From the first TV commercial to James Bond to the Apple Watch. Explore the evolution of the wristwatch commercial, from a still image to digitally rendered models.

The wristwatch was first developed in the 16th century. The mechanical device was powered by a winding a mainspring, which would turn the gears that controlled the hands. The mechanical watch was the standard wristwatch until the 1960s, when the quartz watch was invented.

watch ad 1930

By the 1980s, the quartz watch took over the market from mechanical watches. Shortly after, digital and computer watches made their way to the consumer market. Now, smart watches aim to dominate.

All these advances can be seen in commercial advertisements. Here is a look at the evolution of watches and television commercials, from a simple voice over to computer animated digital models.


The First Television Commercial and Show Sponsorship

The world’s first legal television commercial was broadcast in the United States on July 1, 1941. An NBC affiliate, WNBT, aired this ten second spot before a Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. The Bulova Watch Company paid $9 for the ad. A voice over accompanying a still graphic of the US with a superimposed Bulova clock was all it took to create the world of television advertisement.

By the 1950s, companies would sponsor entire hours of broadcast or sponsor specific shows. To stand out from the competition, watch manufacturers then turned to filming stunts. They would attach watches to boat motors, or even send a watch over Niagara Falls.


From Mechanical to Digital

During the 1970s, developments were made to create the first digital watch with an LED face. The first LED watches were incredibly expensive until Texas Instruments released an LED watch in a plastic case. The 1980s would bring about the first smart watch, the Casio computer and calculator watches.

In this meta piece from Timex, the company pays tribute to the watch stunt ads of past while introducing their latest quartz watch with an “electronic brain.” The ad features an animated computer face, showcasing the electronics and quartz.

By the late 80s, plastic digital watches were so cheap that it was easy to manufacture themed watches aimed at children. This 1987 ad features a set of Wrist Rocks watches for fans of Jem and the Holograms. This commercial features watches moving across a split screen backdrop in stop motion. The fast pace editing and bright color style would become synonymous with the 1990s. 


The Computer Changes Commercials and Clocks

By the early 2000s, personal computer watches and phone watches were in development. However, wrist watches were becoming much less common. Laptops and cellphones featured built-in clocks, and the watch seemed outdated.

PDA Wrist

By the 2010s, smart watches from Samsung and Apple were capable of connecting to smart phones to make calls and browse the web. Even though all of these technological advances were being made, some consumers longed for the classic wristwatches of old. Watches that required skilled laborers to assemble piece by piece.

In 2013, OMEGA introduced this advertisement. The commercial is full of beautiful computer animation, yet it really plays well to their targeted audience of traditional watch wearers. The audience is transported through time and space, and all of the watch mechanisms and gears are perfect 3D renderings of components found in the OMEGA Co-Axial watch.

OMEGA is also the company behind the legendary spy, James Bond. Alongside the release of the film Skyfall, OMEGA released a watch celebrating 007’s 50th anniversary. The rendering in this commercial is so well done, it’s nearly impossible to tell which shots are practical and which are animated. 

2015 saw the release of the much-anticipated Apple Watch. Before the watch hit store shelves, Apple released this teaser featuring multiple digital models showcasing the entire line of wrist band options and apps. Though its release was met with mixed reviews, the evolution of the watch (and the commercials behind them) is extraordinary.


Did you learn anything new? Where do you expect these commercials to go to in the future? Let us know in the comments below.