Harwood, John

SUBJECT AREA: Horology
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b. 1893 Bolton, England
d. 9 August 1964
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English watchmaker, inventor and producer of the first commercial self-winding wrist watch.
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John Harwood served an apprenticeship as a watch repairer in Bolton, and after service in the First World War he obtained a post with a firm of jewellers in Douglas, Isle of Man. He became interested in the self-winding wrist watch, not because of the convenience of not having to wind it, but because of its potential to keep the mainspring fully wound and to exclude dust and moisture from the watch movement. His experience at the bench had taught him that these were the most common factors to affect adversely the reliability of watches. Completely unaware of previous work in this area, in 1922 he started experimenting and two years later he had produced a serviceable model for which he was granted a patent in 1924. The watch operated on the pedometer principle, the mainspring being wound by a pivoted weight that oscillated in the watch case as a result of the motion of the arm. The hands of his watch were set by rotating the bezel surrounding the dial, dispensing with the usual winding/hand-setting stem which allowed dust and moisture to enter the watch case. He took the watch to Switzerland, but he was unable to persuade the watchmaking firms to produce it until he had secured independent finance to cover the cost of tooling. The Harwood Self-Winding Watch Company Ltd was set up in 1928 to market the watches, but although several thousand were produced the company became a victim of the slump and closed down in 1932. The first practical self-winding watch also operated on the pedometer principle and is attributed to Abraham-Louis Perrellet (1770). The method was refined by Breguet in France and by Recordon, who patented the device in England, but it proved troublesome and went out of fashion. There was a brief revival of interest in self-winding watches towards the end of the nineteenth century, but they never achieved great popularity until after the Second World War, when they used either self-winding mechanisms similar to that devised by Harwood or weights which rotated in the case.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
British Horological Institute Gold Medal 1957.
Bibliography
1 September 1924, Swiss patent no. 106,582.
Further Reading
A.Chapuis and E.Jaquet, 1956, The History of the Self-Winding Watch, London (provides general information).
"How the automatic wrist watch was invented", 1957, Horological Journal 99:612–61 (for specific information).
DV

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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