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A watch is a small portable clock that displays the current time and sometimes the current day, date, month and year. In modern times they are usually worn on the wrist with a watch-strap (made of e.g. leather (often synthetic), metal, or nylon), although before the 20th century most were pocket watches, which had covers and were carried separately, often in a pocket, and hooked to a watch chain.

Current watches are often digital watches, using a piezoelectric crystal, usually quartz, as an oscillator (see quartz clock).

In earlier times mechanical timepieces were used, powered by a spring wound regularly by the user. The invention of "Automatic" or "Self-Winding" watches allowed for a constant winding without special action from the wearer: it works by an eccentric weight, called a winding rotor, that rotates to the movement of the wearer's body. The back-and-forth motion of the winding rotor couples to a rachet to automatically wind the watch.

Watches may be collectible; they are often made of precious metals, and can be considered an article of jewelry.

Wrist watch

Breitling Navitimer Montbrillant, a typical pilot watch. Quantum on hand, day of the week, month, slide rule, chronometer certified.

The wristwatch was invented by Patek Philippe at the end of the 19th century. It was however considered a woman's accessory. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont, who had difficulty checking the time while in his first aircraft (Dumont was working on the invention of the aeroplane), asked his friend Louis Cartier for a watch he could use more easily. Cartier gave him a leather-band wristwatch from which Dumont never separated. Being a popular figure in Paris, Cartier was soon able to sell these watches to other men. During the First World War, officers in all armies soon discovered that in battlefield situations, quickly glancing at a watch on their wrist was far more convenient than fumbling in their jacket pockets for an old-fashioned pocket watch. In addition, as increasing numbers of officers were killed in the early stages of the war, NCOs promoted to replace them often did not have pocket watches (traditionally a middle-class item out of the reach of ordinary working-class soldiers), and so relied on the army to provide them with timekeepers. As the scale of battles increased, artillery and infantry officers were required to synchronize watches in order to conduct attacks at precise moments, whilst artillery officers were in need of a large number of accurate timekeepers for rangefinding and gunnery. Army contractors began to issue reliable, cheap, mass-produced wristwatches which were ideal for these purposes. When the war ended, demobilized European and American officers were allowed to keep their wristwatches, helping to popularize the items amongst middle-class Western civilian culture. Today, nearly every Westerner wears a watch on his wrist, a direct result of the First World War.

Quartz analog watch

The quartz analog watch is an electronic watch that uses a piezoelectric quartz crystal as its timing element, coupled to a mechanical movement that drives the hands. The first prototypes were made by the CEH research laboratory in Switzerland in 1962. The first quartz watch to enter production was the Seiko 35 SQ Astron, which appeared in 1969. There are also several variations of the quartz watch as to what actually powers the movement. There are solar powered, kinetically powered, and battery powered. Solar powered quartz watches are powered by available light. Kinetic powered quartz watches are powered by the motion of the wearer's arm turning a rotating weight, which in turn, turns a generator to supply power. The third and most common power source is the battery. Watch batteries come in many forms, the most common of which are silver oxide and lithium.

Digital watches

Cheaper electronics permitted the popularization of the digital watch (an electronic watch with a numerical, rather than analog, display) in the second half of the 20th century. They were seen as the great new thing. Douglas Adams, in the introduction of his novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, would say that humans were 'so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea'.

The first digital watch, a Pulsar prototype in 1970, was developed jointly by Hamilton Watch Company and Electro-Data. A retail version of the Pulsar was put on sale in 1972. It had a red light-emitting diode (LED) display. LED displays were soon superseded by liquid crystal displays (LCDs), which used less battery power. The first LCD watch with a six-digit LCD was the 1973 Seiko 06LC, although various forms of early LCD watches with a four-digit display were marketed as early as 1972 including the 1972 Gruen Teletime LCD Watch [3], [4].

In addition to the function of a timepiece, digital watches can have additional functions like a chronograph, calculator, video game, etc.

Digital watches have not replaced analog watches, despite their greater reliability and lower cost. In fact, because digital watches are so cheap, analog watches are often worn as status symbols. For others, analog watches are just easier to read.

Fashionable watches

At the end of the 20th century, Swiss watch makers were seeing their sales go down as analog clocks were considered obsolete. They joined forces with designers from many countries to reinvent the Swiss watch.

The result was that they could considerably reduce the pieces and production time of an analog watch. In fact it was so cheap that if a watch broke it would be cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one than to repair it. They founded the Swiss Watch company (Swatch) and called graphic designers to redesign a new annual collection.

This is often used as a case study in design schools to demonstrate the commercial potential of industrial and graphic design.

Advanced watches

As miniaturized electronics become cheaper, more and more functionalities have been inserted into watches. Watches have been developed containing calculators, video games, digital cameras, keydrives, and cellular phones. In the early 1980s Seiko marketed a watch with a television receiver in it, although at the time television receivers were too bulky to fit in a wristwatch, and the actual receiver and its power source were in a book-sized box with a cable that ran to the wristwatch. In the early 2000s, a self-contained wristwatch television receiver came on the market, with a strong enough power source to provide one hour of viewing.

Several companies have attempted to develop a computer contained in a WristWatch (see also wearable computer). As of 2005, the only programmable computer watches to have made it to market are the Seiko Ruputer and the Fossil, Inc. WristPDA, although many digital watches come with extremely sophisticated data management software built in.

In 1990 radio controlled wristwatches or as they are sometimes called "atomic watches" reached the market. These wristwatches normally receive a radio signal from one of the national atomic clock facilities around the world, for example the National Institute of Standards and Technology located in Colorado in the United States. This radio signal tells the radio wristwatch exactly what time it is, in theory precise to a fraction of a nanosecond. It will also reset itself when daylight savings time changes. In recent years, mass production has meant that atomic watches have become as cheap as quartz watches, though market share still remains small as interest from big manufacturers is limited. Casio even produces watches with a GPS receiver.


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