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Square watches are back on the rise - but where did they start?

Watches come in all shapes and sizes, and the square watch has plenty of celeb endorsement

Published: 15 Mar 2024

What do three of Hollywood's best known Toms – Cruise, Hiddleston and Holland – have in common with late celebrity trio Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol and Lady Di? All are lovers of the square watch. And if you assume an angular case is a fancy take on the OG round watch, think again. Square got there first, and it was all thanks to a couple of celebs from a different age.

Most people have heard of the Wright brothers, but who did what in the race to get one over on gravity is a matter of some dispute. In some parts of the world the true aviation pioneer is believed to be Alberto Santos-Dumont. The son of wealthy Brazilian coffee growers, he was fascinated by everything mechanical from a young age. He started off racing motorised tricycles before turning his hand to aircraft.

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Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous flight in 1903 was only witnessed by a couple of people, allowing some doubt over its authenticity. Santos-Dumont was a showman, flying his early airships around the Eiffel tower. When he made his first heavier-than-air flight in 1906, it was in front of officials and members of the public in Paris.

One of Santos-Dumont’s celebrity friends was Louis Cartier, of growing jewellery empire fame. Santos-Dumont told his friend that a pocket watch was not a practical time-telling device while trying to control his experimental flying machines – at the turn of the 20th century, the men’s wristwatch was not yet a thing. Cartier made his friend a beautiful square-dialled watch. The groundbreaking design, coupled with the fame of its wearer, meant that the idea of putting the watch on sale to the general public was a no-brainer. It became one of Cartier’s classic designs, and is a mainstay of its range today.

Square got there first, but of course it didn’t stay the dominant shape for wristwatches. In WW1, soldiers started strapping pocket watches to their wrists for similarly utilitarian reasons, and soon watch companies pivoted to making watches specifically for the wrist.

But since the late 20th century, watch companies have been throwing off the shackles and mixing things up just for fun. The square watch is on the rise.

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