Seiko has been a pillar of the international timekeeping business since they were first established in Japan in 1881. They lay claim to a host of innovative landmarks; Seiko designed Japan’s first wristwatch in 1913, created Japan’s first television ad in 1953, and sold the world’s first quartz wrist-watch (the Seiko Quartz-Astron) in 1969. The multifunction digital watch that we all take for granted today was first offered by Seiko in 1975, and the first watch with computer functions was Seiko’s UC-2000, released in 1984. Seiko has been on the very front lines of new watch technology for nearly two centuries.

Any one of these feats would make Seiko a brand name to reckon with. Their consistently cutting-edge developments with quartz are particularly impressive. Seiko’s quartz time pieces (which initially took up entire rooms, but eventually became smaller and sleeker) have been used as the official timers of global sporting events since the Olympics in 1964 because of their reliable accuracy.  Up until the Seiko Quartz-Astron in 1953, quartz clocks were extremely accurate, but much too bulky to carry around. Seiko found the perfect design to protect the fragile quartz crystal in clocks from jostling or buckling under changing temperature and pressure, even in a small and compact mechanism. They also designed a new battery that would run a quartz mechanism for up to a year without changing, which was record-breaking at the time.

The first Quartz-Astron was incredibly expensive (the Seiko website compares it to the price of a small car in 1953), but its impacts were indisputable. By creating a quartz wrist-watch that anyone could buy, Seiko revolutionized the way that individuals marked and tracked their minutes, hours, and days. In many ways, this marks the start of our modern obsession with exact timekeeping. Seiko’s quartz technology designs are now used in televisions, computers, and even digital cameras.

Swiss clock makers were hot on the heels of Seiko’s quartz developments, and many companies offer similarly intricate digital and computer devices that compare to Seiko’s offerings today. Despite this, Seiko has a proven history of quality, innovation, and reliability that make them a stand-out choice in the global clock and watch market no matter what country you come from. The company still holds the world’s highest-ever score from the Geneva competition for the “best mechanical chronometer” (and that prestige may have resulted in the Geneva competition being open only to European companies every year after that.) The award was well-deserved, and the same impressive legacy of Seiko is available to you today, right here at the Tick Tock Shop.

Elizabeth Tower. Hopsy. The Time Eater. Big Ben. Rosalind. Around the world, in practically every culture, there is a clock with a crazy name attached. In the English language we give a clock a face and hands, and even though it has no legs, we accuse it of running faster than we can keep up with. And it doesn’t just stop with the clocks—multiple societies have anthropomorphized time itself, even if all of them (Old Man Time, Chronos, Zurvan) end up looking like old men with wrinkled faces and long white beards.

Whether we’re talking about Big Ben or Old Man Time, somewhere along the way, human beings have made time into something more than a simple force of the universe. It has become a kind of personality to us, a force that plays with us and interacts in our daily lives. This is hardly a surprise, considering; if time is humanized, it can perhaps be reasoned with. It becomes remotely credible, if we believe the words we use, to attempt to convince time to slow down or speed up, or perhaps cease all together. Many of us (at least I hope other people do this) take to talking to it, as if by staring at the clock and exclaiming, “That can’t be the time!” we will somehow convince the face to wince an apology, and the hands to rewind to give us an extra minute or two. Much of the human lifespan can be tracked in the uneasy, uncertain way that we deal with time. We like it, and we hate it; we rely on it, and we would also like to ignore it. We want to control it more than we do, and we want it to have less weight than it does.

This makes good timekeeping something of a tricky business. On the one hand, most of us want to know what time it is. Accuracy, dependability, and durability are the key words for any good clock, whether it be grandfather or cuckoo, on our wrists or on our walls, or in the dashboards of our cars. We constantly compare one source of time to another: the clock in the kitchen is three minutes fast (to get the kids out the door) and the alarm on the night stand is two minutes slow (to give the eyes a chance to open). In this age of technology, we long for precision and accuracy not just in the clocks on our cellphones and laptops, but also in the more familiar timepieces that we use from day to day.

Yet accuracy alone is not enough. For all our concerns with minutes and seconds, precision and accuracy, we still long for some kind of familiar face as we confront the reality of time. We search for familiarity in the timepieces that we keep. They become old friends to us, bits of history that we can relate to and even befriend as we come to see what time it is. Grandfather clocks, pocket watches, cuckoo clocks, sundials; we come to clocks and watches not just for information, but also for beauty, for memory, and perhaps even for a bit of comfort.

A good time piece, watch or clock, on your wrist or on your wall, fulfills both of these functions: It gives you accurate time and precise measurement, but it also gives you a beautiful thing, a funny thought. Perhaps even a familiar sense of being, if just for one second, in just the right place at the just right time.

Let’s face it: Time-keeping is nothing new. By 4,000 BC, Ancient Egyptians used stone obelisks to tell the time. Huge pieces of rock, carefully cut and carved, were deposited in common areas and near temples so that people walking by could observe the movements of the shadows and estimate the passage of the sun. Right around the same time, people in the British Isles were constructing Stonehenge, a huge stone circle that measured the passage of the stars above in a calendar of years, months, weeks, and even hours.

