Friday, May 27, 2016

Lesson 4: The Fundamentals of Horology

***The Fundamentals of Horology

We have reached a point where I simply have to beg you for bit of patience!

Please bear with me and allow me to present my case.

Lesson 4 is not only the most important piece of 'knowledge' I can share with you but it deals with the very foundation of horology. Everything you will learn about watches and timekeeping from now on hinges around it and if you don't understand it properly you will never be able to create 'the big picture' - you will wander around, jumping from watch to watch, from forum to forum, gathering bits of knowledge here and there, yet unable to complete the puzzle.

However, if you understand the very core, everything else will fall in place, effortlessly.
I will keep it as brief as possible.

Suppose I am a Christian and I was asked by someone who never heard about Christianity to explain in one sentence the 3 pivotal, most important, fundamental parts of my beliefs.

I would offer this as an answer: An everlasting and omnipotent God created the world, sent his son to redeem humans and he will return to take us all to heaven. (If you are Christian you would probably agree with this, and your answer would be very similar to mine).

Now, if you ask me to define what horology is all about, and to present my case in one sentence, then my answer is this:

From the earliest days of history, humans have been desperately trying to master time: to measure it and record it as precisely and as accurately they can, undertaking one of the most exciting scientific and engineering challenges on which they have spent enormous amount of time and effort to achieve it.

There are 3 crucial moments in the history of horology.

1. Improvement of timekeeping of clocks by the application of a pendulum.

It was the Dutch scientist, Christiaan Huygens who, in 1656, first attached the pendulum to a clock mechanism.

By this ingenious marriage (clock + pendulum) the timekeeping of clocks was improved from 4-5 minutes per day to 1 second per month. This was an amazing, history-changing event and until the 1930s precision clocks were the most accurate timekeepers known to humans.

Note that clocks had already been around for hundreds of years, and the pendulum had been around for thousands of years, but it was Huygens who put the two together and enabled humans to master time at an unprecedented level.

2. The second most important horological event was watchmakers ability to create a portable clock which would be as accurate as Huygens stationary clock.

In order to achieve that, a new heart (mechanical oscillator) had to be invented and then improved. A number of watchmakers achieved this almost simultaneously in the late 1700s / early 1800s with the creation of the ship chronometer. This portable marine clock allowed humans to navigate the sea, to reach every corner of the world (and return home safely with spoils!).

The ship chronometer was really the global positioning system (GPS) of the time, a truly revolutionary milestone in the history of horology. Your mechanical wrist watch is an indirect descendant of this marine chronometer.

3. The third crucial achievement happened in 1949 when humans created the heart of the atomic clock.

The atomic clock took timekeeping and precision measurement to an exponentially new level. With our ability to measure time at this unprecedented level, we reached the moon and started solving mysteries of the Universe. The atomic clock opened a new era of human development and, in a way, we've become masters of our own time.

So there you go my watch enthusiasts. From now on, everything you learn about horology will relate to these 3 pivotal events. The more you understand the importance of these events, and the technical development and engineering challenges around them, the less you will focus on a particular brand of a watch, the colour of the dial, or a sales-pitch by an over-enthusiastic "authorized dealer". Actually, most watch dealers, shop keepers, watch forum guys and your fellow collectors are not even aware of the very foundation of horology or can name a single crucial event outlined above.  But you now are, and you can name all 3 of them.

Every wrist watch you look at or consider buying would either fit in this big picture - or not.

TO DO: visit the exhibition on ships chronometers at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

This is about the fundamental point 2 on my list so is absolutely a MUST.

Once again, I am dead serious: if you want to put your name down for my rebelde watch but you cannot name the 3 most important historical horological events then you are just kidding yourself.

Fill in the blanks:

The first horological pivotal event was reached when Dutch scientist Huygens improved timekeeping of clocks by attaching the __________.

The second major event was the invention of the ________________ which enabled navigation at sea.

The final leap in human ability to measure time precisely was the invention of the ___________ clock.

Happy collecting,


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