Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Where Has A Better Wrist Gone?

A Better Wrist is on vacation.

Well, actually not vacation. I've been busy writing a book. After writing every day, all day long, from sunrise to sunset, taking breaks only to feed my cat when she reminds me, I'm all out of words. There's nothing left for watches. Sorry.

A Better Wrist will be back when my novel is done.

In the meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter at @billadler and on Goodreads, where you can read more about my books.

Enjoy your watches!

Bill Adler

Monday, January 4, 2016

Watch Complications that Don't Exist, but Should

Some watchmakers put amazing complications on their watches. These complications are even more astonishing considering how much engineering watchmakers are able to fit into a space of under 10 millimeters. Some of the parts that go into these science-defying watches are as thin as a hair. I imagine tiny people, the size of a fingernail, using microscopic tools building these watches.

We know the names of many of these complications: GMT, jumping second hand, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, chronograph, power reserve, retrograde hands, day/night indicators, moonphase and others. Other complications are more esoteric: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso with a zodiacal calendar, Greubel Forsey Invention GMT with its spinning globe, Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon with its starry sky display, Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 with the astronomical moon and leap year indicator, for instance. The Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4, weighing in at $1.4 million, offers 36 complications.

This year Vacheron Constantin released the Reference 57260 pocket watch, the most complicated watch ever made, with 57 functions. In one watch. Remember when the world was simpler and we all thought that Baskin Robbins’ original 31 flavors was a lot?
The Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 is more complicated than any
boyfriend or girlfriend you’ve ever had. Photo from Vacheron Constantin.

Watchmakers aren’t done yet with inventing new complications. I have some ideas:

Cooking timer for different foods, such as chicken, beef, and fish, with weight information built in.

Five-minute countdown timer because so many things are, "Just five more minutes."

Countdown dial until Friday, 5 PM

Cat and dog feeding alarm (arguably superfluous, because cats and dogs will let you know when they’re hungry, but then again, most complications are unnecessary).

Five-second timer to calculate the distance of thunderstorms. (Start timing from the moment you see a lightning flash. It takes five seconds to hear the thunderclap for every mile away that the storm is.)

Watch hands that freeze in place. Press a button and a second set of hands appears and freezes so you can forever record and remember what time something wonderful happened. This complication can be used only once.

Pill-taking reminder alarm, settable in 24-, 12-, 6-, and 4-hour increments.

Monday, December 28, 2015

How Should You Respond to "How Much Is that Watch?"

Advice columnists frequently say that it’s fundamentally rude to ask somebody how much something costs. But really it’s not.

Price is something that many people can wrap their heads around. We’ve all bought things and we all have a foundation for understanding the value of money. The question “How much did you pay?” is often spoken out of genuine curiosity, with not the slightest drizzle of judgement. It’s often a question that people ask because they can’t think of anything else to ask. “How much was your house?” is a better question than “Why did you paint your house yellow?” “How much were those shoes?” is kinder than “Are those shoes comfortable?”

When somebody asks you how much your watch is, that means they have noticed your watch and you should do a happy dance right then and there. Break out the Champagne, too. How often does somebody notice your watch? About as often as cicadas come out of the ground, I bet.

A Thomas Prescher triple axis tourbillon. The watchmaker 
wrote, “The meaning of such a complicated 
timepiece is much more art for art’s 
sake than the search for any improvement of a rate. 
A triple axis tourbillon with its spiral-shaped movement 
takes up far more room in the space of a 
case than either the single or the double axis tourbillons. 
It is especially the unencumbered view that makes the 
tourbillon seem to hover in the air on its three flying axes.... 
A triple axis tourbillon is not only a technical 
masterpiece of the art of watchmaking, 
but it is above all a piece of art that 
draws our eyes to it—magically—a kinetic 
sculpture of time.” Photo from .
Brides magazine offered this advice to a befuddled bride laid siege to by nosy friends and strangers: “In no universe is it ever OK for anyone to ask a woman how much her engagement ring cost. Let us be clear: The only thing someone should say when you flash your rock is ‘It's so beautiful! How did he propose?’ Cut. Scene. End of story.”

That may be true for engagement rings because everyone notices them, like they notice a stretch limo and wonder how much it costs to rent. But because watches are the quintessential under-the-radar accessory, the fact that somebody actually takes an interest in your watch is a like finding a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan for $2,000 a month, or finding a real Rolex Submariner at a flea market for $100. It’s exciting and you should take advantage of that.

