queen has always had a thing for small, yellow gold Art Deco timepieces. Yellow gold bracelets and white dials were her thing. Around the 1990s, her majesty was very fond of the latest addition to her collection, an Omega Ladymatic that checked all the boxes.
Queen Elizabeth wore a Jaeger-LeCoultre 101 on her coronation day in 1953. Even though the watch is 70 years old, the movement is still today the smallest of the world. It’s easy to mistake the watch for a bracelet, and that was exactly the point. It was important to not take away the attention of the ceremonial jewelry.
Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars
Between 2000 and 2022, the queen was often seen wearing an Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars. The Jules Audemars is one of the most classic pieces of the AP collection. A highly sophisticated watch with white dial, roman numerals and gold bracelet that’s just perfect for any formal occasion.