Watches & Western Civilization

“Among other things, this multi-level competition, between states and within states–even within cities–helps to explain the rapid spread and advancing technology of the mechanical clock in Europe.

If Protestant watchmakers were unwelcome in France after 1685, the Swiss gladly took them in. And, as with military technology, competition bred progress as craftsmen tinkered to make small but cumulative improvements to the accuracy and elegance of the product. By the time the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci brought European clocks to China in the late sixteenth century, they were so much superior to their Oriental counterparts that they were greeted with dismay.

Because of the greater precision it permitted in measurement and in the co-ordination of action, the rise of the clock and later the portable watch went (it might be said) hand in hand with the rise of Europe and the spread of Western Civilization. With every individual timepiece, a little bit more time ran out for the age of Oriental pre-eminence.”

Niall Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest