Looking at the list of the oldest watch brands in the world, it’s very easy to get mislead and think that the history of watches is at best three centuries old.
So far from the truth!
Humans have long valued the ability to track the passage of time. Natural techniques, such as following the passage of the sun and moon, were notoriously utilized by our forefathers. The Egyptians constructed obelisks around 3500 BCE, which were the earliest man-made clocks.
With the advancement of clock technology, folks became more interested in portable clocks. These early timepieces had rings on them that could be linked to chains, so they could also be used as little table clocks. They were also tiny enough to be held in one’s hand.
During the early 16th century, the first timepieces were made throughout Europe, particularly in Germany. Many early models have been remarkably well maintained and are to this day present in museums.
So, how old is the oldest watch in the world?
Certainly, older than you’d expect. In this article, we will take a look at the 10 oldest watches that are considered as true milestones in the development of the horological industry.
We will start with the “youngest” model that dates back to the 17th century.
Without further delay, let’s go!
📖 Table of Contents
10 Oldest Watches In The World
10. Puritan Watch by Edward East
During the 17th century, Edward East was a prominent clock and watchmaker in London. Initially trained as a goldsmith, East was King Charles II’s main watchmaker and clockmaker, and he also built clocks and watches for King Charles I. East was also a founder member of the London Clockmakers’ Company in 1631.
East produced a basic and unadorned Puritan watch in the 17th century. The watch’s minimalism was said to be a reaction to the more complex and flashier timepieces of the previous decades. From around 1625, however, watches of the same type were apparently already being produced in the Dutch cities of Haarlem and The Hague.
This exquisite model has a worm-and-wheel mainspring, a pinned-on clock with a wonderfully produced openwork flower pattern, Egyptian-style pillars, and a gut fusee.
9. A Watch by Johan Possdorfer
This beautiful rock crystal watch was designed in the mid-17th century by a highly regarded German watchmaker, Johann Possdorfer.
It’s believed that Possdorffer’s fruitful collaboration with the brilliant Swiss horologist Jobst Bürgi when both were working in Prague for Prince Karl I of Liechtenstein allowed for the transmission of Bürgi’s technical secrets from Prague to Dresden.
Following Burgi’s strategy and know-how, Possdorffer created a watch with a cross-beat escapement, which made it one of the most accurate portable timekeepers until the balancing spring was invented. The watch is presently on display at Dresden’s Grünes Gewölbe although it’s believed to have been constructed while he was still in Prague.
The watch has an enameled dial that only registers hours and half hours. It is notable for its small size rather than its accuracy.
8. Alarm & Calendar Watch by Nicolas Forfaict
Invented by French watchmaker Nicolas Forfaict, this early 17th-century Paris clock watch is remarkable for being one of the first to include extra functions.
This watch was equipped with an alarm clock as well as a calendar that displayed the moon’s phase throughout its monthly cycle. This clock watch also allowed the user to see how long the moonlight lasted after the sun had set.
This watch’s case and dial are engraved with motifs of populated foliage and grotesque decoration, the latter of which is based on engravings by French artist Jacques Androuet DuCerceau. The case’s side, or band, is perforated to allow the sound of the watch striking the hour (1–12) on the bell connected to the inside of the bottom of the case to be heard.
The hours and half hours are marked in the silver chapter ring attached to the dial by a single hand. The moon’s age in its monthly cycle is shown by a tiny hand attached to a disk that spins inside the chapter ring, and the phases of the moon are displayed through an aperture in the disk.
In addition, the length of moonlight after dusk may be read at the disk’s border, and an aspectarium in the middle shows variations throughout the angular distance between the sun and the moon in the zodiac, which is helpful for astrological reasons.
7. Clock Watch by Michael Nouwen
The name “Clock Watch’ derives from the way the timepiece strikes the hours – like a clock! The bell, placed inside the casing, has cutouts so that the sound of the bell is heard clearly.
This beautiful model was created by a Flemish watchmaker named Michael Nouwen who was working in London during the early parts of the 17th century. Not long after the creation of the Clock Watch, Nouwen died, leaving the clock in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in which it’s exhibited to this day.