So what should you say? You should say two things: the actual price and everything about the watch. The question is, what should you talk about first? The price or your remarkable watch?

Get the price out of the way. Be honest. Don’t worry that the person who’s asking might think that’s an outrageous amount of money to spend on a watch (assuming that it cost a lot of money). The friend, stranger, or family member who’s asking might have an expensive hobby, too. Maybe they collect yachts or breed expensive show dogs. Or not. It doesn’t matter, because the only way to talk about what comes next is to quickly immerse them in the notion that some watches cost a lot. Tell them quickly and get that part over with. Just as it’s better to jump into a cold swimming pool than it is to wade in painfully.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Mondaine Stop2go Will Make You Fall in Love with Quartz

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Nobody will believe that your Mondaine Stop2go watch is a quartz watch, because it has a complication that could only be accomplished through a mechanical movement...or so it seems.

If complications are the cat's pajamas of watches, then the Mondaine Stop2go is a pair of fleece, woolen, cotton, and silk pajamas all wrapped up in one.

Mondaine is the watchmaker that turned the iconic Swiss Federal Railway clocks into fun, energized watches. Mondaine’s red second hand, with its ball at the top, was designed to look like the handheld signal that let train drivers know they could leave the station. Mondaine’s watches are among the most recognizable in the world. They get noticed not because they look like art, but because they are art.

The Mondaine Stop2go’s complication is, I think, one most inventive watch complications ever created. Moon phases, chronometers, GMTs, jumping second hands, minute repeaters, power reserves — they’re a dime a dozen. But the Mondaine Stop2go has a complication that stands all alone in the watch world, because it’s the only one that does this special thing.

Mondaine’s iconic second hand makes a complete rotation across the watch face every 58 seconds, stopping for two seconds at the 12 o’clock position to let the minute hand advance. Think about that. Or rather, take a look at how the Mondaine works, because you won’t see anything else like it on any other watch:

Watching the second hand pause for two seconds gives you a sensation of time stopping. For those two seconds you feel as if time has somehow been broken, but you know that it will resume before you take another breath.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Every Watch Collector Needs a Bold Watch

Every watch collector needs a bold watch.

I'm not talking about a watch with the usual—and amazing—complications. Minute repeaters, moon phases, jumping second hands, chronographs, and subdials may seem bold if you usually wear a vanilla Patek Philippe Calatrava or a Rolex Submariner. When you step up from a Frederique Constant Classic Automatic to a Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Perpetual Calendar, it may feel that by adorning your wrist now with a perpetual calendar, moon phase and date subdial, you're making a bold change.

The bold Egard Passages watch.
Photo by Egard.
But that's not what I'm talking about. While it is a big change to go from a watch that just tells time (and perhaps the date, too) to a watch that hypnotizes with complications, it's not an audacious change.

Watchmakers love compliations and watch wearers do, too. Complications are engineering marvels that make willing slaves of our eyes every time we look at our watches. Complications are like a bridge that spans distant shores, a feat that makes us wonder, "How did they make that?" at the same time as we're in awe of the bridge's beauty.

But a watch with a dozen complications is still not a bold watch.

A boldly different watch is one that's not even shaped like a watch or that uses a technology most watchmakers wouldn't dare to incorporates. It's a wristwatch that's a collaboration between humans now and humans from the future.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The OCD Watch Owner

Do you have an expensive watch? Are you an obsessive compulsive? If you're an OCD luxury watch owner, then you probably tuck your watch to sleep every night in a padded box. You wear long-sleeved shirts even in August to protect your watch. You never wear your "good watches" while performing perilous activities, such as bumper cars and bowling.

You may think that you have your Calatrava or Seamaster protected because you always wrap a towel around your wrist every time you wash your hands in a restroom just in case your watch's waterproof rating isn't working that day. But you're wrong. There are other lurking dangers to your watch that you need to know about right away:

A bank safety deposit box is the only safe place for your
Blancpain Villeret. Photo from Blancpain. 
Holding your cell phone in the same hand as your watch will magnetize your watch.

The bracelet on your new watch will either be one notch too big or too small.

In the summer, humidity will leak into your watch through the crown when you adjust the time, corroding and destroying the movement.

Constant exposure to light and then dark will make the lumes run down.

When you remove your belt, you can easily lose control of the buckle and scratch your watch.

When you enter a country, customs will levy a duty on your watch, even though you've owned it for a decade.

You might lose both arms in a freak farming accident, rendering your watch collection useless.

People will notice your watch and snicker to themselves because they think it's a fake.

Your watch might be a fake.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Watch Art for Your Wall

What do you want for Christmas? Of course: you want your grail watch, the watch you've had your eye on ever since you could pronounce the word escapement.

But I have a better idea for a present: Watch Art. Like this:

Omega Speedmaster Pop Art (Limited Edition of 15) - Diamond Canvas Ltd
 - 1
And this: 

Rolex GMT Diamond Pave Dial (Limited Edition of 10)

Diamond Canvas sells wristwatch art, featuring Rolex, Panerai, Patek, Omega, Cartier, and other brands. There is a variety of art styles for sale, including pop art, interpretive, and realism. This Rolex print, part of Diamond Canvas' realism series, is eye-catching:

Rolex 116610 Triptych (Limited Edition of 10) - Diamond Canvas Ltd
 - 1

Diamond Canvas' prints come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 36 x 16 inches to 60 x 28 inches for rectangular art, and from 16 inches square to 30 inches square for square art.  

They're fun, they're eye-catching, and, if you like watches, why not? Expect to pay about $120 US for one of these limited-edition prints. Diamond Canvas ships worldwide.

You put fun on your wrist every day. Now you can put fun on your wall, too.

5 Pop Art Watches (Limited Edition of 10) - Diamond Canvas Ltd

Photos from Diamond Canvas

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sharper GPS Needs Even More Accurate Atomic Clocks

by Stephen Parker, University of Western Australia

The GPS network might just be Earth’s greatest piece of infrastructure. It’s effectively a collection of clocks in space that serve up time information 24/7 free of charge to anyone on the planet who cares to listen.

 GPS-IIRM satellite. Photo from Wikipedia. 
These timing signals have all sorts of important applications, but most people will be using them to help get from A to B with the aid of GPS navigation tools. Well, actually to within about 10 metres of B. On the scale of humans and cars that’s a fairly substantial margin of error, as anyone who’s missed that left turn can attest to.

Up and coming technologies such as self-driving cars will probably rely upon a combination of local sensing and GPS signals to navigate independently without incident. So any improvement in GPS accuracy would be hugely advantageous in speeding up and rolling out the era of the autonomous car. A GPS receiver listens and compares the different timing signals from the GPS satellites and then uses that information to calculate exactly where on Earth you are.

A variety of factors conspire against the accuracy of GPS navigation. Right now, for most civilians, the primary offender is the Earth’s ionosphere, which interferes with the timing signals as they commute from a satellite to your GPS receiver of choice.

But the second biggest contribution of error comes from the stability of the clocks onboard the GPS satellites.

Timing is everything

Every single GPS satellite is home to a family of atomic clocks (typically four) that derive their time from cesium (Cs) or rubidium (Rb) atoms.

What is actually being measured in these clocks is the energy difference between two specific atomic states. When an atom changes from the high-energy state to the lower energy state, the energy difference is emitted in the form of light. The frequency, or ticking rate, of this light is what we count and how we define time. The crucial part is that, fundamentally, this energy difference is always the same.

All clocks – be they wrist, grandfather, atomic or otherwise – have some level of intrinsic error that causes them to lose seconds or drift away. Left to their own devices, the atomic clocks on board the GPS satellites would drift, meander or dawdle about by 10 nanoseconds a day. That may not sound like much, but if you go ahead and multiply by the speed of light, you arrive at a GPS position error of three metres.

Thankfully, the GPS network is well monitored and corrections are applied to keep the clocks in-line, so that they are only responsible for about one or two metres of position error.

There is lots of work underway to improve the accuracy of GPS navigation, including different broadcast methods that can effectively eliminate the influence of the ionosphere. But, ultimately, the performance of the clocks is fundamental to GPS. Clock technology is advancing all the time and with it comes lots of new opportunities for discovery and applications.

Improved accuracy

Here at the University of Western Australia our research group is building an optical lattice clock based on ytterbium (Yb) atoms.

In addition to the ytterbium atoms, we also have an ultra-stable laser and a frequency comb: all the necessary components to produce an incredibly accurate optical atomic clock.

The UWA ytterbium lattice clock. Romain Bara-Maillet and John McFerran,
Author provided

This type of clock is currently one of the best that you can make, with similar designs elsewhere achieving accuracies 100,000 times better than what you would find on a GPS satellite.They are purported to be accurate at the level of 10-18 of a second. If two such clocks started running when the universe began 13.8 billion years ago, to this day they would agree to within 1 second.

