Category Archives: clocks

What Time is it Where You Are?

Recently, most of the United States moved their clocks back one hour to signify the return to “standard time” after spending the last eight months or so on “daylight time.”  There are exceptions to this, such as the state of Arizona, parts of Indiana, parts of Nevada and a few other scattered areas.

But what makes “standard time” standard?  It all goes back to 1883, when all American railroads agreed on a set of four time zones to represent the continental United States.  Prior to this, there were as many as one hundred “local” time zones.  In effect, pretty much every town of any size could decide, on their own, what time it happened to be right there at any given time.

That’s fine for the people who live in that particular town, and as there wasn’t a lot of intertown or interstate commerce at that time, few people cared, really, what time it was.

The people who owned and operated railroads didn’t feel that way.  That’s understandable, as trains had to run between towns and trains needed to maintain schedules.  That meant that the railroad itself needed to have some sort of common frame of reference so that they could know when they needed to be in Town A and when they needed to be in Town B without reference to whatever arbitrary schedules the citizens of A or B might be keeping.

A further complication is that railroads needed to agree among themselves what the time was, as trains occasionally need to pass one another and no one, then or now, was particularly fond of collisions.

In the 1870s, the U.S. Weather Bureau also decided that having some standardized time zones would be beneficial, and eventually, the railroads, the Weather Bureau and Congress all got involved.  The U.S. was divided into four time zones, and this simplified everything for anyone who had business between multiple cities or across state lines.

Eventually, a few cities opted to tweak their time zones a bit to suit local needs.  Parts of western Indiana, which would fall in Eastern Time, have adopted Central Time as their time zone since many people who live there work in nearby Illinois.

In 1918, during World War I, Congress decided that it might be beneficial to adjust the time of the entire nation during the summer to give the impression of having an extra hour of daylight.  This created Daylight Saving Time, which is often erroneously called Daylight “Savings” Time.  It doesn’t matter; we’re not really “saving” anything, but most people would rather have an extra hour of light during the evening, when they can enjoy it, than during the morning, when it would be interrupting their sleep.

Some parts of the country, and the entire state of Arizona, don’t bother with it.

At this time of the year, people move their clocks back one hour and get an extra hour of sleep.  It’s been going on for so long that many people don’t even know why we do it, or how long it’s been going on.

It’s the trains.

The Octopus That Tells the Time

For a lot of people, clocks are fairly boring.  They might have an alarm clock on their nightstand, or perhaps an inherited grandfather clock in the living room, or the clock that comes built-in to their oven.

After that, a lot of people don’t give much thought to clocks.  After all, your phone will tell you the time.  But other people do concern themselves with clocks, such as the Swiss watch company MB&F.  They’re all about time, but not in the way that you’d think.

mbf octopod clockAll of MB&F’s timepieces are …unusual, to say the least.  Actually, unusual barely describes it.  The company recently made a super-limited edition watch that featured small aliens.  They also made a desk clock that looked like a rocket ship.

You will remember any timepiece you see from MB&F, and that’s certainly true of their latest clock, the Octopod Clock, which they made in collaboration with longtime clockmaker L’Epee 1839.  This clock, as the name suggests, was created to evoke an octopus.

Designed as a table or desk clock, the Octopod has eight legs which are adjustable, though we’re not really sure what adjusting them might do for you in a practical sense.  You can adjust them, and that will make the clock just a little bit taller (it appears to be about 12″ tall) or a little bit shorter.

mbf octopod clockThe timepiece itself is inside of a spherical unit that sits where the “head” of the octopus might be.  Inside is a movement developed by L’Epee 1839 which has some 159 parts.  These parts are attached to an anti-reflective piece of glass that gives the impression that all of the parts are just floating inside.

The movement is mechanical, and will need to be wound, though we haven’t seen any information about power reserve or how often you will need to wind it.

As with most of MB&F’s products, the Octopod Clock is limited in production.  This particular clock comes in three versions – the stainless steel with black PVD coating, the stainless steel with blue PVD coating, and the palladium model.  Each version is limited to 50 pieces, so don’t expect them to last.

