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

Pre-digital wrist watches,
c1930s onwards

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Wrist watches: c1930s

1927 woman's wrist watch with the grosgrain ribbon strap missing

1927 woman's wrist watch with the grosgrain ribbon strap missing.

In the first part of the 20th century, the age of maturity was 21 not 18. Traditionally someone's 21st birthday was marked by being given the 'key of the door', ie the front door, so that the 21-year-old could come and go as he or she pleased. Yet the 21st birthday was also marked with a present which was more expensive than a normal birthday present. My mother's 21st birthday present from her parents was a wrist watch - Swiss made of course. That was in 1927.

It was rare for my mother to wear this watch. Perhaps she felt that it was showing off, perhaps it was too valuable to risk damage from housework, perhaps it had gone wrong, or perhaps it wasn't really functional. The face was so small with such small hands that a good light and good eyesight were needed for reading it. Also the strap was only a black ribbed ribbon which she referred to 'grosgrain' and which was severely frayed in later years. In the photo it is entirely missing.

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Wrist watches: 1950s-1970s

In all my schools, 1944-1957, it was against school rules to wear a watch, probably because watches were so expensive. I did have one as a teenager because I had strict instructions to be home by 11pm on a Saturday night. It was in a dull metal case with a brown leather strap.

Before watches went digital, they never seemed to last long before they stopped or seriously lost or gained time. Whether this was true of the more expensive watches, I don't know.

My father wore a wrist watch with a leather strap, but I can't remember much about it.

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Self-winding wrist watches: late 1960s and early 1970s

The next major pre-digital innovation in watches - in the late 1960s or early 1970s - came self-winding watches. The idea was that they never needed to be wound up because the movements of the wrist in everyday activities worked the mechanism. I had one which ran well for a time, but then went irreversibly wrong.

My husband also had a self-winding gold watch which he likes so much that he sends it to be mended from time to time.

The death knoll of self-winding watches and all mechanical watches sounded with the development of digital watches which were exceedingly cheap and totally reliable without needing to be wound up.

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.