Skip navigation

The burden of being a watchmaker

by Jordan Ficklin

This afternoon I read the following line in Malcom Gladwell’s book What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

When Bulova wanted a name for their new quartz watch, Tinker suggested Accutron.

It’s a fascinating book. I’m loving it, but I need to set the record straight: The Bulova Accutron is not a quartz watch, it is an electric tuning fork watch.

In automobile commercials, or at the end of 60 minutes, you hear the ticking of a watch, but most youngsters these days don’t know why that sound is associated with the passage of time. Most clocks and watches today (quartz) tick once a second and it is a hideous ker-clunk, not a nice tic-a-tic-a-tic.

I recently watched the movie Hugo based on the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and I enjoyed it, but in order to do so I had to suspend my understanding of reality. The cinematography is incredible, the directing fantastic, the story amazing, but the physics are impossible! Throughout the movie Hugo runs around through the train station dodging spinning wheels and pendulums. The clocks move like electric clocks where motors spin fast and each successive gear turns slower, not like mechanical clocks where the barrel turns slow and each successive gear turns faster. An electric clock’s fastest gear will turn 60 times per second and it’s slowest will turn once a minute. In a mechanical clock with a pendulum the fastest gears will turn once a minute and the slowest gears will turn once every several hours. Also, a pendulums rate of oscillation is directly proportional to its length. A pendulum 10 feet long or more (as shown in the movie) will swing back and forth about every 4 seconds. So, how do I know they are mechanical clocks? Because Hugo’s job is to keep them wound! Since the period of these large clocks in the movie is about every 4 seconds no gear in the clock should be rotating faster than one tooth every 4 seconds, unless every time he runs through the mechanism he is traversing a chiming mechanism or something similar which turns freely, held back by a governor of such device, but I find that highly unlikely on a scale through which a small boy can pass through the center of a gear.

On another note that automaton is amazing and the mechanics for it are quite realistic. How can I find the time, energy, and money to create something like that?

So what is my burden? Knowledge of how certain things in the world around me work. I can live with it, but at times I find it a little bit annoying.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*