logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Pre-digital watches:
uncommon and expensive

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Moving parts inside a pre-digital wach.

Moving parts inside a pre-digital watch, magnified.

One of the most far-reaching changes from the world going digital was with watches. It is probably difficult for anyone born after the 1960s to appreciate the relative scarcity and cost of pre-digital watches.

All watches consisted of moving parts which had to be made to a high degree of accuracy to keep reasonable time, and they also had to be miniaturised. Furthermore the moving parts contained jewels - albeit tiny ones - for hardness, so as to wear out less slowly than metal. So it is not surprising watches were very expensive relative to the norms of the time.

To add to the cost, watches seemed mainly, if not totally, to come from Switzerland. While I was growing up, the Government apparently felt that Swiss watches were a luxury and so levied high import taxes on them. Along with alcohol, which was also highly taxed in the UK, watches were the contraband of smugglers.

In the 1940s and 50s relatively few people owned watches, and a watch was a status symbol. People were not necessarily assumed to have watches - or, at least, watches which told the time reliably. So it was quite normal to be stopped in the street to be asked if one knew the right time.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.