Mechanical Watch Hacker Gets An Apple Watch

Mechanical watch enthusiasts see the Apple watch as a threat to the traditional gear train. It does not tick, requires frequent re-charging, and it’s certainly not the most attractive of watches. But it can direct you to the local coffee shop, allow you to communicate with friends anywhere in the world, get you onto an airplane after the most awkward of arm gestures, and keep you apprised of the latest NCAA basketball scores. Is the advent of the smart watch the end to the mechanical watch?

It Has no Heartbeat. It has no Soul

ExaThe best part about a mechanical watch is that it is easy to take a look under the hood and observe all of the action. By contrast, there’s nothing much to see inside the Apple watch (unless you have your own scanning electron microscope).

Mechanical watches have a beating heart: the balance wheel. It is comforting to listen to the ticking from the balance wheel knowing that each tick moves a fairly complex gear train. Repairing and servicing these watches is a hobby and profession all its own. The Apple watch does not tick but I’m sure someone will write an app for that.

apple-watch-near-powerful-magnetsOne thing the Apple watch does have in common with mechanical watches is the need to be re-powered on a daily basis. This watch makes it one day, tops, about half as long as an old mechanical wrist or pocket watch between windings.

Accurate; Impervious to Magnets

The Type A-11 wrist watch flew over Berlin during the second world war and could be synchronized by ‘hacking’ the movement (stopping the balance wheel) when you set the time. The accuracy was key to coordinating these missions.

The Apple watch is synced to the US Atomic Clock via its host iPhone’s GPS clock, so it will always tell the perfect time. It does not get more accurate than that.

For those of us who work with magnets you will be happy to know that unlike a mechanical watch the Apple watch will not stop ticking or become un-calibrated when placed directly on a large magnet.

How Do You Service a Smartwatch?


Servicing modern electronic devices is irrelevant. Support of software will likely be the limiting factor to its useful life. By contrast, 100 years from now you will be able to service almost any mechanical watch or clock. The concept of throwing away a watch is unthinkable for mechanical watch enthusiasts. It’s an interesting thought experiment to consider the life of your cellphone and apply it to the life of your watch. By all accounts, the Apple watch should be much more versatile than its mechanical forebearers, but will it face the paradox of having a much shorter lifespan as technology marches along?

side-by-side-style-apple-watch

Like many engineers I’m not well versed in high fashion. To me this watch looks a lot like an old CRT television set from the 70’s. That’s cool, I like old things from the 1970’s. Perhaps the kitsch of antiquity will carry this forward into the next decade, assuming that battery can still hold a charge.

Will Apple Watch Win on Features?

For those of us with children it is unlikely you are spending much time at the gym. This is a great example of where Apple watch comes in handy, its native ability to count calories burned and plot it vs. time provides excellent encouragement to move for someone who is data-driven. So far I’ve lost 10 lbs.

The way the Apple Watch functions is fully configurable. My Waltham model 1893 is an S18 pocket watch where the ticking can be annoyingly loud. That’s the heartbeat I mentioned earlier, but it can get in your brain like The Tell Tale Heart. This is the way watch functions and you either live with it or you don’t.

You can find many articles about what a nuisance the Apple watch can become — but both the watch’s behavior and your own are configurable. I’ve found it to be not at all annoying and I only wear it during the work week where its event reminders are really useful if you’re hands on in the lab and not sitting in front of a desk all day.

The Two Can Coexist

The Apple watch is an excellent M-F business watch, enabling real-time emails, and convenient meeting reminders for those of us who are in the lab and not at the desk. But on the weekends I relax by wearing something less engaging from a simpler time. Mechanical watches are a pinnacle of engineering. The Apple Watch has just started that climb which will hopefully lead to a new high in modern technology.

About the Author: Gregory L. Charvat

68 thoughts on “Mechanical Watch Hacker Gets An Apple Watch

      1. A break.. like the necks of the iSlaves as the hit the ground after the throw themselves off the top of the iFactory because of their horrible working conditions, slaves wages, and no hope in sight of ever escaping their situation… Is that the kind of break you’d like? Justify your purchases all you want.. But at the end of the day.. Supporting apple is supporting human exploitation.

        1. Because you totally typed this comment on a device constructed by a master craftsman in Italy who makes each transistor by hand from raw materials and stops to take regular espresso breaks.

      1. Gravis’ intent was to troll, or a wry observation that America is by far the largest market for products manufactures by China’s or other “slave labor”, America could be called that place called hell if in there “is a special place in hell for those who buy slave made goods.” AFAIK Gravis like myself already lives in Hell uh- America.

    1. You seem not to understand the concept. Slaves are forced to work for nothing. In China they have queues of people wanting to work in the factories of Foxconn and the like. The queues are there because the wages are good compared to their home villages. They can quit and go home, or move to another company.
      Much like the West when its economy was developing the protection for labour and the environment is weak. They will improve as will wages. Meanwhile pretty much any consumer electronics company you care to mention makes their products over there.
      Feel free to push for improved conditions, but don’t think you’re in any way special or don’t live with devices built by these factories on a daily basis.

  1. After the advertising for Freescale arms, we now have advertising for Apple Watch. I’ve never complained on Hackaday but with this article, I have to. Except nice pictures, there is nothing in this article. No super explanation about mechanical watches, nor for the Apple Watch. Just a bunch of links and a big part that sounds like advertising for Apple.

    I’ve choosen to erase this article from my memory.

    1. heh. I’d really have to agree. An article that only contains obvious statements (Smartwatches can do more than just showing the time, but will not be serviceable. Oh really.) is about Buzzfeed level content. As many interesting Articles Gregory wrote, this is not one of them. I don’t agree on the advertisement side too much. It’s more of a “heck, this is a slow monday” thing, I guess. Which is a bit strange, considering today ends CCCamp 15.

      1. Buzzfeed, exactly what I had in mind. At least, the Freescale advertising article has content and make me want to start working on Freescale arms. But this article… Sorry Gregory, I know you will do better next article ;)

        Just trying to make some constructive criticism. Keep up with the good work hackaday but please, avoid this kind of article without only troll-generating content.

        1. No. Minute repeater is just an exotic time chimer.

          It keeps time only as accurately as anything else with a hairspring near magnets, which is
          not nearly at all.

          Unless it is made from amagnetic material, or shielded with Mu-Metal or an iron inner case (like the Rolex Milgauss), it will suffer timekeeping errors near
          magnets, or high electrical currents. Nothing will change that. It’s the laws of physics.

          Now, if it was a shielded minute repeater, then yes, of course. But no such thing has ever been made, because no one would pay
          that kind of money for something and hide it with a magnetic shield, or dampen the sound of the chime with such. And for people’s info-
          there are watches with totally amagnetic hairsprings- Ulysee Nardin uses LIGA etched monocrystaline diamond for some of it’s highest end
          Freak line pieces, and some independent watchmakers have/are developing a carbon fiber hairspring.

          Also, there have been crystal plate and gear watches made that dramatically cut down on magnetic influence errors.

          How do I know this stuff? I went to school to learn watchmaking, and I am a horologist. It is my business to know.

          For the record- I like the concept of a smartwatch. I have nothing against it. But I am tired of having
          smartwatches being called watches. They tell the
          time as an ancillary function. They are more a small task streamlined computer than a watch.

          A watch, in my mind, means something solely for, or mainly for, by design, telling the time.
          If you even want to pretend you can fix microprocessors en masse,
          you are insane. It cannot be done by humans. The most professional watchmakers will ever gain
          access to by apple is changing a strap-
          I’m sure they would void the warranty on us even if we attempted to open it for a battery
          change. It’s Apple. That’s how they do business.

          And stereotype me for this all you want- but I’m sick of being “ever more connected”. All it’s
          created is a new dimension of privacy and data security nightmare for the world,
          ultimately. The convienence these bring are far overwhelmed by the damage they are doing to
          the security of your information and metadata,
          GPS and cell tower tracking the least of which and most obvious.

