Monday October 4, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Pocket Watch

On this Day:

In 1675, the Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens patented the pocket watch. However, watches were keeping time (sort of) for a long time before.

On October 4, 1675, prominent Dutch mathematician and scientist Christiaan Huygens patented a pocket watch. Huygens was a leading scientist of his time, who established the wave theory of light and made outstanding astronomical discoveries. He also patented the first pendulum clock in 1656, which he has developed to meet his need for exact time measurement while observing the heavens.

Christiaan Huygens was born on 14 April 1629 in The Hague, Netherlands, into a rich and influential Dutch family. His father Constantijn Huygens was a diplomat and advisor to the House of Orange, among whose friends also were some famous scientists such as Galileo Galilei, Marin Mersenne  and René Descartes. Huygens was liberally educated at home and studied languages and music, history and geography, mathematics, logic and rhetoric, but also dancing, fencing and horse riding. From 1645-1647, Huygens studied law and mathematics at the University of Leiden with Frans van Schooten as private tutor, who brought Huygens’ mathematical education up to date, in particular introducing him to the work of Fermat on differential geometry.

From 1647 until 1649 he continued to study law and mathematics but now at the College of Orange at Breda. In 1649 Huygens went to Denmark as part of a diplomatic team and hoped to continue to Stockholm to visit Descartes but the weather did not allow him to make this journey. He followed the visit to Denmark with others around Europe including Rome. Huygens’s first publications in 1651 and 1654 considered mathematical problems.

Optics and Astronomical Research

In 1654, Huygens returned to his father’s house in The Hague, and was able to devote himself entirely to research. Huygens soon turned his attention to lens grinding and telescope construction. He devised a new and better way of grinding and polishing lenses. Using one of his own lenses, Huygens detected, in 1655, the first moon of Saturn. The following year he discovered the true shape of the rings of Saturn and explained the phases and changes in the shape of the ring in his publication In Systema Saturnium (1659). Huygens main contributions lie in the field of physics and astronomy, but this should be subject of a future article. Here instead, we want to focus on his contributions in horology.

From Astronomy to Horology

Work in astronomy required accurate timekeeping and this prompted Huygens to tackle this problem. In 1656 he patented the first pendulum clock, which greatly increased the accuracy of time measurement. The principle itself has been observed by Galileo Galilei, traditionally as a result of watching a lamp swinging the cathedral when he was a student in Pisa. Galileo later proved experimentally that a swinging suspended object takes the same time to complete each swing regardless of how far it travels. This consistency prompted Galileo to suggest that a pendulum might be useful in clocks. But it was Huygens who first made practical use of it. Huygens believed that a pendulum swinging in a large are would be more useful at sea and he invented the cycloidal pendulum with this in mind.

One of the first pendulum clocks designed by the inventor of the pendulum clock, French scientist Christiaan Huygens, and his treatise on the pendulum, Horologii Oscillatorii published in 1673, on display in Museum Boerhaave in Leiden, Netherlands.
One of the first pendulum clocks designed by the inventor of the pendulum clock, Christiaan Huygens, and his treatise on the pendulum, Horologii Oscillatorii published in 1673, on display in Museum Boerhaave in Leiden, Netherlands. 

The Motion of the Pendulum

Huygens built several pendulum clocks to determine longitude at sea and they underwent sea trials in 1662 and again in 1686. In the Horologium Oscillatorium sive de motu pendulorum (1673) he described the theory of pendulum motion. Huygens then developed a balance spring watch in the same time as, though independently of, Robert Hooke. Controversy over the priority persisted for centuries and over the next few years it distracted Huygens from extending it beyond its initial application to pocket watches. But the idea of a larger format had occurred to him from the outset, and by 1679 he was speaking openly about a spring-regulated marine clock.

Further Improvements

A Huygens watch employed a spiral balance spring; but he used this form of spring initially only because the balance in his first watch rotated more than one and a half turns. He later used spiral springs in more conventional watches. Such springs were essential in modern watches with a detached lever escapement because they can be adjusted for isochronism. Watches in the time of Huygens and Hooke, however, employed the very undetached verge escapement. It interfered with the isochronal properties of any form of balance spring, spiral or otherwise.

