John Harwood 1929-1931

Little Bolton may not seem to have much to do with the prestige English watch brand ROLEX, but it was the birthplace of John Harwood, inventor of the self winding wristwatch.

His home was the Pork Butchers at 153 Blackburn Road. He served as a Watchmakers Apprentice when he lived on Chorley Old Rd.

During World War One he served as an armoury staff sergeant, developing an automatic pistol and a screwdriver whose blade turned on impact (Impact Driver). After the war he served a Watchmaking Apprenticship with Hirst Brothers and Co of Oldham.

In 1922 he moved to the Isle of Man to set up his own watch repair business. In 1923, supported by a local businessman, he developed a self-winding wristwatch and applied for a patent in Switzerland, and out was granted in September, 1924.

Walter Vogt from Fortis, joins forces with John Harwood, to start the world’s first mass production of the first automatic watch in the world.

The Harwood watch from Fortis (

Fortis were the only mass producer of watches that would make Harwood’s watches for him and still have one in their museum.

Harwood’s watches were sold in the UK and Europe under the brand Harwood, and in the US with the name Perpetual.

Harwood’s invention patent ran out in the 30s and due to the slump, he wasn’t able to renew it and many other manufacturers took it up. One notable one being Omega who used a bumper movement for many years.

Rolex wrongly claimed to have invented the self winding watches he invented in an advert, and John Harwood spent some years afterwards in a battle with Rolex who had advertised their Oyster Perpetual (note they used the same name as Harwood’s US model) as the world’s first mass produced automatic wristwatch.

They eventually printed an apology and included him in their adverts.

John Harwood was awarded the Gold Medal by the British Horological Institute in 1957 recognising the landmark invention that we today take for granted.

I am very grateful for the assistance of Adrian Drummond-Hill in providing more information on Harwood and his watches, this page will be updated soon...