Sundial overlooking the water

Soft Watch Exploding in 888 Particles after Twenty Years of Total Immobility, c. 1954 by Salvador Dali (1904-89)

Man’s obsession with time goes back at least 10,000 years to the earliest sundials. More practical timepieces were invented in the 16th century and although they were not known for their accuracy, the served as status symbols for the wealthy. One of the earliest images is that of a gentleman (possibly Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence). Painted by Maso da San Friano  (1531–1571) around 1558-60, it is a portrait of a nobleman showing off his valuable timepiece.

Man Holding a Watch, c. 1558-60 by Maso da San Friano  (1531–1571)

Watchmaking continued to develop and eventually timepieces contained and second hand (1680) and had self-winding capabilities a century later. They continued to be a status symbol of the rich and powerful until the 19th century when many in the middle class could finally afford pocket watches.

 Wristwatches began to be commercialized in the latter half of the 19th century when Kaiser Wilhelm I ordered 2,000 for his naval officers in Germany. It would take another 20 years before men would come to accept their utility. It quickly became apparent when war broke out that wristwatches were a practical alternative to the pocket watch. They allowed soldiers and pilots a quick and easy way to tell time without having to dig around for a pocket watch. The wristwatch has been king of timepieces ever since.

Whereas the cellphone has tended to replace wristwatches to some degree, they remain both a convenience (especially smartwatches) and a modern status symbol. High end watches can cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you really want the ultimate status symbol, the Graff Diamonds Hallucination watch sells for a mere 55 million dollars (with free shipping).

Our Obsession with TIME