Tag Archives: watch

Circuit boards

Three inventions moved clocks and watches away from being mechanical/analogue so they could become digital: The quartz crystal, the circuit board and the liquid crystal display.

This will look better when I paint it. For one thing, the board will be a lovely green. The bigger, more complicated circuit boards look like city maps.

If you’ve ever wired something—like a lamp—you’ll remember getting out the needle-nose pliers and wire-cutters, maybe a razor blade to strip the insulation off the wire ends; you wrap the exposed copper wire around the appropriate screws then tighten ‘em up so the wire stays put…I’m trying to imagine how you would wire something as minuscule as the insides of a watch. Wires would need to go from the battery to the quartz crystal, back to the battery with a detour to power the hour, minute & second hands after counting how many oscillations the crystal made.

The circuit board is a flat card made of plastic or resin. Instead of wires, circuitry is printed right onto the card in metal ink. A circuit board can get a complicated electric network crammed onto a very small area. A small circuit board in a watch can direct electric power from a battery to the quartz crystal and anything else inside the watch .

You can see the circuit board at 27:20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFiq8WDx5Is

The History of Circuit Boards

Those old discarded mass-produced watches and circuit boards can become playthings for someone with electrical knowledge—http://www.angelfire.com/ut/horology/quartz.html

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The Hamilton wristwatch

It’s the hairspring that made watches—which are just little clocks—possible. You wind up the hairspring and as it uncoils it releases energy to power the watch. Since the hairspring is small, watchmakers could miniaturize the balance wheel and gears, too.

But if you really want precise timekeeping, a watch’s design must have as few moving parts as possible. Watches were mechanical. Mechanical or analogue machines (a clock or steam engine or internal combustion engine) need constantly to be fussed with: you have to oil the gears; or correct for changes in temperature or humidity; friction slows down the machinery; you have to wind it or feed it fuel…if you could just get rid of those moving parts, you’d have a more reliable watch.

A small electric battery

The switch away from analogue didn’t happen all at once. When batteries became small enough, the first electrically-powered watch showed up in 1957. It was battery-operated, but still had mechanical moving parts, like gears and a balance wheel. It was made by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Inside the Hamilton wristwatch


The wristwatch’s battery is really small

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WWI flying aces and wristwatches

For a long while, wristwatches were thought to be fashionable for ladies only. The guys stuck with their pocket watches—until the First World War. WWI was the first time airplanes were used in combat. Sometimes several airplanes were used for a coordinated attack, which meant they had to arrive at the target at the same moment. When you’re hundreds of feet in the air, working a joystick and firing a machine gun, you don’t have enough hands to also pull out your pocket watch to see if you’re on time (why didn’t they put a clock in the plane’s dashboard? I don’t know).

Does this happen to you? I started out drawing a wristwatch-wearing WWI fighter-pilot and he turned into Joe Kubert’s angst-riddled Enemy Ace Hans Von Hammer and his puppy, Schatzi.

Likewise, if infantry soldiers in the trenches were ordered to open fire on the enemy simultaneously at a pre-planned time, a timepiece on your wrist is a whole lot more convenient than one in your pocket to count down the seconds while you’re holding a machine gun and a shovel.

So designers began designing manly-looking wristwatches for the guys.



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The wristwatch

While I was blathering about cars and roads, I got ahead of myself—I haven’t been talking about time for awhile. In the previous post I mentioned that satellites need incredibly precise clocks so that their signals are accurate when finding your global position. But the last time we looked at a clock was Harrison’s marine chronometer from 200 years ago.

The Queen of Naples wearing her wristwatch.

In 1810 the very first wristwatch was designed by Abraham-Louis Breguet for the Queen of Naples. Before that, a ‘watch’ meant a pocket-watch, kept in your pocket and attached to a button-hole in your vest by a chain. Instead of hauling a time-piece out of your pocket, now all you had to do was look at your wrist.

Nowadays nobody wears a wristwatch. When we want to know the time, we haul our cell phones out of our pockets. Progress!

A Brief History of the Wristwatch – Part 1


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