20 Annotations

First Reading

dirk  •  Link

For basic reference:

"Watches date from the early 1500s and were invented by the German locksmith and burgher Peter Henlein of Nuremberg.They were carried about in the hand. Up to the 1580s watches were made of iron, but gradually other metals were introduced such as brass & steel particularly after 1625.

The origins of a self winding wrist watch date from a patent granted in 1780 - though it wasn't invented until 1924. Electronic watches date from 1953.

The oldest known clock was built and erected in Milan in 1335, and the oldest English clock at Salisbury Cathedral in 1386. Domestic clocks were simply smaller versions of public clocks and came into fashion around 1500 with clocks designed by our old friend Peter Henlein which were driven by a spring. Furthermore you could carry the clocks anywhere so you could get a vague idea of the amount of time you were wasting wherever you did wander. All had hour hands and had no glass cover protecting the clock face. In fact, the time honoured excuse "Just a minute" wouldn't have made much sense prior to 1660 when the minute hands first made their entrance - no doubt to a very big hand indeed.

Pendulums became a feature of regular and accurate timekeeping in 1656 thanks to Christiaan Huygens. These pendulums were encased in wood and then mounted on walls. Soon after, the grandfather clock was born.

Rudimentary battery electric clocks were developed in 1840, and the first self contained battery-driven clock appeared in 1906. The development of quartz crystal by 1929 increased time keeping accuracy even further."

A good site for some more history:

Pedro  •  Link

The King's clocks...

"He adored all clocks and watches. In the end there were no fewer than seven clocks in his bedroom (their ill-synchronized chiming drove his attendants mad), while another clock in the antechamber told not only the hour but also the direction of the wind. Hooke's balance-spring action was demonstrated in front of the King, while the royal accounts contain many items for the purchase of further clocks. The sun-dial (in the Privy Garden) had a particular function for the King used it to set his watch by."

(Antonia Fraser, King CharlesII).

dirk  •  Link

"He adored all clocks and watches..."

It strikes me here (no pun intended) that Louis XVI, France's last king before the revolution (the one who was decapitated) was also very fond of clocks. He even repaired them as a hobby...

I wonder if Charles I had been equally fond of clocks - if so the analogy would be striking (Oh! I did it again...)

Pedro  •  Link

"Pendulums became a feature of regular and accurate timekeeping in 1656 thanks to Christiaan Huygens."

On his two voyages to the West African Coast in 1661 and 1663, Holmes carried out successful experiments for Huygens on his clock for the measurement of longitude.

Todd Bernhardt  •  Link

Estimable entymologist Michael Quinion had this to say about the source of the word "watch" for a time-keeping device in his 30 March newsletter (yes, I'm that far behind on my reading):

Q. I was thinking about my wristwatch the other evening and started wondering why we call small timepieces watches. Is it because we look at them to tell the time, or were they originally intended to tell the watches of the night? I was tempted to give up on the question by saying that we call them watches because "forks" was already in use, but that lacked the intellectual satisfaction I have come to enjoy from your columns. [Fred Roth]

A. The watches of the night is pretty much bang on as an answer.

A watch related to people before it became a mechanical device. The job of the watch was - obviously enough - to watch, to stay alert during the night hours to keep guard and maintain order. It turned up especially in the phrase "watch and ward", as a legal term that summarised the duties of the watchmen - to keep watch and ward off trouble. Sailors' watches come from the same idea.

"Watch" started to be applied to clocks in the fifteenth century, in the first instance to a form of mechanical alarm, presumably either to wake the watchmen for their hours of duty, or to mark the passage of the hours of a watch.

By the latter part of the following century it had become applied to what we would now call a clock-face or dial (early mechanical clocks often lacked both a dial and hands, the time being told by bells, which explains the derivation of "clock" from the French "cloche", a bell; the first clock with a minute hand is recorded as late as 1475, which shows you how hard it was to make these early clocks keep reasonable time).

The first time "watch" is applied to a complete timekeeper, not just to an alarm bell, is in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost of 1588. Watches steadily became smaller in size down the centuries until they could be fitted into a pocket.

But it took until the end of the nineteenth century for them to be made small enough that they could be worn on the wrist and for the term "wrist watch" to be created as a term for them. At first they were a purely female accessory. A report in a Rhode Island paper in May 1888 remarked "I was not surprised to see that nearly all the fair sex were wearing the wrist watches which are now so entirely the fashion in London, but which I believe are very little worn as yet in America." They also became known as wristlet watches from about 1910. Men didn't regularly start to wear them until the 1920s, the associations of effeminacy only being dispelled as a result of soldiers and airmen finding them convenient during the First World War.

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Robert Hooke and the Royal Society were interested in pendulum clocks during the 1660's for navigational purposes.

