The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch
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  1. #1
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    The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    Hi guys! I've noticed something during my brief time as someone interested in watches.

    1. When I first got into mechanical watches, I enjoyed the fact that I had a small machine, only comprised of springs and gears, on my wrist. I also liked the historical aspect, and found the sweeping seconds hand nice and calming to look at. But at the same time, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that a mechanical watch is not precise in its time telling. And that is the main objective of a watch, in my eyes: To tell time, as precisely as possible.

    2. So I bought a high-end quartz watch. I was very pleased with this for about half a year. But I slowly realized that I didn't actually have a relationship with the watch. It was dead on accurate all the time, and I never needed to do anything except correct the date now and then. The quartz watch started to feel cold and impersonal.

    3. I sold it and went back to a mechanical watch. And here is the twist: I got it regulated, and it started to keep time almost like a quartz! It gained a second a day at the very most, and lost it again during the night. I was really impressed, but this also meant that I didn't need a relationship with this watch either! (Except setting the date). And this actually bugged me. So when it started to gain a couple of seconds some days ago, I was actually pleased! Now it's gained five seconds over the weekend, and I'm almost looking forward to setting it next monday.

    What is my point? My point is that life is not perfect! It's probably been covered a thousand times before, but I like that my watch has a flaw. It tries as hard as it can to tell time as precise as possible, but it can't. It almost can, but not quite. And 99,9 percent of the time, that's good enough. And it's also the beauty of it. I'm not perfect. No one is perfect. Nothing I love is perfect.

    So the imperfections of a mechanical watch, is what makes it, in my eyes, perfect. Almost. :)
    ffritz, TJ Boogie and MikeCrunch like this.

  2. #2
    Member rdoder's Avatar
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    I saw a video where Jean-Claude Biver said watches is an irrational hobby. It's not about time-telling. The (mechanical) watch is something nice to look at and play with. Otherwise, it makes no sense, because there are way better ways to tell time (quartz, smart watch, cell phone).

    I see "too perfect" time keeping of Zenith Oscillator as a plus and a minus. Plus in that it does the job of time telling well (like quartz). Minus in that it lacks the unpredictable fun of inaccuracy and imprecision. Exactly like you said, it's cold and impersonal.

    For me, solar watch can be a bit cold; mechanical is PITA when it comes to relative fragility/upkeep/repair/servicing/cost; and kinetic is like a cross between the accuracy and low maintenance of quartz, and the fun of charging by moving or having some moving parts like a mechanical but without the PITA-ness.

    Keeping careful track of (in)accuracy of mechanical was fun for awhile, but more recently, I haven't done that. I agree it's neat, the time keeping comes close, but not quite. I don't track accuracy carefully, but I do look to see if it's fast or slow, and it's interesting to see it a little off and approximately by how much.

    The idea of "mechanical"-ness of the watch is neat, and once in awhile, it's still fun to see (and hear) the balance wheel and pallet fork go back and forth, see and hear the rotor move, see and hear the mainspring barrel get wound up, and see any other moving gears. It's fun to set the time and date, play with the bezel and screw-down crown, etc.
    Last edited by rdoder; March 25th, 2019 at 15:04.

  3. #3
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    Thanks for your reply. I don't keep careful track of my mechanical watch, but I check it every morning and evening against the atomic clock on my phone, to see if/how much it's off. I'll reset the time once it's 30 seconds fast.

    Since you mention smart watches – this is actually one of the reasons I got interested in mechanical, or at least, analog watches. I like the fact that my mechanical watch only tells the time and date. That's really all I want to know. I don't need to know how many steps I've taken every day, or track my sleep, or check my elevation. I have a Garmin Fenix for this, but I only use it when I'm hiking or working out. It's the same reason why I personally don't like chronographs. I'll never use the chrono-function, so it's just clutter on the dial.

    A mechanical (for me, three handed) watch is anti-information overload. It simplifies life.
    rdoder likes this.

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  5. #4
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    Agree. I track accuracy initially for when i get a new watch for the first couple of days, to see if it's operating properly (or not and needs to go to my watchmaker). After that I don't worry about it. Like frabr says then i just enjoy having a miniature self-powered machine on my wrist--that i like the looks of!
    3005 and johnMcKlane like this.

