Timeless Timepieces

A Descriptive Essay

Timepieces have long been an important tool in society. It’s one of the few existing devices that have been instrumental to the early breakthroughs of modern civilization (what with Marine chronometers, pocket-watches and all that) and are tools that are continually used to this day. Nowadays, the modern watch comes in many different types, shapes, and price points. You can have quartz, mechanical, cheap, expensive, or reasonably priced. Variety is or sure there, but the one thing they all have in common is that each of them has a story to tell. For watches, the charm lies not so much in its beauty or its complexity as it is in the stories it tells. Here I share with you some of my favorites and I hope I instill in you a certain appreciation for these tiny pieces of glass and metal.

Before I go on any further, I feel the need to elaborate on the main distinctions between the main types of watches. There’s really only two main types, those would be Mechanical and Quartz. This refers to the “Movements” used inside the watch. The “Movement” of a watch is the mechanism that makes it run, think of it as the engine of the watch.

So, let’s talk about Quartz Movements first. These movements rely on the principle that a piece of quartz cut to precise dimensions would vibrate at a constant interval when charged with electricity (The Piezoelectric Effect). This constant oscillation effect allows us to use them as a timing devices. This is also why quartz watches require batteries to work, the batteries serve as the source of electricity. Now, quartz is not a precious substance, and manufactures only ever need a small amount of it. This makes them cheaper to manufacture – a LOT cheaper than their mechanical counterparts.

A Digital Watch that uses a Quartz Movement
A Quartz Movement made by Seiko

Before the invention of Quartz movements, manufacturers used Mechanical movements. As the name suggests, mechanical movements use actual physical mechanisms to keep track of the passage of time. The principle is that mechanical energy is “harvested” from outside the watch and is then stored as potential energy in springs. There are two ways that mechanical energy is harvested. The first way of doing so is by manually winding the watch’s crown to wind the mainspring. Movements that use these are called Manual Wind Movements (Also called: Hand-wound/Hand-winding). This type of movement requires the wearer to wind the watch’s crown every so often so the watch continues to run. If one forgets to do so, the watch would eventually run out of power. Once the crown is wound again, the movement gets power and the hands will start to turn again.

A Rolex with Manual Wind movement.

A Manual Wind movement visible through an exhibition case-back.

The other way mechanical watches harvest energy is by using Rotors which are found in Automatic Movements. A rotor is a rotating semi-circular weight placed inside the movement. It is designed to spin as the wearer of the watch naturally moves their wrist. The idea is that the wearer’s natural hand movement would make the rotor spin regularly thereby winding the mainspring without you having to think about it. This gives the watch reserve-power without the need to wind anything hence the name Automatic.

An ETA – 2824 Automatic Movement with an engraved Rotor.
A Rotor rotating inside a watch.

Now with that out of the way, let me share with you some of the timepieces that I am dying to wrap around my wrist. At the top of my watch-list are Flieger watches, these are mechanical watches that were originally made during the second world war. German Luftwaffe pilots needed watches that were extremely legible and extremely sturdy such that it could withstand a beating. These watches were also intended to be worn over bomber jackets that’s why they were made with big bulky straps and thick steel cases. Originally, the watches were made in a 55mm sized case. For scale, “normal” watches usually come in between 30mm – 40mm, so it was atypical for a watch to be that large unless of course it was being used for a special purpose. During the war, the German government commissioned 5 German watch companies to manufacture the same watches for the war effort. Today these original manufacturers continue to manufacture variations of the original designs and offer them to the public.

With the big bold dials and large Arabic markers, these watches just stare back at you in such an bold and imposing manner. I just love that these watches are so simple and yet beautiful at the same time. Not only do I think that they look amazing but its also astonishing how they also fulfill such a pure utilitarian purpose. Being born out of necessity, these watches truly have quite the story to tell.


Sources:

Mike Stuffler, Watchuseek German watch expert

watchuseek.com

Calibre11.com

Photo credit: Respective watch brands

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