The Pocket Watch

In 1675, Huygens patented a pocket watch. The watches which were made in Paris from c. 1675 and following the Huygens plan are notable for lacking a fusee for equalizing the mainspring torque. The implication is that Huygens thought that his spiral spring would isochronise the balance, in the same way that he thought that the cycloidally shaped suspension curbs on his clocks would isochronise the pendulum.

All watches used this same basic mechanism until the first quartz crystal oscillators were developed for watches in 1969 (per

A pocket watch (or pocketwatch) is a watch that is made to be carried in a pocket, as opposed to a wristwatch, which is strapped to the wrist.

They were the most common type of watch from their development in the 16th century until wristwatches became popular after World War I during which a transitional design, trench watches, were used by the military. Pocket watches generally have an attached chain to allow them to be secured to a waistcoat, lapel, or belt loop, and to prevent them from being dropped. Watches were also mounted on a short leather strap or fob, when a long chain would have been cumbersome or likely to catch on things. This fob could also provide a protective flap over their face and crystal. Women’s watches were normally of this form, with a watch fob that was more decorative than protective. Chains were frequently decorated with a silver or enamel pendant, often carrying the arms of some club or society, which by association also became known as a fob. Ostensibly practical gadgets such as a watch winding key, vesta case, or a cigar cutter also appeared on watch chains, although usually in an overly decorated style. Also common are fasteners designed to be put through a buttonhole and worn in a jacket or waistcoat, this sort being frequently associated with and named after train conductors.

An early reference to the pocket watch is in a letter in November 1462 from the Italian clockmaker Bartholomew Manfredi to the Marchese di Mantova Federico Gonzaga,[citation needed] where he offers him a “pocket clock” better than that belonging to the Duke of Modena. By the end of the 15th century, spring-driven clocks appeared in Italy, and in Germany. Peter Henlein, a master locksmith of Nuremberg, was regularly manufacturing pocket watches by 1526. Thereafter, pocket watch manufacture spread throughout the rest of Europe as the 16th century progressed. Early watches only had an hour hand, the minute hand appearing in the late 17th century (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

They are finally getting around to making a movie entitled: “Watches”.  It’s about time…

Second, a Song:

William Thomas Medley (born September 19, 1940) is an American singer and songwriter, best known as one half of The Righteous Brothers. He is noted for his bass-baritone voice, exemplified in songs such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. Medley produced a number of the duo’s songs, including “Unchained Melody” and “Soul and Inspiration”.

Jennifer Jean Warnes (born March 3, 1947) is an American singer and songwriter. She has performed as a vocalist on a number of film soundtracks. She has won two Grammy Awards, in 1983 for the Joe Cocker duet “Up Where We Belong” and in 1987 for the Bill Medley duet “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”. Warnes is also noted for her close collaborations with Leonard Cohen.

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is a 1987 song composed by Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz. It was recorded by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, and used as the theme song for the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. The song has won a number of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (per Wikipedia).

Here is “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” with Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes from “Dirty Dancing”.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I’m very proud of my gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed, sold me this watch.” – Woody Allen

Further to the Pencil Smile and with amazing coincidence, the Rev. Bob Beasley of Pain-Court, Ontario, Canada writes:

“Hi Dave

Thank you for the history of the pencil. Since you brought up the subject, I thought I would introduce you to Julie Kraulis, the daughter of very close friends of ours. According to Julie’s website (  “Julie Kraulis is a visual artist focusing on a horological collection of graphite drawings. In 2015, she serendipitously stumbled into the watch world after coming across an article on iconic timepieces. Curiosity piqued, she discovered a fascinating world of soul, story and craftsmanship. As a design enthusiast, she weaves detail and distorts scale to offer a fresh perspective on the horological legends MAKING TIME.

Julie lives and works in Toronto, Canada.” In other words, using pencils, Julie draws high end watches. Her work is nothing short of astounding. I had no idea what could be done with an artistic gift and pencils.

According to an article on the website “According to an interview with GQ, she uses ‘Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils on Arches paper, with each piece taking up to 250 hours of work and using 50 pencils.’ In addition, she spends between 10 to 30 hours reading about each watch before starting a piece to make sure it incorporates each timepiece’s narrative elements and historical significance.” ( .

I thought your readers would be interested in being introduced to Julie, particularly if any have an interest in iconic timepieces.


Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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