Feature: The 5 Coolest Things About Mechanical Watches
Mechanical movements are outdated, outclassed and outperformed. We don’t need them. They’re pointless. Unnecessary. They’re also one of the coolest things on the planet, and this Breguet Tradition 7057 has volunteered itself to show you why.
Powered By Nothing But A Spring
There’s a lot to say about the mechanical movement and why it’s so cool, but we’ll start with perhaps the hardest thing to believe about it: it doesn’t need electricity. Think about that in the context of today. What do you own or use that doesn’t need plugging into an electrical socket either temporarily or permanently? Your pen, if you still use one? A glass, a plate? Your sofa? A t-shirt?
These objects all share a simplicity in their function—by comparison, a watch records the very passing of time with incredible accuracy. It holds the power to get you to that interview promptly, to cook your egg just right and measure your boredom. It keeps up with you when time flies by and paces things out when it’s slowed to a crawl. The infinite complexity of relativity is simply taken in its stride.
All that power from just a coiled strip of metal. It really is nothing more than that. Wound tightly in its barrel, here found right at the centre of the watch, it shares a lineage with pogo sticks, chattering teeth and clothes pegs. Using the same technology that keeps you comfortable in bed, a mechanical watch puts the universe at your fingertips. Now that’s cool.
Invented In 1754 Without A Computer
What makes all that ten times more impressive is that the mechanical watch is far from a recent invention. Recording the time has been an important part of society for millennia, ancient civilisations relying on the passing of the sun or the dribble of water as a source of pinpoint regularity.
Mechanical clocks first appeared in the 13th century, great big things housed in towers so the whole town could see. Then, like any technology, it slowly shrunk through a process of iterative refinement, all the way through to 1754, when Thomas Mudge invented the lever escapement. And it’s kind of stayed there ever since.
Honestly, bar some refinements here and there, the mechanism to regulate the flow of power from the spring, created by Mudge over two-and-a-half centuries ago, marked the last milestone innovation in watchmaking. It’s still used by watchmakers today!
But it’s one thing to realise the technology has been largely unchanged since Mozart was pounding the keys—what’s really going to melt your melon is that this incredible device, that requires tolerances of a micron to even work, was designed and built without a computer. Pen, paper and an abacus to do the sums. That’s it. Incredibly cool.
Is Incredibly Accurate
The most accurate clocks today, atomic clocks, are so much so that they wouldn’t have lost a second if they’d started ticking alongside the Big Bang. By comparison, a bunch of tiny metal parts driven by technology shared with a child’s toy should be abysmal—and they are. But nowhere near as abysmal as they should be.
Modern mechanical movements are created in tandem with machine, and so even though the design is old, the ability to create it incredibly precisely is not. Thus, a contemporary mechanical watch can run accurately enough to only lose one, maybe two seconds a day. That’s barely ten minutes a year from a device you could probably swallow.
But today’s CNC machinery can’t take all the credit. Before all that, mechanical watches built the traditional way were entered into accuracy competitions to see which came out on top. Even a hundred years ago, the best watches were coming in at less than half a second lost per day.
Will Last A Lifetime
When we think of technology today, it comes hand in hand with obsolescence. Planned or otherwise, there’s not a whole lot we can buy these days that won’t be dead or irrelevant in a few decades, or even years. For the mechanical watch, after a few decades it’s just getting warmed up.
Despite the seemingly delicate appearance of a mechanical watch, it is in fact incredibly hardy. There have been many centuries to refine its performance, and the solutions found are nothing short of remarkable. Friction, for example, the enemy of any moving machine. Such small parts should very quickly be ground to dust, surely?
Not these ones. From tooth profiling that reduces contact and maximises lifespan to the ruby jewels that run almost friction-free thanks to incredible hardness and little divots brimmed with oil, and even surface finishes designed to capture and hold potentially damaging debris, a mechanical watch can keep on trucking. Ideally, they should be serviced periodically, but they have been known to run and run well without any kind of interference a century on.
Looks Absolutely Stunning
Doesn’t matter how old the mechanical watch is, how accurate it can be or how long it will last. It’s done, beaten, fair and square. It doesn’t have a place in a modern world—and yet here it continues to exist. Why? Because they look so completely and utterly cool. I don’t really need to tell you that the amalgamation of parts that should by no means operate as they do all singing in harmony together is a sight to behold. Every part is functional, and yet it looks like a work of art.
People dedicate their lives to the beauty of a mechanical watch, spend countless quiet hours honing their craft, extracting perfection from these tiny things. It’s almost allegorical, investing time to create time, with the amount of time spent directly correlating with the amount of time spent enjoying it. It’s the antithesis of a modern, fast-paced existence whether making or enjoying, and to me, that is incredibly cool.
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