Rise of the Mechanical Watch
Mechanical Watches are more than just accessories or contraptions of intellectual intrigue: they have incredible historical significance to the Western world’s economy.
In ship travel, before Global Positioning Systems, sailors had to figure out two pieces of information in order to navigate towards their destination: latitude, and longitude. Latitude is easy to determine: sailors note the position of the North Star, and can then use a tool called a sextant to convert that to a latitude measurement.
Longitude is far more complicated. During the 1700’s, sailors lacked an effective way to determine longitude. They instead relied on a technique called ‘dead reckoning,’ which was travelling straight from a known longitude measurement, and hoping that the ship would stay the course. If there was low visibility or the ship drifted off-course, this would fail. Predictably, this form of navigation – essentially guesswork – sometimes resulted in accidents. One particularly catastrophic accident was the Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707. The navigators for a Royal British Navy fleet misjudged their location, and the ships ran aground into the Isles of Scilly. Four sank and approximately 1500 men lost their lives .
Harrison created one of the first watches that was accurate enough to be useful. Watchmakers advanced on his designs; further developments over time resulted in higher accuracy – and cost-efficiency. Eventually, they became a widespread consumer good. For centuries, mechanical watches and clocks were the most effective, reliable, and ubiquitous method for telling time.
The Quartz Crisis
Engineering of the Mechanical Watch
Watch fans argue that in its simple effectiveness, the internals of a mechanical watch are truly beautiful and elegant. While quartz resulted in a more accurate timekeeper, one can still do things the old-fashioned way via a system of gears, springs, and hundreds of handcrafted moving parts. A modern watch-owner can determine time in the same way that most of the world did a few centuries ago and understand it quite easily.
On a certain level, the ‘know-how’ of most watches has not changed much since the original invention. Even though the past few centuries have brought many developments for mechanical watches, the general mechanism has essentially remained the same: all mechanical watches have four major components (see Figure 4).
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