          But hey, I can get my emails from work! Yea! Now I can work whereever I am.
          This is a sad world we’ve created and few yet realize it.

    1. Yep. A smart watch isn’t the solution if you need to work around magnets. Strong magnets are also likely to cause the SMPS inductors inside to saturate and cause brownouts.

  2. Oddly, my solar-powered wristwatch has been happily and accurately ticking away for the last 13 years, roughly a year less than the iPod system has ever existed, without a hiccup, update, social-media down-check for not being the latest model or much of anything but happily telling time (and the occasional altitude and compass heading). All of this through environmental extremes that might kill any usual electronic device (desert heat, high altitude hiking, open-ocean sailing). That will be something like 10 – 15 generations of some kind of iWidget that has supposed to end it.

    When and if it gives up (the battery is supposed to be replaced every decade, but is still running full tilt), it’ll be replaced or repaired with something just as mundane and durable.

    What’s missing in this articles breathless sales pitch is that the traditional wristwatch was, for some time, replaced by phone time displays or other means as a primary time-keeper and the wrist is now seen as verdant territory for various fashion statements and displays of digital neophilia which the touted device certainly is.

  3. I think hackaday needs to branch out with “opinionaday” with all of these opinions pieces popping up. At the very least mark the article as being an opinion piece so the reader knows before clicking.

    1. The “hack” here is how Apple was able to socially engineer the majority of the population into paying retardardly inflated prices for their devices, while the company makes obscene profits, gets the support of pretty much the entire media industry along with the celebrities endorsements all while somehow managing to avoid being publicly lynched for orchestrating this entire phenomenon off of the back of slave labor…

      1. This. I don’t hate their design- it’s brilliant. But I cannot think of any other company that consistently uses social engineering like this to sell things in an overt and obvious way. I don’t know if HaD did take money from them- but the fact that I can’t simply dismiss the idea shows how ingrained that style of marketing has become in association with them. It geniunely pisses me off.

        So Apple design, awesome. Apple marketing and hype and fanboism- utter bullshit. If this is an opinion piece, it was decently written, although a bit glossing over like an old man reflecting on the future of tech. And it should have been marked opinion pc, because there is no hack.

        Oddly enough- professional watchmakers are thinking in the same fashion at industry scale, our trade publication, the Horological Times, had such an opinion pc on these, wondering about the future of new tech in the same glossy, hazy fashion. I don’t think anyone knows what to make of these- so they will probably die as a fad, to be resurrected as something retro-trendy 20 years from now.

  4. Dear HaD,

    Proofreading, once again.

    paragraph 4, orphaned leading word on first line
    paragraph 11, line 5, “This is the way watch functions”
    paragraph 11, line 6, poorly aligned text surrounding image

  5. As I said before wristwatches are more than symbolic of bondage. Yes bracelets existed ages ago, so did bondage! The first “bracelet” probably claimed ownership of another life. Refuse to be bonded to anything. On the surface is OK, once it encircles flesh or enters the body you have submitted. I just say no to any wristbands at public events. Those are disgusting. People will be sold underskin displays and other disgusting body modification hardwear.

  6. Ever notice how the Apple logo has only one bite in it? It’s nasty and worm ridden.

    I would love to rant & wane in a poetic and righteous manner on how Apple employees see themselves as master manipulators. As well as the treatment of salaried and contract employees that heaven forbid are family oriented and vanilla.

    Quattro Wireless DID license the technology from Carrier IQ specially to harvest metadata, demographic behaviors and record location data to cross reference known acquaintances “Tell me who your friends are…”.

    Anyway, square watches annoy me. (With the exception of the Casio Gold Calculator Pimp Watch of course.)

    P.S. and an FYI – Since the watch does have that accelerometer I can only presume one should probably take it off if one engages in any personal happy time. Owning a Ceiling Cat is one thing; the Apple Cloud and Data Analytics completely different.