Before long, humans across the world found their own ways to mark the passage of time, and the majority of them turned to rocks. As sundials became popular in the east, early travelers in the Americas marked out time on the walls of stone dwellings. Even when clock-making began to grow into the sleeker, more modern science that we know it to be today, rocks played an unintentionally large part in the process. When Galileo designed the first pendulum in 1583, he realized that it required weights; as Dutch and German engineers sat down to craft the first spring-form watches in the 1650s, watches and clocks required glass faces and beautiful adornment.

Then, just as watch-making seemed to have surpassed the days of sundials, obelisks, and water weights, Warren Marrison and J.W. Horton invented a new kind of accurate time-keeping while they were working for Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1927. What was their secret? No surprise here: It was rocks.

To be more precise, the key to the modern watch is actually quartz, also known as silicon dioxide. By using quartz to carefully control an electronic oscillator, Marrison and Horton created a watch that had better precision and longevity than any other mechanical clock up until then. Quartz carries electrical signals and can be bent into very specific shapes, which makes it ideal for long-lasting and accurate time measurement.

Today, despite the popularity of atomic time and satellite updates, quartz is the most common clock component on the planet. It is used not just in watches and clocks, but also in a large number of electronic devices that need careful frequency regulation. In other words, in our attempts to become more precise, more modern, and more progressive, we have returned right back to where our ancestors started. We use rocks to tell the time.

Now, the quartz watch on your wrist or the musical clock on the wall of your daughter’s bedroom are certainly no Stonehenge. They take up less space, for one thing, and they don’t require a platoon of strong men to move them. They are not quite obelisks or sundials either, though a good grandfather clock shows some similarities to those community time-keeping devices of old. The history of watch-making is a testament to the human ability to make complicated things smaller and shinier, but it also speaks to the way that a good idea—and a good rock—can withstand the fads of time.

The grandfather clock was a long time coming. Galileo first designed a basic clock pendulum in 1583, but very little was done with this technology until Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer and inventor, created the first real pendulum clock in 1656, when he designed a clock protected  inside a large wooden case that allowed it to stand upright and swing freely. The clocks were called Long Case Clocks and even Coffin Clocks, until British manufacturers decided on the more family-friendly label of Grandfather Clocks, which we know and love today.

Initially, Grandfather Clocks were beautiful and valuable, but they kept poor time. By the 1670s, however, clock-makers discovered that longer pendulums made for more accurate time. Grandfather Clocks grew taller as they grew more precise. In the early 1700s, George Graham discovered the last pieces of the puzzle; by developing a more efficient and precise escapement (a design still used today), and better controlling for the temperature changes within the clock, Graham created a refined and beautiful Grandfather Clock which also kept time within a second’s accuracy per day.

Today, Grandfather Clocks are still valuable for their beauty, longevity, and craftsmanship. As a heirloom, they can connect generations within a family, serving a functional, familiar role as the timekeeper of the house for years to come. No other item in the home can connect us with our past while marking out our time into the future. The mellow chimes of a grandfather clock offer a regular, friendly reminder of the passing of time. The Tick Tock Shop has over 60 Grandfather Clocks in stock and on display:

Whoever coined the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” was only mostly right. Necessity is important, but many of the world’s great mechanical inventions have been moved to production because of another force entirely: competition. These kinds of technological rivalries spring up in every arena, and the results become part of cultural memory. There’s Tesla and Edison. Microsoft and Apple. McDonalds and Burger King. Even the world of clock-making is not exempt; in fact, some of the most important pieces in the modern watch came out of one of these rivalries.

After centuries of time-keeping devices like sundials, water clocks, and sextons, people in the 1600s were anxious for more accurate, more mobile clocks. Astronomers and sailors in particular felt the need for consistent, accurate measurements to help them chart their courses and make better maps of both the sky and the ocean. As a result, much of the excellent technology now available in our watches is owed to Dutch astronomers and scientists who set their minds to the problem of time-keeping nearly four hundred years ago.

Chief among these astronomers were Christiaan Huygens and Robert Hooke: astronomers, mathematicians, and physicists both. Using Galileo’s early concepts of a pendulum, Huygens was the first person to work out the mathematical formula for designing a consistent and accurate clock pendulum, and brought its use into prominence. For those interested in the math, his calculation looks like this:

On the other hand, Hooke invented a new escapement that made the pendulum clock accurate enough to demand the addition of a minute hand which then became common on clocks. These historic breakthroughs by Huygens and Hooke are still used in many mechanical clocks today. Despite the advantages of a pendulum clock for the astronomer, however, this form of time-keeping had little use for a sailor on board the deck of a moving ship. Another more accurate time-keeping device needed to be invented—one which could hold up to travel and the constant movement of a ship at sea.

The race for a new kind of clock was on, and Huygens and Hooke’s real competition began. