Thursday, December 10, 2009

Whither Mechanical Watches?

Sometimes a thing you are used to slowly vanishes right before your eyes. One such thing that I see is the wind-up manual mechanical wristwatch where you have to wind it every 2 or 3 days for the watch to keep functioning. It consisted of a spring mechanism which unwound slowly as time passed by driving the cogs and its intricate system of gears to move time. When you open the back of those watches, everything looked so delicate inside and you could see a swinging mechanism which controlled the system of gears that controlled the hands of the watch. I don't even see those type of manual watches these days, all being replaced by quartz movements and run using small batteries.

The beautiful aspect about the manual watches was that it seemed as if they had a heart. Keep the watch close to your ear and you could hear it tick-tocking away. The tick-tock would never stop until the spring unwound itself fully. If you were not getting sleep, keep one close to your ear and you will be lulled to sleep with those constant ticks. :-) No such pleasure on our digital or the quartz oscillator based watches. They are as silent as the moon. My first watch was my father's wind-up from HMT and it served a long time and used during exams as a faithful time-keeper.

The bigger cousin of the manual watch, the wind-up alarm clock is also on its way out. I see only quartz versions of the same these days. Those clocks had 2 keys for winding, one for the clock and one for the alarm. The Trriiiinnnnngggggg of those alarm clocks could wake up even a sleeping Kumbhakarna and you had to hit the push-button on its head for the alarm to stop or the alarm would ring until the alarm spring unwound itself fully. And the wonderful "tick-tock" heart-beat sound the clocks made which was audible clearly!!!. Some of the clocks had a small dial inside the main one for the seconds hand in addition to the alarm hand which used to rotate like a hamster on a treadmill. Those clocks could almost be used as a metronome if the house was a bit silent. I loved the ticking sound and the feedback when the keys were wound.

And the grand-daddy wall clocks which had a long pendulum swaying with their majestic tick-tocks and some of them having chimes at the hour and having a similar winding mechanism as the wind-up alarm clock. They were lovely with lots of woodwork, typically oak. Nowadays you find them only in antique shops and typically priced out of reach. :-(

Not to say that you don't get pure mechanical watches these days, but it has become almost elitist. Maybe Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan can afford those Swiss made beauties which still have hand wound mechanisms, but for the rest of us, the generalia, the cheap quartz oscillators will keep time, having edged out the manual movements over the course of years.

I have a Casio ProTrek watch now with a bevy of features like altimeter, barometer, tide level, moon phase, a compass with all the other things expected of an electronic watch like a chronograph, multi-city time etc and with a solar based rechargeable battery system on the dial. Still I have a very special place in my heart for those old "tick-tocks with a heart" which were my first exposure to chasing time and have stood by me through thick and thin and for the memories.

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14 comments:

savitha said...

Oh, these watches and clocks. I never owned a manual watch, but our house definitely had that alarm clock and the big pendulum wall-clock. I used to imagine the pendulum as the hanging tongue of a thirsty dog :P. When the quartz crystal watches came to replace, there was a tough fight at home, everyone ignored the manual ones.But, now I wish I saved one!!

It's only when things go obsolete that we crave for it. We never knew to appreciate something when it is abundant and in close proximity. :(

gils said...

i love those pendulum types..never had a chance to own one..but plans definitely on the cards..watching out for one

Srivats said...

Yes the pendulam ones! your post is such a memmory tracker to say!
I love the manual mechanical watches too, even though they were operated by the winding spring, they werent that heavy or big like the ones today, I had a fast track heavy one which i wasnt wearing for months now, and my office guys suddenly decide to gift me a watch on my bday, to my horror its heavier than the one i already have, Now i am wearing it just to be nice to them! :( if i am not wearing they are asking whether its not good enough etc..
Watch or wall clock is defn something that would be close to our heart, we should choose the right one. I would try to find a pendulam one for decorating the home :)

RamMmm said...

@Savitha - Adhé Adhé. Sometimes kann ketta appuram Surya Namaskaram. :)

@Gils - Kandippa vaangunga and take your time. They definitely give character to the house (like Calvin's dad says, it builds character). There are clocks which have pendulums and look very similar, but have a battery driven quartz mechanism. :-) Even if you are buying that, buy one with a wooden finish rather than the plastic ones which somehow I don't like. Andha old hand-wound clocks ellaam convent schoolla paakkalaam, princi roomlayO, office roomlayO irukkum. :)

@Srivats - Ha Ha Ha. Nanbargal thondharavE thondharavU thaan. :-) I have a slim wrist and only the 50 rupees electronic watches fit well on them and definitely not the ones with metal straps. :-)

Annam said...

antha pendullum clck oru jound viduvama soopera irukum ding...ding...:)

RamMmm said...

Annam, Andha sounda correctaa nyabagam vechchirukka. ding...ding..., it is. sooperO sooper sound adhu, real gong against metal and vibration. Enga, ippo ellaam ellaththayum electronic chipla potturraanga. andha feel varadhillai :(

Swaram said...

Ahh there came a time when we went gaga over the 'modern' clocks and watches and ignored the big ones :(

And nw, I am on the lookout for a nice antique piece clock :P

RamMmm said...

Though they might skew in timekeeping to the exact second, there is a romance with all the mechanicals that go into that. Almost a piece of art.

Do post with a photo when you get your antique clock. :-)

Uttara said...

Niceee Post! Apparently, my father presented my mom with this silver HMT after their engagement.. She used to wear it for a long time (was too lazy to wind it and all..) until the day I wore it to school and lost it.. It had this old style clasp..A friend of mine has this affinity to watches. He lost his fast track which he had been wearing for some 5 years. He refused to buy a new one for some six months and went watchless as he thought buying a new watch is like disgracing the memory of his old dear one :)

RamMmm said...

It must have been a disaster on telling your mom that the watch is lost. The insanity in that is you have no clue where it could have fallen down and you rage for a few days until you come to terms with it.

Your friend must be slotted in the category of a 'Watch Nazi'. :-) You could count me as one. I had a Casio electronic calculator watch which was all plastic and which I wore for a really long time and then one fine day, the strap blew, used it as a pocket watch for sometime and then it sat on my computer desk and now in one of its drawers, but disembowelled for cleaning up, but never put back again. :-) I never bought another until multiple sessions of longing looks at the ProTrek at watch displays forced it to be presented to me as this year's b'day present. :)

gils said...

/and my office guys suddenly decide to gift me a watch on my bday, to my horror its heavier than the one i already have, Now i am wearing it just to be nice to them//

keeping a watch on them nu itha thaan solrangalo?!!

RamMmm said...

:-) :-) summaavaa sollaraanga ungala paththi? :-) :-) (but you have a great presence of mind, irrespective of whether to call it a mokkai or not)

gils said...

//but you have a great presence of mind, //

ipdilaam publikaaa damage pannapdaathu

RamMmm said...

Yaen Gils, Yaen? Neenga romba vallavaru, nallavarunnu thaaney solli irukkaen. :-) Enna, mokkaiyaa irundhaalumnu oru qualification kuduththuttaen. :D Situationai gappunnu pidikkareengalaey, adhai thaan sonnaen. vera edhayum illai.