A (Very Brief) History of Time

Time – we all use it. In fact, the whole world revolves around it, and we carry it in our pockets and on our wrists. However, how much do you know about time, clocks, and watches? From sundials to Apple, here is a short history of how humans have told the time.

3500 BC: Shadow Clocks

The Ancient Egyptians used shadow clocks such as obelisks and sundials to track the movement of the sun across the sky and discern the time of day using the shadows it cast. The dial needed to be facing North and placed on a flat surface. The surface would be inscribed with 12 sections, and whichever one the shadow fell in would tell the time to the nearest hour.

250 BC: Water Clock

The first prototype for a water clock dates back to the Ancient Greeks. Called a ‘clepsydra,’ it consisted of two bowls and was used as a timer to give equal and accurate amounts of time to a task or person. One bowl was placed under the other, and when the meeting or activity began, a bung would be removed from the top bowl, allowing the bottom bowl to fill. When the top bowl was empty, the time was up. These were much more useful than shadow clocks, as they could be used indoors, in the dark, and did not rely on clear sunny skies.

1338: Hour-glass

Similarly to a water clock, the hour-glass is a timer. It consists of two pear-shaped glasses attached to each other, and sand flows from one end to the other when turned. Hour-glasses were more desirable than water clocks, as they did not spill or freeze and were popular with sailors.

1504: Portable Time

Peter Henlein, from Germany, invented the first portable timepiece, but it was not very accurate. Many early portable clocks and watches were very heavy and were often worn around the neck on a chain. French inventor, mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited as being the first person to wear a watch, by tying his timepiece around his wrist with string.

1972: Digital Watch

Hamilton Watch Company made the first digital watch in 1972, costing over $2000. It featured 18-carat gold and a red LED display. A few years prior, the same company made a digital clock featured in Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ hinting at the technological advances to come.

1905: Rolex

Beginning in London in 1905, Rolex is one of the most famous and luxurious watch brands in the world. Actor Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona was sold at auction for over $17 million, and the company’s annual revenue was $5.2 billion in 2019.

2015: Apple Watch

Apple released the first Apple watch in 2015 and are now onto their 6th series. Allowing you to sync your phone straight to your wrist, take calls, listen to music, and track your health, among many other features, makes the Apple watch an incredibly popular smartwatch. With so many to choose from, if you’re ever wondering which Apple watch to buy, Superwatches can help you look through the various incarnations and see which version is best for you.

What’s in the future?

Glasses and contact lenses that can tell us the time and access the internet are a popular theory and feature in sci-fi, so are they the next step in smartwatches? You can already see how far watches and clocks have come, so all you can do is wait and see what comes next!

Daily Newsletter

Subscribe to Jebiga for a dose of the best in gear, design, rides, tech and adventure.