When complete, the lattice clock will be the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere. The clock, along with our other cutting-edge time and frequency technologies, will form a ground-station at UWA for participating in space-clock comparison experiments.

In fact, we need this impressive clock in Australia to play a crucial role in an upcoming European Space Agency experiment.

Missions in space

The Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES) mission will place a different type of cold-atom clock on board the International Space Station (ISS), one that is about 1,000 times more stable than your typical run-of-the-mill GPS atomic clock.

The ACES mission is on track for a 2017 launch. Successfully getting this thing up in to space and operating on the ISS without incident will be a pretty significant achievement by itself. It is an important stepping stone on the path towards setting up future space-clock networks.

Over the course of a few years the timing signal produced by the ACES clock will be compared against different types of clocks all over the world, including the ytterbium clock under development at UWA.

This will allow us to undertake some important tests of fundamental physics, such as testing gravitational redshift and searching for subtle changes in the fundamental constants of nature.

Outside of space missions there are still a whole bunch of things you can do with an extremely stable and accurate optical lattice clock. For example, as the ticking rate of these clocks is strongly dependent upon the strength of the local gravitational field, two clocks separated by 30cm height already run at noticeably different rates. This could eventually lead to a network of such clocks being used to accurately map out the Earth’s gravitational field, which could be useful for minerals exploration.

Even though scientific progress can sometimes feel a bit slow, it’s only a matter of time before advanced clocks are going to be incorporated into upgraded GPS satellites and helping to accurately drive your (presumably autonomous) car here, there and everywhere.

The Conversation
Stephen Parker, Research Associate, University of Western Australia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Stolen Rolex Sold at Christie's

Imagine your surprise—and sadness—if your Rolex was stolen.

But imagine your even greater surprise if your stolen Rolex was auctioned by Christie's...for $92,000.

That's what happened to Dave Siggins of Wichita, Kansas. In 2006, Siggins received an Oyster Perpetual, reference 14060M, from his employer, Big Dog Motorcycles, for ten years of service to the company. Just two weeks after putting on his watch for the first time, his house was burgled, and the Rolex, along with other jewelry, was stolen.

Ten years later, Siggins' wife, Jenny, who had been looking for the watch ever since it was stolen, found that it had been sold by Christie's.

Where Siggins' Rolex is now and whether he'll get it back or be compensated is the "to be continued" part of this story.

Rolexes are, unfortunately, the most sought-after watch by thieves. Steal one, sell one.

The Christie's auction catalog page for Dave Siggins' Rolex.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Watch Your Watch When Going Through Airport Security

This recent headline caught my eye:

TSA Worker Swiped $7,500 Watch From Passenger at JFK, Prosecutors Charge

DNAInfo writes: “The passenger put the watch in a plastic bin to go through an x-ray machine, according to a criminal complaint. When he left the screening area without the watch, [the TSA screener] nabbed the accessory and took it into a bathroom, according to prosecutors. She then returned to the security checkpoint and saw other agents looking for the watch, got nervous and went back into the bathroom and destroyed the watch.”

A watch is easily pocketable. If you want your
Blancpain to remain your Blancpain,
wear it through airport security. Photo from
While the chance of any single passenger having something stolen while passing through airport security is miniscule, it does happen, and you could be that miniscule statistic. RT News reports: “A TSA agent convicted of stealing more than $800,000 worth of goods from travelers said this type of theft is ‘commonplace’ among airport security. Almost 400 TSA officers have been fired for stealing from passengers since 2003.”

It’s not just TSA agents who (again very rarely, but sometimes) steal from passengers. Professional thieves also know that valuable objects—computers, cash, watches, jewelry—are separated from passengers while they’re in the airport security abyss. The thieves’ method is insidious. The travel blog Flying with Fish describes their system: “They find the lowest fare for travel from a high traffic airport and check in early online. By checking in online these thieves can have their boarding pass for a 9:00 pm flight 24 hours before boarding the plane, and get through security when the security checkpoint opens at 5:00 am. The thieves spend their day people watching...The ‘professional airport thief’ has a subtle way of getting in line behind their target.”

Passengers sometimes just steal other passengers’ stuff on a whim, according to USA Today. Quoting Florida Broward County Sheriff Captain Roy Lidicott, the newspaper reports: "Most of them didn't come here with the intention to steal but they see that laptop, they see that $5,000 watch. They're overwhelmed with greed, I suppose, and they just grab it."

The airport security threshold is a risky place.