Keeping in touch with time

 

 

Stackfreed watch, made by “MS” (unidentified) in Germany, c.1560 (British Museum, reg. No. 1989,0914.1)

Stackfreed watch, made by “MS” (unidentified) in Germany, c.1560 (British Museum, reg. No. 1958,1201.2203)

 

Spring-driven table clock, made by anon. in (probably) Germany, c.1560   (British Museum, reg. No. 1958,1006.2112)

Spring-driven table clock, made by anon. in (probably) Germany, c.1560 (British Museum, reg. No. 1958,1006.2112)

 

 


A common feature of watches and clocks of the 16th century are touch-pins. These are raised studs located at each hour position on the dial, with that at the 12 o’clock position typically being longer and sharper to provide a point of reference. These enable the time to be read by feeling the position of the single, robust, hour hand. This was useful as it was not possible to simply switch on a lamp to read the time at night. An added benefit might have been that the time could be read discretely under one’s robes.

 

Montre à tact, made by Breguet & Fils in Paris, c.1824 (British Museum, reg. No. 1958,1201.1862)

Montre à tact, made by Breguet & Fils in Paris, c.1824 (British Museum, reg. No. 1958,1201.1862)

This is a later variation of touch indication, known as a “montre à tact” (“touch watch”). The exposed hand does not turn with the movement but it is moved manually, clockwise, until it stops at the right time. This is read against touch-pins that are located on the edge of the case. These watches are also sometimes known as “blind-man’s” watches but, although they could have served as such, they were conceived as night watches.

 

 

Watch with braille indication and pin-pallet escapement, made by Anglo-Celtic Watch Company in Ystradgynlais, Wales c.1952. open glass  (British Museum, reg. No. 1983,1012.104)

Watch with braille indication and pin-pallet escapement, made by Anglo-Celtic Watch Company in Ystradgynlais, Wales c.1952. open glass (British Museum, reg. No. 1983,1012.104)

 

This watch, however, was clearly designed to be used by visually impaired persons as it has Braille numerals on the dial. Mass production of watches and clocks became established in the 19thcentury and it enabled them to be affordable to the masses and, subsequently, the massive new market enabled a much greater variety to be economically viable, including this Braille watch.

 

 

The “Bradley” wrist watch with ball-bearing touch indication, made by Eone in China, 2014

The “Bradley” wrist watch with ball-bearing touch indication, made by Eone in China, 2014

 

This wrist-watch bears the latest incarnation of touch indication. The time is indicated by steel ball bearings which run in tracks, positioned by magnets driven by the movement within the case – the hours around the perimeter and the minutes on the front of the watch. The balls are easily displaced, which prevents damage to the movement, but are easily relocated with a twist of the wrist. The watch was conceived for use by visually impaired persons, but its elegant design appeals to a far larger market.

The development of this watch somewhat parallels that of the Braille watch, as it also depended on a fundamental development in technology and economics. This watch was brought to market through internet “crowd-funding”, whereby many individuals invest a relatively small amount each to raise the total capital necessary to fund the development of a product (in this case enabled by Kickstarter). Crowd-funding can enable some exciting projects to succeed which might have been rejected by more traditional investors.


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