Robert Hooke was at his best when his mind was jumping freely from one idea to the next. At the time he was working on the air pump he was thinking about clocks, and how they could be used in determining the longitude at sea. Realizing the weakness of the pendulum clock in keeping time on a pitching ship, he wondered about the: "... use of springs instead of gravity for making a body vibrate in any posture."

Instead of the balance wheel being controlled by a pendulum which operates from gravity, Robert Hooke observed that controlling the balance wheel with a spring would be better for a portable timekeeper which someone might carry around -- or one which would have to continue to keep the correct time on a ship.

Around 1658 Robert Hook began experiments and he made two significant steps by 1660, namely the use of a balance-controlled by a spiral spring, and an improved escapement which he called the anchor escapement.

In 1660 Robert Hooke discovered an instance of what became known as Hooke's Law while designing the balance springs of clocks. But Hooke only announced the general law of elasticity in his lecture Of Spring given in 1678.

A strange event happened in 1660 regarding Robert Hooke's spring-controlled clocks. He was backed by Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Robert Moray and William, and 2nd Viscount Brouncker in his design of a spring-controlled clock, and a patent was drawn up. It could have made him a fortune, but when he realized the patent allowed anyone who improved the design to receive the royalties, he refused to continue with the patent.

For more about this see: http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.u…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The big thing holding back the adoption of watches was the want of pockets, according to this article:

Later this century the "invention" of the waistcoat supplied gentlemen with a convenient, safe and visible way to display this expensive bauble. The vast working majority continued to rely on church-bells and watchmen -- for want of pockets (and affordable baubles).

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

FINALLY we know how Pepys woke up in the morning:
"... and so to bed, to be up betimes by the help of a larum watch, which by chance I borrowed of my watchmaker today, while my own is mending."


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

It wasn’t until the invention of the pendulum clock in the 1650s that it was possible to calculate the relationship between mean (clock) time and solar time.

In the early 1670s, John Flamsteed developed a formula for converting solar time to mean time, and published a set of conversion tables. Soon after he was appointed to be the first Astronomer Royal and he moved into the new Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

Here Flamsteed collected the best pendulum clocks, and set them to local Greenwich Mean Time, or the average time when the Sun crossed the meridian at Greenwich.

At first Greenwich time was only really important to astronomers. But in the next century the quest for longitude was taken up by the 5th Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne who brought Greenwich Mean Time to a wider audience.

In 1767 Maskelyn introduced the Nautical Almanac as part of the great 18th-century challenge to determine longitude. These were tables of ‘lunar distance’ data based on observations at Greenwich and using GMT as the time standard. This data enabled navigators to find their position at sea.

More general information about GMT at

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Mechanical clocks were used throughout Europe for at least two centuries before Galileo Galilei came along, but the Florentine astronomer (1564-1642) drew up a theoretical method in which a pendulum could regulate a clock’s ticking mechanism, making it much more accurate.
The first working pendulum clock was constructed in 1656, by Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"While we can’t be certain from historical records if it was monks who made the first mechanical clocks, we do know that they first appeared in the 14th century.

"Their first mention is in the Italian physician, astronomer and mechanical engineer Giovanni de Dondi’s treatise Tractatus Astrarii, or Planetarium. De Dondi states that early clocks used gravity as their power source and were driven by weights.

"Drawing of the bottom section of De Dondi’s astronomical clock. Giovanni de Dondi
"These weren’t the accurate clocks we see today – they probably kept time to within 15-30 minutes a day. These early clocks started popping up in city centres but, since they did not have a face, they used bells to signal the hours. These signals began to organise the market times and administrative needs of each city.

"Coiled springs as a method of releasing energy for clocks began to appear in Europe in the 15th century. This didn’t do anything to improve accuracy, but it could reduce the size of the clock. So, time became more of a personal as well as status object – you only have to look at oil paintings where subject’s watches are proudly displayed.

"The Dutch scientist Christian Huygens first applied the pendulum to a clock in about 1656. This bolstered their accuracy to within 15 seconds a day, because each swing now took almost exactly the same time to complete.

"As a result, time could be used more accurately in scientific observations, including of the stars. It also meant that clocks could now show an accurate minute hand."

Excerpt from

The rest of the article is about the development from prehistory to the modern day, globally.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"Mechanical clocks were invented in Germany in the early 14th century. As they increased in popularity throughout Europe, people began to replace previous forms of timekeeping that relied on tracking the sun, such as sundials.
"Before long, a term originated in the English language to distinguish between these different ways of telling time. People would say it was, for example, four “of the clock” when referring to a mechanical timepiece. This eventually became shortened to just “four o’clock.”
"According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term “o’clock” dates back to 1535."


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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.





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