Will watches forever be associated with our wrists? While technology continues to shift the demands across the world of horology, is there a growing space for ring watches?
History will tell you that long ago the watch, before sliding itself onto the wrist and upholding a reputation as a woman’s bracelet, was in fact a pocket watch worn by men. As such, we picture the time, in its ageing analogue form, either on our wrist, on a wall, or seldom hanging from a chain. For an industry that has found itself evolve into larger-scale production, given consumer demand, it still thrives on nuanced and niche timepieces that defy history and convention, and delineate from the trodden path more travelled.
Moments of this eagerness manifest through the history of horology through timepieces often overlooked, due to their scarcity: the finger watch. As a disciple of the ring (if only I had more fingers), the relationship between watchmaking and ring watches is told with much quietude, in comparison to the perpetual noise of wristwatches. Much because, the story of the ring watch is much more diluted than that of its bodily counterpart.
The origins of its invention are hazy, but earliest reports of its emergence lean towards 1558, following the ascension of Elizabeth I to the throne, reputed to have worn a ring-watch with an alarm that would scratch her finger at a set time.
And then it all goes relatively quiet, until Madame du Pompadour revives its status as an accessory amongst royalty in 1755, donning a ring that was wound by rotating the bezel, and set using a key, designed by Parisian watchmaker, André Charles Caron, clockmaker to Louis XV of France, and the inventor of the skeleton watch.
Pertaining to the legacy of the wristwatch as an objet d’art, as opposed to practical modes of timekeeping, pendant watches remained priority, particularly amongst women, given their frequent attendance to public occasions. As the art nouveau era evolved, and men went to fight in the Boer and First World War, sporting wristwatches for the first time, the mechanics of smaller-scale movements improved. Thus, watchmakers could operate on smaller canvases to create complex timekeeping models, small enough to fit into rings with miniature calibres, elaborately concealed.
If you happen to Google the history of finger watches, you’ll see there’s few and far between, in part because of the time it would take to create a ring watch with such a delicate composition, and the lacking demand for them. You’ll see one of two things, either an elasticated strap quartz watch, dispatched to you ℅ Jeff Bezos, or an antique Jaeger Le-Coultre model, swathed in lavish stones and gems. In the 1900s, Jaeger Le-Coultre, formally known for its Reverso model today – the watch that flips over – made headway with the finger-watch, due to the brands proclivity for innovation and quality, so much so that in 1925, they created a clock that never needs to be wound, stimulated by air temperature.
Throughout the 20th century, various iterations of the finger-watch were made, from stainless steel models, with two-tone ink dials, to models created during the second half of the century, using baguette cut diamonds, to citrine crystals.The micro-trend wasn’t exclusive to JLG either, with Rolex producing an 18k gold ring watch in the 1950s and Cartier and Graff following suit, merging the worlds of fine jewelry and watches even closer to one another.
Ring-watches have reared their head throughout auction since then, and it wasn’t until a recent merchandise drop by America’s Kacey Musgraves that I was reminded of their silent ascension through history. In line with her 2022 tour, Musgraves launched a line of KM-covered objects from lighters, jigsaws to sweaters, and surprisingly, a branded digital ring watch, titled by Musgraves hit ‘Simple Times.’
Branded across the product, “never again miss the simple times,” is scribed. Could this be the next era for the watch ring? Particularly, given the influx of rumours regarding an Apple ring, since the company filed a patent for a wearable electronic ring back in 2019. An interface rather than a standing alone device, ie. you can change the song on a Mac, or chat to Siri.
While the analogue ring-watch might not return in its mechanical or quartz form, will having the world at our fingertips become literal? And it’s not just Apple alone lifting a finger, independent designers are taking the lead too, such as Gusztav Szikszai of Hungary, who produced a three-band ring watch that rotates and illuminates the time with LED lights.
2022 is already promising a lot of change for the horological world; wider-scale auctions, the rise of NFTs and the consumption of digital watches. As we grasp onto the physical, will we be paying more attention to our hands than our wrists in the coming years? We’re asking Kacey Musgraves.