The earliest watches were pure luxury in its most traditional sense. Well and truly pre-masstige, the ability to simply own a watch would have distinguished a person as exceptionally wealthy. Watches could only be manufactured by craftsmen in a process that would have taken a decade to master and each movement would require many months to create. Early watches were hugely inaccurate, sometimes varying by as much as an hour a day with a running time of only a few hours between each winding and, unsurprisingly, some survive with in-built sundials within the case to set the time by.
These watches were baubles, toys and curiosities of the elite, which they could use to entertain friends and guests, flaunt their wealth and show off their education by understanding these new and complicated portable mechanical pieces. Consequently, they appear proudly in the centre of some portrait art from the time. This portrait by Tommaso Manzuoli, painted in around 1560 (1), is the earliest known depiction of a watch in art. The identity of the subject is unknown, however there has been speculation that the portrait is of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence and later the Grand Duke of Tuscany. De’ Medici was one of the most powerful men in Europe and a renowned patron of the arts who played a fundamental role in the development of the Renaissance; so he would certainly have had the wealth and interest to invest in watches. Whoever our mystery gentleman is, he appears to be a very proud watch owner.