Gerald Murphy, Genevieve Carpenter, Cole Porter and Sara Murphy in Venice, 1923

4 Of The Best: Famous Wristwatches From The 1920s

Here at Pieces of Time, we have a superb range of antique pocket watches for sale as well as vintage wrist watches too. Recently we’ve been thinking about the sublime and elegant watches that were created during the 1920s. The 20s produced arguably the first real decade of the wrist watch. This was a time when both men and women began to adapt wrist watches over pocket watches, which were a more common feature up until this point. In the novel The Great Gatsby, author F. Scott Fitzgerald emphasises his focus on the mega-wealthy, a collective of people who would no doubt have been eager to adopt the latest high-end trends, fashions and styles. The conclusion of World War I formed a shift in the minds of many men who had previously considered wrist watches as feminine. Soldiers from the war often adapted pocket watches with lugs so that they could be strapped to their wrist. This was not the birth of the wrist watch, but it did help to solidify their manliness within mainstream culture. Movements in the 1920s era were quite audacious in their designs in comparison to timepiece produced two or three decades later. Why not take a look at four of the finest vintage wrist watches from the era of The Great Gatsby and select the watch you’d have worn if you were around during the 20s?

Rolex Oyster

In the 1920s Rolex released the Oyster, which was the first water resistant watch with a patented case and a screw-down crown and case back that Rolex still uses by name today. “Oyster” is still in the official name of many Rolex watches. The Oyster had a recognisable hexagonal or cushion-shaped case with a clear dial that on most versions had Arabic numeral dials. The Oyster was not exactly a diving watch, but as a water resistant timepiece, it was certainly good for swimming and general wear. Most Oyster watches came with precious metal gold or sterling silver cases. A true classic, the Rolex was a pivotal part of Rolex’s long term success and would have certainly been on the wrist of active high-society men in the late 1920s.

1922 Patek Philippe Tonneau

High-end Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe was historically much more experimental in their designs than they are today. For many years, the famous brand experimented with a variety of different designs, some still borrowed by brands even today. This lovely movement in an 18k gold tonneau (barrel) -shaped case used art deco style Arabic hour numerals and epitomises the style-forward thinking of watch design in the 1920s.

1920s Gruen Tank-Style

Rectangular watches were often called “Tank” shaped, as a reference to a design popularised by Cartier. This Gruen Tank-style watch is another lovely angular art deco era design that shows an emphasis on bold yet original hour indicators and hands. Such hands and hour indicators were painted with a luminant for darkness viewing, which was a much newer feature than it is today. Gruen is known for having made some of the most iconic art deco style timepieces of the time.

Cartier Santos

In the 1900s Louis Cartier developed a watch for his pal Alberto Santos-Dumont to be worn in the early days of flight. The Santos is considered to be the first ever “mass produced” timepiece exclusively designed to be worn on the wrist, and first went on sale in the 1910s – yes, it is slightly premature, but it is such a classic it’s almost impossible not to feature on the list. The Santos is still produced today by Cartier and has been part of the foundations of a range of models over the years. Modern Santos piece still resembles the original with their elegant square case, distinctive bezel, and classically legible dial.

Image: Jeffrey Smith under Creative Commons.

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