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On the Isle of Man, the English watchmaker John Harwood had a vision of a new type of reliable wristwatch that would eliminate the shortcomings of watches available at the time. Dust and moisture were the most common culprits he encountered in his watch movement repairs. John Harwood therefore set about developing different winding and hand-setting mechanisms located inside the watch to dispense with the need for an opening in the watch case for the winding stem.

Coincidence that gave John Harwood the brilliant idea for his revolutionary invention. Observing children playing on a see-saw, he began to envisage the basic design of his legendary “self-winding mechanism”. Using accumulated kinetic energy to tension the spring of a wristwatch was an excellent idea. A series of experiments culminated in the first prototype of a self-winding wristwatch that was created from a discarded pocket watch.There was no winding crown and the hands were set by rotating a milled bezel, which was also used to wind the mechanism. A red dot, which appeared in the dial aperture above the “6” showed that the mechanism was running.

John Harwood travelled to Switzerland several times since he felt that only there could he find the technical conditions for realizing his invention. On September 1, 1924 the Swiss Confederation in Berne awarded him Patent No. 10 65 83 for his pioneering invention of the first self-winding wristwatch.

The HARWOOD Automatic relied on pawls and clockwork and a pivoted oscillating weight that moved to and from through an arc of 270° hitting buffer springs on both sides (so-called hammer automatic).



1918, Letter of reference for John Harwood from his employers during his apprenticeship at Hirst Bros. + Co. Ltd., Oldham



John Harwood was a watchmaker and an exceptionally gifted inventor. The creativity of his free spirit ranged from a wind-powered sawmill to a fraud-proof card shuffling table. His life was cut short by a road accident in 1964.


John Harwood’s estate, Sotheby’s auction catalogue



At the Basel Trade Fair in 1926 FORTIS presented the world's first mass-produced automatic wristwatches to an enthusiastic international audience. The HARWOOD Automatic was a pioneer in the history of the wristwatch and had a considerable impact on subsequent development of the automatic watch.

Wearing a watch on the wrist was considered to be unladylike by watchmakers at the time. It was completely unacceptable to wear a mechanism as sensitive as a watch on an exposed part of the body such as the wrist. Yet it was ladies who wished to wear watches on their wrists. The ever-faster pace of everyday life required a new kind of time management, and the HARWOOD Automatic was ideal for the task.

The Harwood Self-Winding Watch Co. was founded in 1928 as a finance company. The production and distribution of HARWOOD for international markets took place at Walter Vogt's factory in Grenchen. John Harwood thought the attractive presentation of the merchandise in England's best jewellery shops was wonderful and enjoyed the prestige, without ever acquiring an air of arrogance.

The Autorist was another patented watch invented by John Harwood. This watch was powered by movements of the watch strap as a result of its attachment to the watch. Its rectangular design was fashionable at the time and professional sales support provided to trading partners by means of sophisticated advertising material ensured its considerable international success. To guarantee the quality of his automatic wristwatches, John Harwood developed the first dedicated device, a "watch winder" which could wind up to 12 watches simultaneously.


1929, HARWOOD catalogue title


"Ladies and gentlemen, present and absent! When you listen to the radio, think also about how people have come to possess this wonderful tool of communication. The origin of all technical achievements is divine curiosity and the playful instinct of the tinkering and brooding researcher, and not least the constructive imagination of the technical inventor. And everybody should be ashamed who uses the wonders of science and engineering without thinking and having mentally realized not more of it than a cow realizes of the botany of the plants which it eats with pleasure."
Quote from the opening speech by Albert Einstein, broadcasted live on radio on the occasion of the 7th International Radio Show in Berlin.

The fantastic opportunities provided by radio enabled a broader segment of the population to receive information and news in the future.

The driving force behind the economic boom of the "golden" twenties was technological progress achieved since the turn of the century, which had produced a wide variety of new consumer products. Streamlined production processes, stagnating sales markets and generous lending practices by banks led to the global economic crisis of 1929, which was triggered by the stock market crash of October 14 when share prices collapsed on the New York Stock Exchange. The HARWOOD Watch Company lost its sponsor, and its burgeoning, international success came to an abrupt halt.

In 1931 the HARWOOD Automatic with its hammer winding mechanism encountered competition with the invention of the "Rotor", a patented new winding system, which wound the mechanism by rotating a weight through 360 degrees.

During the promotion of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, HARWOOD and Rolex exchanged correspondence about the identity of the inventor of the automatic winding system. An agreement was reached and Rolex changed its advertisement, as shown in the example below . A portrait of John Harwood was included in the Rolex advertisements. A sincere apology by Rolex in 1956 gave John Harwood full credit as the inventor of the world's first automatic wristwatch.

1956, Rolex advertisement in The Sunday Express

1956, Note of apology in The Sunday Express

1930, Albert Einstein on the 7th IFA in Berlin

1929, A crowd gathers in the streets of New York during the Black Thursday

1928, Flying City, Georgy Krutikov

The Russian avant-garde had been reflecting on the cosmos at a time when space technology was still in its infancy. Kazimir Malevich and his contemporary El Lissitzky envisaged Utopia with human beings in orbit. In his “Flying City” in 1928 which formed part of his dissertation, Russian architect Georgi Krutikow portrayed visions of interstellar spacecraft that served simultaneously as housing, places of work and means of transportation.


On July 2, 1900, a new and extraordinary chapter in aviation began with the maiden voyage of the first airship in Friedrichshafen, on Lake Constance in Germany. The "Count Zeppelin" airship was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who had designed and built the first fully-functional airship.

The round-the-world trip in 1929 was the greatest success in the history of Zeppelin travel. This flight was completed in several stages between August 1 and September 4, 1929, travelling eastwards. The takeoff and final destination in Lakehurst had been requested by the American publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had obtained exclusive reporting rights through his financial investment in the venture. There were stopovers in Friedrichshafen, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Lady Grace Drummond-Hay was a passenger during the spectacular journey of the LZ 127. As a journalist she wrote daily articles about the individual stages of this fantastic trip for the Hearst media empire. The modern woman wore a HARWOOD automatic on her wrist.

She was therefore the ideal ambassador for this new generation of wristwatches made by FORTIS. After 35 days, covering a distance of 49,618 kilometres in 6 stages, airship commander Hugo Eckener landed the "Count Zeppelin" safely in Lakehurst, New Jersey. A transatlantic service opened in 1930 and despite the global economic crisis and competition from aircraft, the number of passengers carried by the "Count Zeppelin" between Europe and America increased year by year until 1936.

Medal of the first round-the-world flight of a Zeppelin

The British journalist Lady Drummond-Hay





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