Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Workingless Watch

The ultimate Skeleton watch. Skip to the fifth paragraph to cut to the chase.
  (+14, -2)(+14, -2)
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A couple of years back I developed a bordering-on-the-unhealthy fascination with old-fashioned wind-up watches. I bought a ton of them on eBay, and spent hours taking them apart to find out exactly how they worked. To this day I still find the odd tiny spring entangled in the fibres of my carpet. I never did manage to put any of them back together again, but I did gain a real sense of appreciation for those little miracles of engineering. To this day, out of respect for the intricacies of the innards of these watches, I refuse to wear a quartz watch.

Basically, as far as I could gather before the mainspring popped out and shot across the room, what these watches are doing is regulating the output of energy stored in a simple spring. The insides of a mechanical watch consist of lots of tiny, intricate (and very very clever) mechanisms whose only purpose is to quell the enthusiasm of the mainspring, engage it in a finely-balanced tick-tock dance of distraction, and thus ration out it's hyperactivity at a more-or-less regular rate. When you consider that this volatile mainspring has to be actively held in check in a regular fashion while the wrist it's moored to swings and flicks about it's daily life - well, I hope you'll understand the sense of melancholy I feel after a powercut, when all the electric appliances I own flash "00:00" at me. Time has become so cheap these days that the amazing efforts we once had to make to secure it are now taken for granted.

Anyway - in my eBay meanderings I managed to net myself a skeleton watch. When these things are done well, they look truly fantastic - basically, the housings of the various bits and bobs that actually make the watch work are all cut away to the bare minimum, so that, through the face of the watch, you can actually see the mainspring's second-to-second battle with the lever escapement, and the tireless but thankless travails of the balance spring. Unfortunately the one I bought was kind of cheap, and looked a lot better in the photos. Lasted barely an hour beneath my ham-fisted screwdriver as well.

But it had a glass face front and back, and - at certain hours of the day - you could see right through bits of the watch to the wrist beneath. Which was odd. But it did make me wonder if it might be possible to make a watch which seemed to have no workings at all, a watch which was just a single hand moving unaided between two thin sheets of glass...

Take the workings of a watch and make them very small. Obviously, I'd prefer for this to be a mechanical contraption, but at this small a scale that might not be possible. The time-keeping device has to be small enough to fit unobtrusively into the buckle of a standard-looking watch strap. I reckon you could probably get away with it being about a centimetre long and one and a half centimetres wide. And maybe half a centimetre thick. Rather than turning the hand of the watch directly, this mechanism slowly twists a flexible cable that runs unseen inside the strap to the watch face itself.

The face of the watch is just two panes of glass sandwiched almost flat, but with a watch hand inbetween. Small bumps at the base of the hand match up with tiny inverted dimples on the inside centre-point of each pane, so that the hand has a fixed point to revolve around. If that makes sense.

The two panes of glass are both held together and held apart by a metal rim. Now - here's the important bit. Concealed within the circular rim around the watchface is a toothed wheel. The teeth of the wheel point away from the watch, and, crucially, it's made of a non-magnetic material. Well, apart from one single tooth, which is highly magnetic. If I've managed to get anything across at all in that tortuous description, I'm sure you're already ahead of me.

The slowly-twisting concealed wire that runs through the strap of the watch terminates in a bevelled set of tiny teeth, which mesh into a really small mechanism (hidden in the spar that attaches the strap to the face of the watch) that passes the regulated motion on to a kind of propeller screw, which in turn meshes in with and drives the (relatively) big toothed wheel that runs around the circumference of the watch face. The toothed wheel turns, and it's embedded magnet ensures that the floating hand of the watch always (compass-like) tells the right time.

The obvious limitation to this method is that the workingless watch can only have one hand, but that almost suits the minimalist aesthetic it's trying to achieve. You could etch numbers and gradiations onto one of the glass faces, but again, that would kind of detract from the simplicity of the thing.

Unfortunately my scanner's playing up again, so I can't link to any of the back-of-an-envelope illustrations I've drawn. It makes a lot more sense when you see even a sloppy diagram of it. Hopefully you'll catch the gist, though. It was a bugger to write, so it must have been a nightmare to read.

May also cure travel sickness.

lostdog, Nov 11 2004

Never mind the frequency; what's the bloody time, Kevin? http://duke.usask.c...ches/how_works.html
An introduction to the black arts of chronology. By Kevin. [lostdog, Nov 11 2004]

Mystery Clock http://www.adsw.org.../2004/MysteryClock/
The wristwatch description above reminded me of the vintage Jefferson Golden Hour Mystery Clock that my father once kept on his office credenza. Though electrically powered and obviously larger scaled, the mechanical concept is somewhat similar. Marvellous conversation pieces. [jurist, Nov 13 2004]

Jefferson Golden Hour Mystery Clock http://uv201.com/Cl...Pages/jefferson.htm
A better looking picture. [jurist, Nov 13 2004]

[link]






       Croissants for you Mr. Dog - a fine plan.   

