September 8, 2010 4:57 AM   Subscribe

How a watch works in the clear, precise 1949 informational style.
posted by DU (20 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this. This morning somebody gave me a cheap watch that they had bought from a street market. I spent a minute or so bewailing the fact that the hands were not moving and that I would have to go out and buy a battery. Then I remembered the whole trick of making it go by winding it.
posted by rongorongo at 5:12 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

My watch doesn't work like that at all! I took off the back and started poking around looking for the little wheels and now it says it is 88 o'clock and 88 minutes!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:31 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Recently I saw a How It's Made where they showed how a 100K watch was put together. It's pretty badass:
posted by taumeson at 5:33 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

My uncle was a watchmaker. Trained in the 1940's at Bulova.
I remember, as a kid, I watched him take watches apart, clean the tiny gears and springs, and put them back together, oiling the jewels as he went.

Eventually, the electronic watches put him out of business. Replacing a battery was easy.
posted by Drasher at 5:52 AM on September 8, 2010

The full video is here at the Internet Archive. If you are a watch junkie like me, you might like to see the whole 20 minutes. And is anyone else wondering who got to build that big scale model? So cool!
(long time MetaFilter lurker, new member, first comment)
posted by billcicletta at 6:28 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

The full clip is actually twice as long (19:18) and a lot better quality on the Prelinger archive.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:31 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Watches don't seem to work on me. Even quite expensive ones last about a week. It isn't the battery either, they just stop working somehow. Pretty weak superpower if you ask me.

Lovely video though, I must try a wind up watch. And a villainous moustache and top hat in case that doesn't work either.
posted by shinybaum at 6:51 AM on September 8, 2010

Awesome, thanks for the full length version. Internal evidence indicated it existed, but the googles--they did nothing.

And yeah, I totally want to build my own version of the big one. I already have a digital (i.e. discrete and logical, not "displaying digits") one in mind.
posted by DU at 6:53 AM on September 8, 2010

This is gorgeous. I'm also pretty sure the narrator has a 1949 accent.
posted by SteelyDuran at 7:23 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

That was cool! Always wanted to know how a watch works. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 8:33 AM on September 8, 2010

But why use jewels? I never understood that part. Sadly, this just skipped over that bit.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:37 AM on September 8, 2010

shinybaum, yeah, my dad had a similar problem. He had wind-up watches that were OK, but electronic watches (new at the time) would usually fail.

Of course, the radio in the living room would also drop to a whisper when he entered the room.

Dad used to smuggle (it's OK, he's been gone for 30 years) watches from the U.S. to Canada to have my uncle fix and adjust them. Then he would smuggle them back; crossing the border with eight or ten watches on his arm.

Well, they also used me to smuggle bottles of booze (for gifts) across the Canadian-U.S. border. They would by extra at the Duty Free and place the bottles in the back seat. Then they would put me down to sleep (I was an infant) in the back seat. What border guard (in those days) would disturb a sleeping baby?
posted by Drasher at 8:42 AM on September 8, 2010

ChurchHatesTucker: because the jewels used for the pivot point of the gears and wheels in a watch were virtually frictionless. And MUCH smaller than a ball bearing could possibly be.
posted by Drasher at 8:43 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This page explains it as
Jewels have two important properties that help reduce friction. First, they can be made to be very smooth, and therefore they let the metal parts slide easily. Secondly, they are very hard and therefore don't wear down very quickly. The gears in a watch are carefully designed so that the teeth roll on each other, rather than sliding. If the axle of a gear wears away the hole that it sit in, the gear will shift. That means the teeth will no longer roll on each other and therefore friction will be increased.
The wikipedia page also mentions that they don't need lubrication and have good temperature stability.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:04 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

PS, love the title of this thread, "Watch". heh.

Being ablt to watch the watch is why skeleton watches are very likable.
posted by nickyskye at 9:55 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I looked at skeleton watches for a while, but the ones that actually show you something (instead of just a bunch of internal braces and stuff) are really expensive.

I did skeletonize a clock though. (self-link and looking at that again it might have been better before)
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on September 8, 2010

TY Drasher and Rhomboid.

Now I'm wondering why jewels aren't used more often...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:25 AM on September 8, 2010

I've been interested in watches and clocks and clock-making since reading Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers.

Highly recommended for those interested in time-keeping (and just about anything else!)
posted by coolguymichael at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2010

I liked how a differential works.
posted by Evilspork at 6:30 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are skeleton watches, and then there are skeleton watches.

(I've got one of these. Watches are my one big vice.)
posted by The Shiny Thing at 9:43 AM on September 9, 2010

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