Watches adapted to the wrist made sporadic appearances as early as the late 1500s. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have been given one. In the early 1800s the wristwatch made more frequent appearances when jewelry and watchmakers began creating gem encrusted timepieces for royalty.
Toward the end of the 1800s, women began to embrace the wristwatch as an item of adornment. Despite the feminine association, the concept became accepted as indispensable to military campaigns as mechanization in war grew. The ability to read time with a quick glance rather than having to dig through pockets was critical in battle.
Officers in the South African Boer war (1899-1902) used wristwatches. By World War I, military organizations began to demand them. They became especially crucial to fledgling aerial combat operations. Wristwatches did not begin to see widespread use until the 1920s. Men still tended to regard the wristwatch as effeminate. In the 1920s, the wristwatch became the dominant means of timekeeping among both men and women.
Then, as now, men seemed to prefer more rugged, sportier models, including chronographs.