A Beginner’s Guide to Analog Watches

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The term “Analog watch” is a retronym coined to distinguish analog watches from their more modern digital counterparts. The name refers to the design of the display, regardless of the timekeeping technology used within the watch.

The Details

A digital watch displays time as a series of digits, e.g. “12:34”. An analog watch is usually indicated by the continuous motion of one, two, or more rotating pointers or hands pointing to numbers arrayed on a circular dial (the hour hand’s movement being analogous to the path of the Sun across the sky).

An analog watch features multiple hands to show the time. The hour hand is generally short and thick. The hand for the minutes is generally longer and thinner. The seconds hand is typically even longer than the minute hand and is very thin – the thinner and lighter the second hand, the less torque is required to rotate it. The second hand rotates 6 degrees for every second passing in either a “sweep” motion (appears continuous) or a “dead-beat” motion (discreet movement for each second).

Some analog watches don’t have any numbers printed on the dial. The correct time can be determined because the strap is almost always oriented in a north-south direction (12 at top, 6 at bottom). Often only the 12 o’clock position is marked, or only the 12, 3, 6 & 9 positions.


How To Tell Time

Many people learn to tell the time using an analog watch. Since the average day consists of 12 daylight hours and 12 nighttime hours, the hour hand makes two full rotations over the course of a 24-hour period. The minute hand makes a complete rotation every 60 minutes. The seconds hand makes a 360 degree sweep every 60 seconds.

There are 60 seconds in every minute; sixty minutes in every hour; and 24 hours in every day. Every watch and clock (unless designed for novelty purposes) rotates “clockwise”. In fact, the word clockwise is defined as “motion that proceeds in the same direction as a clock’s hands”.

The terms clockwise and counterclockwise can only be applied to a rotational motion once a side of the rotational plane is specified, from which the rotation is observed. For example, the daily rotation of the Earth is clockwise when viewed from above the South Pole, and counterclockwise when viewed from above the North Pole.

Clocks traditionally follow this sense of rotation because of the clock’s predecessor: the sundial. First built in the Northern Hemisphere, clocks with hands were made to work like sundials. In order for a horizontal sundial to work (in the Northern Hemisphere), it was placed looking northward. When the Sun moves in the sky (east to south to west), the shadow cast on the opposite side of the sundial moves with the same sense of rotation (west to north to east). This is why hours were drawn in sundials in that manner. And why modern clocks have their numbers set in the same way.

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