       A few points. Would it not be simpler to sandwich four glass discs together? The top and bottom discs would be the face and transparent backplate. The two in the middle would have the hour and minute hands printed on them (or better, embedded in them). Dimples as you suggested would provide them all with an axis about which the two middle discs could turn indepenently. Some clear lubricant might be necessary.   

       The tiny flexible coupling from the strap to the face is a weak point. Could you hide the drive mechanism behind a chunky bezel? Maybe a circular piezo drive?   

       Go buy some teensy-weensy tweezers and good luck.
wagster, Nov 11 2004
  

       Good grief, you expect us to read all this? I'm just gonna suggest a clear liquid crystal display powered by electronics in the frame (I've seen a clock like that) and give you a croissant.   

       P.S. Jurist has now linked to the clock I was thinking of. I had forgotten how it worked.
DrCurry, Nov 11 2004
  

       I know - I had a touch of the vernons when I was writing this. They say a picture is worth a thousand words - if my damn scanner had been working I could have spared you all a lot of hassle. Maybe I should try winding it up a bit more.
lostdog, Nov 11 2004
  

       I like this idea too, minimalist timepieces [+]
zen_tom, Nov 11 2004
  

       Maybe instead of powering the hand from the centre, attach the end to a thin ring that is hidden in the rim. This ring is rotated by workings also hidden in the rim.
Detly, Nov 12 2004
  

       Using the idea of having the hands themselves operated via transparent disks, such a watch could be pretty neat and entirely feasible to construct. It reminds me somewhat of a table clock owned by my uncle whose face is a glass disk surrounded by a metal frame with hours marked on it. There is a small weighted 'mechanism in the center of the frame which drives the hour hand; the minute hand itself is driven by the rotation of the glass disk (which rotates once per hour).
supercat, Nov 12 2004
  

       Nice work on the transparent disk idea, [supercat] - as long as none of the disks are turning directly against the skin, it very elegantly solves the multiple hands problem.   

       Um, contracts, given that we can now make complicated devices like cameras small enough to fit inside a button, I don't think there's anything even vaguely Harry Potter-ish about a very small clock.
lostdog, Nov 12 2004
  

       Maybe not [lostdog] but there's nothing new either. Watch makers have been trying to make smaller watches for years, make smaller watches is not a new idea I'm afraid. The most space is taken up, generally, by the power supply.   

       //I reckon you could probably get away with it being about a centimetre long and one and a half centimetres wide. And maybe half a centimetre thick.//   

       I work part-time in a jewellery shop where we sell watches this small, you could make this yourself.
harderthanjesus, Nov 12 2004
  

       Isn't that the point of this site, [htj]? Demonstrably possible projects seen in novel and/or improbable ways? I happen to like the idea more because you have verified that the components currently exist to make it possible, but have not yet been so employed.[+]
jurist, Nov 12 2004
  

       //regulated motion on to a kind of propeller screw//   

       [lostdog]:I thought you meant to say "worm screw" here.
jurist, Nov 12 2004
  

       [contracts] - stop being bad and read the idea: completely transparent watch, external drive mechanism, magnetic drive for the hands. In what way are these old ideas? Don't [m-f-d] what you haven't read.   

       [supercat] - I nicked the disc idea from an Andy Warhol Museum memento watch I have. The second hand is the classic banana printed on a transparent plastic disc. Gives a lovely impression of the banana floating around the circumference of the dial. Between quarter past and half past is labelled "Your fifteen minutes".
wagster, Nov 12 2004
  

       [supercat] You did a fine job of describing a "Mystery Clock". Here's a link for more details. I think you'll see your uncle's clock represented there.
jurist, Nov 13 2004
  

       Are you sure your name's not Vernon?
scubadooper, Nov 13 2004
  

       Just channeling, methinks.
DrCurry, Nov 13 2004
  

       + I like this
lyserge, Nov 13 2004
  

       The Sun reports that "the finest motorcycle accident solicitors Scotland has to offer declared that a watch like this has a knack of diverting the attention of young drivers..."
po, Nov 13 2004
  

       ha! excellent po, made me laugh out loud!
lostdog, Nov 13 2004
  

       Yeah, [tahuyahick], I did wonder myself if friction might be a problem. Might need some kind of renewable lubrication to keep things running smoothly. I was also thinking that twisting the spike of the buckle should wind and, (perhaps by pulling it out a little) set the watch.   

       Tritium away, my friend.
lostdog, Nov 13 2004
  
      
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