The clock hand is blued steel, while the casing and dial are constructed of gilded brass. The movement is constructed of brass and iron that has been gilded.
This watch is as much a piece of jewelry or a showpiece as it is a timekeeper, thanks to the detailed piercing and etching of the metals.
6. Lesser George Watch by Nicholas Vallin
Nicholas Vallin designed this watch in 1600, and it features a stunning ornate casing. The ensign of the English Order of the Garter, which was founded by King Edward III in medieval times and is still active today, is included on the watch’s casing.
On the case, Saint George, the Order’s patron saint, is seen slaying a dragon. The casing is primarily composed of gold and enamel, with gilded brass and steel for the real watch. This watch was both a clock and a symbol of a knight’s membership in the Order of the Garter.
5. Rock Watch With Crystal Case by Unkown
One of the oldest instances of a watch designed to be worn as jewelry is this 16th-century watch with a rock crystal casing. Some individuals have questioned the authenticity of this watch because it is relatively tiny compared to others from the same period.
The watch, on the other hand, is inscribed with the initials H.K. and a date of 1530. Furthermore, research indicated that the watch’s composition is identical to that of other Renaissance timepieces. The watch’s rock crystal casing was added in the early seventeenth century.
4. Portable Drum Watch by Christoph Schissler
Christoph Schissler constructed the portable drum watch in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, somewhere between 1550 and 1570. The top of this drum watch included a sundial that could be used to reset the mechanical clock, making it one of the most accurate early clocks.
The watch is also etched with animals and vegetation, indicating that it is a high-end product. Henry Walters gave the portable drum watch to the Walters Art Museum in 1931; it is uncertain when the watch got into Mr. Walters’ ownership.
3. Melanchthon’s Watch by Peter Henlein
Melanchthon’s Watch is the world’s oldest definitely dated watch, named after its original owner Philip Melanchthon. “PHIL[IP]. MELA[NCHTHON]. GOTT. ALEIN. DIE. EHR[E]. 1530” is inscribed on the bottom of the watch (Philip Melanchthon, to God alone the glory, 1530). Melanchton’s Watch lacks an official watchmaker’s signature, although it is comparable in style to other 16th century timepieces produced by renowned watchmaker Peter Henlein. Hence, many attribute the piece to him.
Melanchthon’s Watch, like other early timepieces, featured little legs that allowed it to be used as a small table clock, as well as a small ring that allowed it to be connected to a necklace or chain.
The watch was able to run for 12 to 16 hours with just one winding and told time to within the nearest half hour.
2. Pocket Watch by Peter Henlein
The second watch on this list with unknown origins is the drum-shaped pocket watch, which was thought to be the oldest watch in the world for centuries. Because it was allegedly designed by Peter Henlein in 1510, this watch is known as the Henlein Pocket Watch. As a result, Henlein is largely credited for presenting the world with the first mechanical watch in 1510.
The real provenance of the Henlein pocket watch is unknown. While elements of the watch may date back to the 16th century, Henlein’s “signature” is thought to have been added considerably later since it covers previous scratches.
Furthermore, modern computer imaging reveals that many of the pocket watch’s internal components did not originally belong together. Regardless of whether the Henlein pocket watch is genuine, it is said to be one of the world’s oldest timepieces.
1. Pomander Watch by Peter Henlein
Closing the list of the oldest watches in the world is the Pomander Watch. (Bisamapfeluhr in German). The Pomander Watch was found to be constructed in 1505 by Peter Henlein, who is recognized as the watch’s creator, after an in-depth investigation by a committee of several specialists in their area.
The Pomander Watch is a tiny portable clock, not a watch in the contemporary sense. It was first found in 1987 and has since changed hands numerous times due to early suspicions that it was a fake.
Despite the fact that the committee offered compelling evidence indicating the Pomander Watch was produced by Henlein and dates back to 1505, many individuals are skeptical that the watch was truly made by Henlein.