Then again, they might not sell out as quickly as you’d think, given that the price for these clocks is $36,000 each.  Of course, in the case of MB&F, you’re not buying a timepiece, as you can buy a clock for a lot less money than that just about anywhere.

What your’e buying here is art, and the company does make some pretty amazing pieces of art that also happen to tell the time.

They’ve also made quite a name for themselves, given that the company has only been in business for a dozen years or so.  That’s not the case with L’Epee 1839, however.  Their name isn’t just a clever one; it includes the year of the company’s founding.

That’s a lot of time to be making clocks, and rest assured, they’ve gotten quite good at it.  Thanks to their partnership with MB&F and this Octopod Clock, they’ve also gotten pretty weird with it.

But sometimes, weird can be good, and we like this timepiece.



The Clock That Wakens You With Smell

People hate alarm clocks.  The best of them will have a sound that isn’t too harsh but one that is loud enough to awaken you from a deep sleep.  Even then, it’s usually an unpleasant experience to wake up to the sound of an alarm, rather than to awaken naturally.

The Sensorwake, a new alarm clock, hopes to change that.   Citing studies that show that our brains respond strongly to smells as well as sounds, the Sensorwake uses a gentle sound along with various scents to waken you from your sleep.

sensorwakeOriginally offered via Kickstarter, the Sensorwake is a digital clock that uses small cartridges that contain…something that puts off a scent.  The company said that in tests, 100% of the test subjects were awakened within 2 minutes using their clock.

The clock measures about 4 inches on a side, and comes with a single cartridge.  You can choose from a variety of scents, and the current list includes:

  • Seaside
  • Espresso
  • Croissant
  • Chocolate
  • Grass
  • Toast
  • Peppermint

The company’s FAQ page did not mention whether any particular scent was more effective at waking people up than any other, so it can be assumed that they’re all about equally good at doing the job.

It takes 2-3 minutes for the average sleeper to wake up using the Sensorwake, which also makes a sound at alarm time.  Each cartridge lasts approximately 30 days, at which point you can discard it or recycle it.  You can buy the clock with a single cartridge or you can buy it along with a package of 6 at a somewhat discounted price.

The basic price for the clock is $79 and the bundle with 6 scents is currently a bit over $100.

bescent despicable me clockBased on the success of the Sensorwake, the company is now striving for bigger and better things.  The company is now targeting children and licensing products that are tied to major motion pictures, including Frozen, and Despicable Me.

The latter includes a banana scent, which is presumably going to remind waking children of that film’s Minions.  Also in the work is a Barbie-related clock, though I’m not sure exactly what Barbie is supposed to smell like.  Plastic, I suppose.

The nice thing about such licensing is that there are new movies coming along all the time, so there will always be new marketing opportunities.  Plus, unlike regular alarm clocks, which you buy once, with these clocks you get to continue buying new aroma cartridges.

While they’re relatively inexpensive at $5-$6 each, that adds up after a while, and works out to about $75 per year…per child.

Keep in mind that if you have more than one child, they’re each likely going to want their own alarm clock.  If one wants a Despicable Me clock, the other will likely want a Frozen clock.

Looks like a good moneymaking opportunity.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Sensorwake and Bescent (the children’s line) of clocks works and what sort of availability there will be, this PDF can likely help.

If you’re having trouble waking up in the morning, a clock with a pleasant scent is probably a good way to go.



Atomic Clocks the Ultimate in Accuracy

Mechanical clocks have been available for hundreds of years, and during this time, numerous improvements have been made in their accuracy.  Today, the best mechanical clocks and watches are usually accurate to within a minute or two per year, and for most people, that level of accuracy is more than sufficient.

For those who want more accurate timekeeping, there are, of course, clocks and watches with quartz movements.  These are electronic devices that are capable of keeping time within a couple of seconds per year, and they’re highly reliable.

Heathkit GC-1000 radio clock, 1983

Heathkit GC-1000 radio clock, 1983

They’re not as interesting to collectors as mechanical devices, but they are affordable and if you’re interested in fairly accurate time at a good price, then a quartz clock or watch would be a good choice.

