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watch, small, portable timepiece usually designed to be worn on the person. Other kinds of timepieces are generally referred to as clocks. At one time it was generally believed that the first watches were made in Nuremburg, Germany, c.1500. However, there is now evidence that watches may have appeared at an earlier date in Italy. Early watches were ornate, very heavy, and made in a variety of shapes, e.g., pears, skulls, and crosses; the faces were protected by metal latticework. Watch parts were made by hand until c.1850, when machine methods were introduced by watch manufacturers in the United States. The introduction of machine-made parts not only cut manufacturing costs but increased precision and facilitated repairs. To insure the accuracy of a watch over a long period, bearings made of jewels (usually synthetic sapphires or rubies) are utilized at points subject to heavy wear. The mechanical watch contains a mainspring to drive the watch's mechanism. Part of the mechanism includes a hairspring and an oscillating balance wheel to control the rate at which the mechanism moves. The mainspring is wound by the wearer when he turns a knob outside the watch's casing. The automatic, or self-winding, watch has a mainspring that is wound by an oscillating weight, contained in the watch, that is set into motion by the movements of the wearer. The stopwatch can be stopped or started at will by pressing a tiny button on its edge and is used for timing such events as races. The electric watch, which was introduced by the Hamilton Watch Company in 1957, also uses a hairspring and a balance wheel to regulate the rate at which its mechanism moves, but it has no mainspring. In recent years sophisticated electronic watches have been developed. One type uses the vibrations of an electrically driven tuning fork to determine the rate at which a small motor drives the hands. In another type a crystal oscillator provides a signal that regulates this motion. In the most common type a quartz crystal oscillator is joined to digital counting and digital display circuits, thus eliminating all moving parts. See liquid crystal. Quartz watches with digital displays now account for nearly half of all watch production, since they are inexpensive to produce but are accurate to within several seconds per month. Electric and electronic watches are powered by tiny long-lasting batteries. See chronometer.


See C. Clutton and G. Daniels, Watches: A Complete History (3d ed. 1979); J. Zagoory and H. Chan, A Time to Watch: The Wrist Watch as Art (1985); E. Bruton, History of Clocks and Watches (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Basic type of duty on ships and vessels, for the purpose of maintaining their combat readiness (in the navy) and navigational safety. The watch on naval ships is divided into general ship’s watch (combat watch, bridge watch at sea, and anchor watch) and special (for example, engine-crew watch). The distribution of personnel in shifts is provided for in special rosters. The term “watch” is also used to designate the interval of time during which one shift of a 24-hour detail stands watch; its duration is not more than six hours. The most difficult watch is considered to be the first night watch from 0:01 to 4:00 hours, which is called the dogwatch in all the navies of the world.

(2) Obsolete term used to designate half of the crew of a ship (vessel). Up until the 19th century a ship’s crew was divided into two watches; the first watch was located (hung its hammocks) in the right-hand portion of the ship’s hull and the second watch, in the left portion.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The service performed by a qualified operator when on duty in the radio room of a vessel. Also known as radio watch.
A small timepiece of a size convenient to be carried on the person.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a. any of the usually four-hour periods beginning at midnight and again at noon during which part of a ship's crew are on duty
b. those officers and crew on duty during a specified watch
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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To allow the central animal free reign over the dial, the watchmaker has removed the hands, instead displaying the indications via apertures that reveal slices of disks with the hours, minutes, day and date.
THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET BY NATASHA PULLEY (Bloomsbury Circus, hardback PS12.99, ebook PS7.47) THE fictitious plot of this Victorian-era novel is rooted in history: specifically, an Irish nationalist bomb attack on Scotland Yard in 1884.