Why do we wear wristwatches?


Bussora RetroPilot Nero Verde Militare

Every day, I receive a dozen of questions and compliments about my watch (Bussora RetroPilot Classico Marrone Cioccolato). Friends, acquaintances and new people I meet want to know what kind of timepiece I’m wearing and where I bought it. After I tell them that this watch is designed by one of my closest friends, the Italian designer Giovanni Calamita, and that I‘m actually one of the founders of Bussora, I get even more questions. They want to know how we came up with this design and they’re interested in our source of inspiration. After all, the RetroPilot isn’t your everyday minimalistic watch. Before answering their questions, I usually ask them one simple question: ‘Why do we wear a watch around our wrist?’ Most people whom I talking to instantly reply: ‘To look cool, right? To tell time?’ Obviously, a watch is used to tell time, but why do we wear watches around our wrist? Why don’t we use pocket watches anymore? Actually, why do we even wear watches in this smartphone driven era?

We wear watches around our wrist because of the founders of aviation. Before the first flight in the history of aviation, at the beginning of the 20thcentury, people used to have pocket watches. This doesn’t mean thought that wrist watches weren’t already invented at that time. Rumor has it that the first wrist watch was created in the late 1500’s for Queen Elizabeth I. Details of this particular watch however have disappeared into the mists of time. Patek Philippe made a watch bracelet around 1860, but this was, again, a unique timepiece for the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. One could say that before aviation, wrist watches we’re worn strictly by (very) wealthy women.

"Rumor has it that the first wrist watch was created in the late 1500's for Queen Elizabeth I"

This however changed in 1806, when Brazilian-Franco Albert Santos-Dumont flew for the first time in the history of mankind. Okay, the Wright Brothers flew three years earlier but Santos-Dumont was the first who took off under his own power. Santos-Dumont celebrated this great achievement at the famous restaurant Maxim’s in Paris (the restaurant still exists and is definitely worth a visit) with none other than Louis Cartier! The story tells that Santos-Dumont complained to Cartier about the difficulty of checking a pocket watch while flying. He needed to keep his hands on the plane’s controls, after all, flying wasn’t as ‘easy’ as it is today, but instead he kept fumbling in his pocket to reach for his pocketwatch. Cartier then developed the first real pilot watch in history, the Santos. It was a small watch with a ‘tank’ shaped case, that is still on sale today. Santos-Dumont wore this watch every time he flew and his Cartier watch started to catch the eye of the public. What was Santos-Dumont wearing around his wrist? The answer was a wristwatch, instead of a pocket watch, he wore a wristwatch affixed by a comfortable leather strap and secured with a small buckle. Though Patek Phillip invented the wristwatch, women mainly wore it until Santos made the wristwatch a man’s watch, achieving another first.


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From this point on, the history of wristwatches and their development is a bit vague. It is pretty clear that Zenith, after Cartier, has played a huge role in aviation, being the choice of Louis Blériot, the first pilot who crossed The English Channel in 1909. But one should keep in mind however that at the same time, the world was preparing for World War 1. During the war, in order to improve synchronization between soldiers during maneuvers, the men were equipped with wristwatches. Because of these two events, watch manufacturers started noticing some demand for men's wristwatches and they started to produce purpose made designs. These manufacturers used existing movements that had originally been designed for small pocket watches. They placed these types of movements into cases that had loops of wire, called "wire lugs", soldered onto the sides of the case. This way, they were able to attach a removable leather strap to the case.

"The wire lugs mark the transition between pocket watches and the wristwatch we know today."

Wire lugs are a unique element that distinguishes timepieces from the beginning of the 20thcentury. Whether we’re talking about Zenith’s pilot’s watch, Omega’s officer’s watch, Seiko’s first watch or the watches created by the dozen of small watch manufactures that ceased to exist, they all had one design element in common: wire lugs! This particular design element inspired us at Bussora to create a watch that pays tribute to first wristwatches in existence. The wire lugs mark the transition between pocket watches and the wristwatch we know today. However, it caught our attention that there isn’t a single watch brand out there that still sells watches with wire lugs. Sure, there are some brands that sell watches with wire lugs look-a-likes, like Shinola, but these are basically regular lugs with a “wire lug design”.


ZULU Leather Strap in Marrone Cioccolato

We at Bussora reinvented these first wristwatches, but we’ve altered and adapted the design to the standards of the 21stcentury. For instance, we’ve made the wire lugs thicker and wider in order to fit a wider strap, offering more comfort. Also, we reshaped the case and the crown for a better fit, but without losing the charm of the first wristwatches. If you’re done with the minimalistic style of most watches these days and if you’re looking for something special, our watches are without a doubt the perfect fit for you. Because of the use of wire lugs, it is also very easy to change between straps. In a matter of seconds you can change the appearance of your timepiece, to make sure it fits your mood, style and outfit. Bussora’s retro pilot’s watch pays tribute to the early days of aviation and to the first wrist watches in existence. Are you planning on buying a new Bussora watch? Make sure you subscribe to our mail list and receive 10% on your first purchase. If you have more questions about our watches or if you want to discuss the history of wristwatches, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


Getting back to the question we started with: we wear wristwatches not ‘to look cool’, but to be able to tell the time in the most critical situations. Most people don’t know the history of wristwatches but hey, now you do!