Guess who is ahead of their time

Got the time? Arthur Black watches the history of time keepers

Got the time?

Queen Elizabeth had the first one. Elizabeth the First, that is.  She strapped hers (a gift from a loyal admirer) onto her royal wrist back in 1571.

The Queen’s watch was probably not wafer thin or accurate and she declined to wear it much so as a fad it didn’t really catch on.

By the early twentieth century, however, the advantages of the “wristlet watch” began to appear obvious — particularly in battle. Its usefulness when it came to coordinating troop movements and synchronizing bombardments not only made the wristwatch indispensable for army officers, it also made the device “manly’.’ By the time WWI rolled around the British War Department was handing out wristwatches to all soldiers.  By 1930 the popularity of the device outshone pocket watches by a ratio of fifty to one. The wristwatch was here to stay.

Well, not “stay” exactly. Aside from the fact that they ride on the  human forearm, the wristwatches of today would hardly be confused with the leather-strapped, stem-winding utilitarian models British Tommies wore when they leapt from their trenches and charged toward the Hun. Most modern watches are self-winding, for starters — and digital.  My wristwatch features an alarm, a calendar and a backlight plus a bunch of stuff I don’t use (or understand — what the hell do I need a “bezel” for?).

But when it comes to keeping up with the times, my wristwatch might as well be powered by steam pistons. The world’s largest maker of smart phones, Samsung, is poised to release what it calls “the watch phone’” — a gizmo that can make or receive phone calls without being connected to a mobile phone. Dick Tracy, eat your heart out. The new phone takes photographs, sends and receives e-mail and comes equipped with a heart monitor giving you advance warning when this tsunami of data will overwhelm your ticker and send you into cardiac arrest.

Then there’s Romain Jerome, a Swiss watchmaking firm which recently unveiled the “Day&Night” watch.  No hour or minute or second hand on this baby.  No digital readout either.  What it does do, through a sophisticated and complex measurement of the earth’s gravity, is tell you whether it is daytime. Or nighttime. Ingenious, no?  And so much easier than say, looking up at the sky.  But here’s the kicker: the Day&Night watch costs $300,000.

Yvan Arpa, CEO of Romain Jerome, is unapologetic about the price tag or the lack of features on the watch. “Anyone can buy a watch that tells time,” he sniffs. “Only a truly discerning client will buy one that doesn’t.”

Which begs the question: “Does anybody know what time it is?  Does anybody really care?” Good old Guess Who — a group clearly ahead of its time.

— This column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: arblack43@shaw.ca

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