Sunday, September 12, 2010

Follow Up: More Precision Machinery

I keep forgetting that I live in a world that's very different than the one that existed only fifty years ago. We live in a digital world. There were computers of a sort that could calculate using mechanical means and there was certainly a great deal of precision equipment and technology around. However the digital world puts all that to shame.

For example I'm surrounded by clocks. Almost every electronic device has one. My smart phone has one. My computers each have one. Heck... video game consoles have one and will let the time of day in a game match the time of day in the 'real world'. And thanks to carrying pagers for years, and now the ubiquitous smart phone, I don't think I've worn a watch in decades.

Even when I did wear a watch it was a quartz or digital marvel that told time with accuracy of seconds per month. Not seconds per day... per month. Maybe even more precise. I took that for granted.

Which makes it hard to imagine that a good quality mechanical watch once was truly a useful and treasured possession. Expensive mechanical watches are just flashy luxury goods now. After all if you want to keep accurate track of time you don't turn to a wind up device anymore. Once they were truly marvels.

Two promotional films from the late 1940s made by the Hamilton Watch Company give an idea of how sophisticated, technical, and complex a good timepiece was. How a Watch Works explains how the various pieces of the mechanism fit together and work in a watch. If you ever wanted to know what part ticked or how the spring you wound up kept time this movie will tell you. It turns out that the mechanism is quite simple in principle. You'll have no problem understanding how it works.

If you figure out how they then make it fit into a tiny watch let me know. No wonder designing a watch took so many people so much time.

The second movie is a more direct promotional film. What Makes a Fine Watch Fine? reminded me that a good watch was really a thoughtful gift. While the first movie explains a watch this one goes to great lengths to show the level of detail and miniature manufacturing that was needed to make a watch. It's also fun to watch to see how many times the narrator uses the word fine.

I wonder what the equivalent gift is today? What do we give someone when we want to give them something practical that will have be useful and which (and this is the trick) will last and be used for years?

What is the modern equivalent of a fine watch?

1 comment:

Lene Andersen said...

I was going to say a good quality pen (Monc Blanc fountain pen.. drool), but then I realized hardly anyone uses pens anymore. The young uns don't even know how to write cursive.

Sigh. I miss good penmaship.