The Evolution of the Minute Hand on Wristwatches

The Evolution of the Minute Hand on Wristwatches

, by Benjamin Davis, 2 min reading time

For most of history, timepieces did not have minute hands. The first clocks that appeared in medieval Europe in the 13th century typically only had an hour hand, with no way to precisely tell minutes. This was mainly due to technical limitations - early clock mechanisms were not accurate enough to reliably track minutes.

It wasn't until the 16th century that minute hands started being added to some public clocks and high-end ornate clocks. However, these were still rare as minute hands required more complex gearing to link with an oscillating regulating device. Pendulum clocks, invented in 1656, finally allowed clocks to keep time precisely enough to make minute hands useful.

For personal timepieces, minute hands were impractical. Early portable clocks were bulky and worn around the neck or belt. It wasn't until the 17th century that pocket watches became popular among the wealthy. While these had minute hands, they were still too large for wearing on the wrist.

As we spoke about in our history of wristwatches article, wristwatches emerged at the very end of the beginning of the 20th century, but the earliest models did not have minute hands. The small watch movements could not yet accommodate both an hour and minute hand. It wasn't until after 1910 that the majority of wristwatches started being made with minute hands. Machinery had improved to allow mass production of more intricate watch movements on a small scale.

By the 1920s, minute hands were standard on most reasonably priced wristwatches. The adoption was helped along by World War I, when soldiers found wristwatches more practical than pocket watches. Accurately timing minutes was essential for military coordination. By the 1930s, even inexpensive wristwatches included minute hands.

So while time has been measured in minutes for centuries, it took until the early 20th century for minute hands to commonly appear on personal timepieces worn on the wrist. The advancing technology of watchmaking finally made it practical to keep track of both hours and minutes on a small, wearable scale.


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