From Ancient Egypt to your wrist

Harper Rose

Posted on April 02 2018

Here is a tidbit for you about the history of the clock…

The very earliest clock known to man can still be seen today, and guess what? It also works as a compass. The sun!

It’s the ancient Egyptians who are regarded as the first to record the sun’s movement in order to tell the time of day, using an obelisk or shadow clock. This is a tall tower of stone with markings from top to bottom that split the day into twelve segments. we now know these to be hours.

There would be a horizontal marker across from the tower which would cause a shadow, marking the hour. However, this was far from perfect. As the marker had to be moved to the other side of the tower when the sun crossed over it.

Not to mention that it was completely useless at night or indoors.

The sundial.

An improved method to this was the sundial, but good luck reading the time of one on a drizzly Tuesday anywhere in England.

After the trend of keeping time caught on, the Japanese had the ingenious idea of the candle clock. It was simply a candle of a certain length and thickness. It therefore burned at a certain rate and had markers down the side to tell you how many hours had passed.

This was far smaller and easier to install, so it could be used in every home and didn’t rely on the sun.

However, if you didn’t replace the candle immediately you would, of course, lose track of time. This makes it pretty inaccurate but a brilliant excuse for the boss when you’re running late!

Meanwhile, in ancient Greece, they were taking a different approach to timekeeping. They created timepieces that worked by filling or emptying a container of water or sand at a certain rate.

The hourglass.

These were better known as the water clock or hourglass. Of course, there was a lot of inaccuracy, but it was these clocks which were developed to have hands for the first time. These were, therefore, the closest thing to the timepieces we have today.

Centuries later, Italian engineers such as Galileo invented the pendulum clock. Using a swinging weight to keep time is much more precise than previous methods. This was because all it depends on is the length of the pendulum.


These clocks gave rise to the modern grandfather clock and were also the first clocks to make a ticking noise. Their face was the face of the industrial revolution, making a mark on the history of the clock.

Having solved all of the issues with accuracy, the next natural step was to find a way to make a clock small and light enough to be portable. This was achieved by European monks in the form of the mechanical clock.

The mechanical watch is a timepiece which is, although vastly improved from its origin of medieval churches, still going strong today.

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