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    Member LaneP's Avatar
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    When I first get a new mechanical watch I have a mild obsession with knowing exactly how +/- it is. Lacking a timegrapher, this is usually a multi-day or longer process involving comparing its difference every morning and doing so in various positions. Once I know its +/- deviation, I'm good, and I can "just wear it". I know I could just buy a timegrapher and get the info I need in one afternoon, but I've been warned buying a timegrapher can be dangerous :)

  7. #6
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    I like mechanical and quartz but all the mfg's seem to offer a better looking watch in their mechanical line with GS being the exception.

  8. #7
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    I am often asked by non-afficionados what I find appealing about mechanical watches. After much thought, I have come to the short answer that it's the "Rube Goldberg" effect. The OP's statement about having a small machine on the wrist strikes the same note.

    People are always fascinated by a complex device that actually works. Rube Goldberg took that to the extreme by illustrating overly complicated devices to do a simple task such as a mousetrap or light switch. Now, please don't flame me. A watch is never mechanically over complicated -- it is only as complicated as need be to accomplish the task. And determining the time of day is not as simple a task as flipping a light switch. But I try to explain that the mind marvels at the thought of hundreds of parts spinning, taping, turning and meshing in a ballet timed to the tenths of a second that does indeed do what it was designed to do.

    OP also mentions having a relationship to the watch. I think that's a factor, too. I've recently been wearing a Speedy Moonwatch that I recently acquired and I have to admit that I look forward to the morning winding. Then I find myself looking for things that need to be timed just so I can operate the chrono! I don't think I've had a hand wound watch since my Air Force days (I wish I knew what I did with it) and I'm enjoying being in touch with the little machine on my wrist!

  9. #8
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    I am with you when it comes to quartz' and mechanicals.

    With my quartz', I just see them as an instrument to tell time. However, with my automatics, I feel some kind of connection, knowing that my own movements will power the watch.

    As for accuracy, when it comes to resetting the second hand every couple of weeks – it provides a reading of how off, or accurate, the watch may have been from its last resetting.

  10. #9
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    Quote Originally Posted by CoachRockne View Post
    Agree. I track accuracy initially for when i get a new watch for the first couple of days, to see if it's operating properly (or not and needs to go to my watchmaker). After that I don't worry about it. Like frabr says then i just enjoy having a miniature self-powered machine on my wrist--that i like the looks of!
    Quote Originally Posted by LaneP View Post
    When I first get a new mechanical watch I have a mild obsession with knowing exactly how +/- it is. Lacking a timegrapher, this is usually a multi-day or longer process involving comparing its difference every morning and doing so in various positions. Once I know its +/- deviation, I'm good, and I can "just wear it". I know I could just buy a timegrapher and get the info I need in one afternoon, but I've been warned buying a timegrapher can be dangerous :)
    I agree with this. When I get a new watch, I have to know how accurate it is. If it's off by more than 5 seconds fast (or a second slow) I get it regulated, check it again, and then leave it once I know what to expect.

  11. #10
    Member ffritz's Avatar
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    Re: The perfect imperfection of a mechanical watch

    Quote Originally Posted by LaneP View Post
    When I first get a new mechanical watch I have a mild obsession with knowing exactly how +/- it is. Lacking a timegrapher, this is usually a multi-day or longer process involving comparing its difference every morning and doing so in various positions. Once I know its +/- deviation, I'm good, and I can "just wear it". I know I could just buy a timegrapher and get the info I need in one afternoon, but I've been warned buying a timegrapher can be dangerous :)
    Having a timegraphers is awesome in my opinion and it's a super handy tool, but determining how your watch performs over a full day or several days is just not one of its featutes. The timegrapher only gives a short, temporary reading that doesn't account for your wearing habits, wrist / night temperature change, etc. What it does brilliantly is to determine if e.g. a grey market watch you bought has a healthy movement or if one of your pieces needs a service soon.

    For the daily rate in actual use, just checking the watch against a time reference works best. And I agree with the OP, the imperfection of a mechanical watch is a characteristic that makes it more interesting.

    For instance, the watch I'm wearing today is COSC certified and has a 60h power reserve. I know that it runs about -1 or -2s/d slow when I wear it, so well within COSC specs. However, when I don't wear the watch for more than a day, it starts losing time more rapidly, more in the range of -20 to -30s/d(!) towards the end of its power reserve. No big deal really, it's easy to correct the time a little when necessary, but it took me a while to realize what caused the offset..

    If I simply wanted a tool to tell time precisely, I'd probably wear a radio controlled solar Casio. But then I wouldn't call watches a hobby either.
    LaneP likes this.

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