For some people however, either by necessity or just out of interest, there are still more accurate clocks and watches available.  These are known as radio clocks.  They’re not clock radios, which are clocks that have AM/FM radios built in so you can listen to music or wake up to your favorite drive-time DJ.

Radio clocks are highly accurate timepieces that receive the correct time over radio waves that are transmitted by government installations that either have an atomic clock on hand or have ready access to one.

Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeeping devices known; they base their timekeeping on the change of state within certain atoms.  The first such clock to demonstrate high accuracy was built in 1955 and used the cesium-133 atom as the basis.

The U.S. government and other governments worldwide have atomic clocks and radio networks that transmit the time from these clocks.  Radio clocks (and now, radio watches) receive a signal from such networks and use them to keep their own timekeeping accurate.  Most radio clocks also have built-in timekeeping mechanisms in order to keep fairly accurate time when access to the radio signal is not possible.

The first affordable commercial radio clock was the GC-1000, made by Heathkit.  It was sold in both kit form ($250) and factory assembled ($400) versions in the early 1980s.  While Heathkit has long since gone out of business, collectors are still interested in these clocks and they sell for a few hundred dollars when they come up for sale today, working or not.

Modern Casio radio watch

Modern Casio radio watch

Radio clocks are today rather inexpensive, and can be purchased for less than $20, though more expensive models are available.  Now, radio watches are also available, and they work on the same principle as the radio clocks.  There is a quartz timekeeping unit within the watch, but it also has a radio receiver which allows it to stay in contact with the much-more-accurate atomic clock.  When it detects a change in the time from the broadcast signal compared with its own time, it automatically changes the time on the watch.

While such watches might have seemed quite expensive at one time, they’re now relatively affordable.  We’ve seen models for sale for less than $100 and you can usually buy them at department stores and big box retailers.

You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an accurate timepiece, but oddly enough, the most accurate timepieces available to consumers are astonishingly affordable.

Unusual Cartier Clocks For Auction

Most clocks are mass produced, and even many older models from 100 years or so ago were mass produced back in their day.  Many of those older clocks are still quite collectible today as time has rendered them rare, regardless of the actual production numbers at the time they were made.

cartier tripod clockOne of a kind, or extremely limited production items, however, tend to truly attract the attention of clock collectors, as you well might understand.  The fewer the numbers, the fewer the occasions on which such items may come up for sale.

That’s why a lot of clock collectors are interested in an upcoming sale by Christies, which includes a number of unusually rare and cleverly designed clocks that were created by jeweler Cartier in collaboration with clocksmiths.

The one that strikes our fancy is an unusual tripod clock.  There is little known about this particular item, other than the fact that it was likely made for an exhibition that took place around 1958.

What is known is this:

The clock is a polyhedral desk clock, signed “Cartier London.”  It was designed by “R. Emmerson” and was made in 1958.

This isn’t your ordinary desk clock, however.  This particular model is made from 18 karat gold, silver, and is set with diamonds.  The timepiece stands 10 inches tall, but don’t let the size fool you.  The expected price range for the auction is $80,000-$120,000.

Cartier Crash watch

Cartier Crash watch

Rupert Emmerson was the designer, and he reportedly made no more than two or three of these pieces.  Emmerson was a longtime designer for Cartier who did some key work for the company from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He also worked on the famous Cartier “Crash” watch, a piece that is highly reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory,” which included a melting clock.

Other clocks to appear at the Christies auction are earlier pieces, several of which evoke a modern, Art Deco look.  We particularly like this silver, lead glass and Lapis Lazuli clock, which is expected to sell for a far more modest $6000 or so.

While the piece does look Art Deco and would appear to be from the 1930s, it was actually made in 1980 as part of a limited edition of 150 pieces.  It stands but 4 inches high and has a quartz movement.

It’s still a nice looking timepiece, though we’re quite taken with the tripod ourselves.  Unfortunately, it’s not only out of our price range, but it’s out of the price range of most everyone we know.