    1. “Si vis pacem, para bellum” or at the very least “Knowing is half the battle”. :)

      Well being bright, idealistic and young it does leave you with some battle scars after joining that environment. Bitter? Jaded? Yeah. BUT, it is nice to take off the rose-tinted glasses folks get accustomed to wearing and shaking some sense into them. So it isn’t so much the “grinding of the axe”, more like “be attentive to screeching metal”. *bows*

    2. There is a massive, massive undertow of people that *#@*ing hate apple. Because they can’t afford them, because they use social engineering to sell inferior manufactured pretty goods, because their software is a walled garden, because they hate branding, because they design and profit off of obsolescence of models, and any number of other reasons. It’s rather easy to hate Apple, actually. I’d find it hard as a hardware hacker and maker to like a company that makes even basic Li-Ion battery changes impossible, and protected by firmware and software snitches in doing so.

      Apple is pretty DRM all the way through. Most people don’t notice or care about DRM when they fully commit to being in Apple’s walled garden, because most people I’ve met that consume it just want something flashy and trendy that happens to work well, when they do as Apple says. They see nothing wrong with that.

      I can’t open it, so I don’t own it. It’s easy to hate Apple, as easy as it is to love the perfect design.

      The stuff is very user friendly- until you want to use it your way. So most people never care. Maker mentality was normal mentality in 1945-1955. People wouldn’t buy something they couldn’t modify or fix themself.

      Now people literally wait in line, camp out for weeks, starve in line, to get the opposite of that. If that’s not valuing marketing over functionality, I don’t know what is.

      1. I think apple built on the model of ‘tell and convince the customer they are geniuses but know they are morons and design towards that, but don’t tell them that’.
        A bit like parents often do to small children.

        And if it works it works. And if it’s how it is it’s how it is (for the masses).

        The same model is also used on various non-apple websites btw.

  7. All The Worlds A Stage,
    Really dude? That’s all you have is “slavery” by the evil and corrupt Apple Corporate System? You reek of liberal stupidity and the strong sense of “better than you” stink is evident to all, even the most simple minded can sense your exaggerated feelings of self worth. Look around, when was the last time you seen an American soldier holding a weapon to a Chinese man’s head forcing him to work? Or the ruthless American overseer with an 8 foot whip in his hand as they work in their shredded and tattered clothing? Take a look at the elitist communist party members who live in luxury the average person in China could only dream about. It’s called attacking from within, provide the average person with a better standard of living than they have ever had and then watch them fight for their freedom which is not denied to them by us but by their leaders. Here’s my challenge to you Mr. All The Worlds A Stage, by nothing that’s made in China for one month. One little bitty month. Oh, where is that windows pc you are typing all of your ignorance and hatred on made? Korea? Sweden? Denmark? North Dakota? Here’s a new word for you. Hypocrite.

  8. Never fails: post ANYTHING that mentions Apple and the internet goon squads have to go post their hate for Apple in the comments. Don’t believe me? Go look up anything Apple related and tell me what you see in the comments. It’s beyond childish these days. You’d swear people are being forced into concentration camps and forced to use their products the way that people complain. You don’t like Apple? Great. Don’t buy their products. But posting comments in every single blog post or youtube video that is Apple related is a waste of your breath. Nobody cares.

    Now I do agree that this article is a bit off topic for a “hacker/maker/hobbyist” website like hackaday, but I didn’t mind it. It’s interesting to see what mechanical watch nerds think of smartwatches.

  9. Mechanical watch fans are threatened by Apple watches? Good job nobody’s told them about the cheap LCD watches that came out in the 1980s, they’ll have heart attacks. Then need a… pacemaker! Oh ha ha ha!

    (a pacemaker for their “ticker”, oh I kill me)

  10. OK Apple Sheeple (and you too analog Watchies), Google “Casio MTP-1239”. About $25 bucks. Beautiful watch, day/date window, crown guard, water resist, quality stainless case, band and (especially) clasp; it will outlive you. The second hand stops when you set the time (important for Timenuts). I have seen the Woman’s version, but don’t have the model number (sorry).

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