Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Dmitry Orlov wrote a very interesting piece today about the direction and uses of current industrial society. I would strongly advise giving it a read.

That being said, now lets consider the humble watch. It is difficult, it not impossible to find a high quality non-quartz, mechanical watch. Think about that. All of the watches on folks arms and in pockets; all the clock on walls are the residue of a very fragile industrial ecosystem.

Then think about the watches made by Tompion and John Harrison. These didn't require the resources of an industrial juggernaut. They were made in the early eighteenth century and kept time well enough to allow for celestial navigation. I can't imagine a daily use that would require greater accuracy. They weren't made with modern metals, such things were 150 years away.

I am thinking that this kind of product may well be the next wave. The possibilities are legion; Simple, non-electronic sewing machines. Tub washers with mangles. Local Glassblowing. Edison batteries lasting for decades. The honorable mimeograph machine.

In a series of books by Eric Flint et al, the protagonists in a highly entertaining and improbable soap opera deal with this kind of stuff. I would recommend them highly for anyone looking into the future.


Mayberry said...

I've been thinking along the exact same lines... If I had the bread, a high quality mechanical chronograph from somebody like Weems and Plath would be up there on my priority list...

Gather ye marbles said...

An interesting topic, it got me googling. The artisan-made watches of pre-industrial times took many hundreds of hours of skilled labor to produce and were priced accordingly. Thomas Thompion charged between 23 and 70 pounds for the watches he made, and this at a time (late 17th century) when a carpenter earned around ten pounds per year. According to the inflation calculator at, 50 pounds in 1690 equates, in terms of wages, to around 85,000 pounds today. A shocking number, but figured as five years' wages for a skilled laborer, a reasonable one. I'd be interested in seeing a graph of the price of watches (relative to income) from 1650 to now: a big drop, I expect, with the advent of mass-production, and a further drop with quartz technology, until you get to the ten dollar watches of today.

Degringolade said...


I think that the most appropriate time in the timeline from the early seventeenth century to current times would be in the late industrial period 1900 to 1940.

Here you maintained a mature technology base coupled with modern manufacturing systems. Watches cost a significant portion of a workers monthly wage, but they were still affordable.

Artisan watches in the earliest times were hand crafted works of art, a rich man's bauble, roughly equivalent to a vanity sports car or similar extravagance today.

I would argue that the small scale manufacturing of watches in the mid to late industrial is an excellent model.

Gather ye marbles said...


Point taken. Based on some more googling: In 1902, a budget-priced pocket watch from Sears cost $8.75. Using Consumer Price Index (CPI), $8.75 in 1902 translates to around $225 in 2009 dollars; or, using the Unskilled Wage (UW) index, $1,010 in 2009 dollars. In 1953, a budget-priced Timex wristwatch cost $11, which translates to $88 in 2009 dollars using CPI, or $130 using UW index. Beyond noting the decline in prices I'm not sure I have a point here, but I do find the numbers interesting. I'll add that is a great resource for this kind of research.