We often call them marvels of mechanical micro engineering, status symbols, precious heirlooms, and fashion accessories. And yes, of course that's what watches are. However, many of us simply forget the most important property of mechanical watches: the fact that they are designed and manufactured as precision AND accurate instruments.
(Although it is worth pointing out that many of these instruments are perhaps precise but not
actually that accurate, but don't worry I am not going to bore you with a discussion about either
precision or accuracy today! )
The point of this rant is this: While many can afford a mechanical watch, only some of us truly
understand the challenges related to using mechanical watches. Of course, it does take bit of
sophistication to truly appreciate a 300 component precision instrument. We might be rich by now
if we had a dollar for every time a customer asked us, "So I can't really wear it in shower?", "I
can play golf and jog with it, yes?" and, our 'favourite'; "What? I need to wind it manually...
every day? no way!", usually finishing with "... my $99 Casio never complained when I do all that
Hmmm... Precisely !
If that is where you're coming from then obviously, due to your lack of appreciation and
sophistication, then no, this precision instrument is definitely *NOT* for you. I'm sorry, but
until watch owners care to learn the difference between the terms 'use' and 'abuse', they have no
right to call themselves watch aficionados; because, frankly, they are not.
Sadly the other end of spectrum is that there are those who are always happy to point out that
mechanical watches are designed to withstand extreme conditions. The proof is apparently in
the fact that many watches survived years of abuse before giving up.
While this is definitely a testimony to makers of fine watches, this argument alone makes very little
sense. Our aim is to preserve watches for next generation, enjoy the precision and accuracy,
marvel at their mechanical engineering: not to push them to limits or beyond.
After all, pushing to the limit and beyond has already been done 54 years ago. To be flight-qualified
by NASA for all manned space missions, the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional chronograph successfully
passed 11 different tests.
1. HIGH TEMPERATURE
48 hours at a temperature of 160 deg F (71 deg C) followed by 30 minutes at 200 deg F (93 deg C).
This under a pressure of 5.5 psia (0.35 atm) and relative humidity not exceeding 15%.
2. LOW TEMPERATURE
Four hours at a temperature of 0 deg F (-18 deg C).
Chamber pressure maximum of 1.47 x 10^-5 psia (10^-6 atm) with temperature raised to 160 deg F
(71 deg C). The temperature shall then be lowered to 0 deg F (-18 deg C) in 45 minutes and raised
again to 160 deg F in 45 minutes. Fifteen more such cycles shall be completed.
4. RELATIVE HUMIDITY
A total time of 240 hours at temperatures varying between 68 deg F and 160 deg F (20 degC and 71
degC) in a relative humidity of at least 95%. The steam used must have a pH value between 6.5 and 7.5.
5. OXYGEN ATMOSPHERE
The test item shall be placed in an atmosphere of 100% oxygen at a pressure of 5.5 psia (0.35 atm)
for 48 hours. Performance outside of specification tolerance, visible burning, creation of toxic gases,
obnoxious odours, or deterioration of seals or lubricants shall constitute failure to pass this test. The
ambient temperature shall be maintained at 160 deg F (71 degC).
Six shocks of 40 g's, each 11 milliseconds in duration, in six different directions.
The equipment shall be accelerated linearly from 1 g to 7.25 g within 333 seconds, along an axis
parallel to the longitudinal spacecraft axis.
Ninety minutes in a vacuum of 1.47 x 10^-5 psia (10^-6 atm) at a temperature of 160 deg F
(71 degC) and 30 minutes at 200 deg F (93 degC).
9. HIGH PRESSURE
The equipment to be subjected to a pressure of 23.5 psia (1.6 atm) for a minimum period of one hour.
Three cycles of 30 minutes (lateral, horizontal, vertical), the frequency varying from 5 to 2,000 cps
and back to 5 cps in 15 minutes. Average acceleration per impulse must be at least 8.8 g.
11. ACOUSTIC NOISE
130 db over a frequency range from 40 to 10,000 Hz, duration 30 minutes.
Thanks to its accuracy, reliability and sturdiness, the Omega Speedmaster Professional not only survived all
NASA lab tests, but continued to be an essential instrument in the exploration of Space for next decade. Yet,
it is interesting to note that we see no mention of 'the shower test', 'Golf test' in NASA's exhaustive testing
and it should be borne in mind that the watch is wound manually...