History of the Mechanical Watch
The watch was not a true "invention" so much as a further miniaturization of the small spring-driven table clock introduced by Italian clockmakers in the late 15th century. It is probable that the Italians were producing clocks small enough to be worn on the person by the early 16th century. It did not take long for watchmaking to spread throughout Europe and England, and London, Paris, and Geneva flourished as centers of fine watchmaking in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Early watches were very poor timekeepers (much less reliable than clocks of the same period), and remained so until the introduction of the balance spring in 1675. only after this innovation did the minute hand regularly appear on watches. Better escapements further improved watch performance, as did "jewelling," the use of jeweled bearings to reduce friction.
However, if watches of the 16th and 17th centuries were not terribly successful as instruments, they were very successful as ornaments. Cases and dials were painstakingly handcrafted, and reflected the specialized skills of casemakers, gilders, engravers, enamelers, and jewelers. French watches were especially decorative and opulent, while English, German, and Dutch designs were generally more sedate. However, even French designs simplified as technical advances improved the watch's image as a serious timekeeper.
Until the middle of the 19th century, watches were individually assembled from handcrafted parts. Even in the early days of the trade, several craftsmen were involved in the fabrication of a watch, one artisan making the rough castings, others making such parts as the spring, case, dial, and hands, and another—the "watchmaker" who put his name on the final product—finishing the parts and assembling them into a working watch. More because of the labor than the raw materials 9although these were hardly negligible), watches were extremely costly. Not until the second half of the 19th century and the American developments in mechanized watch production would they become widely affordable.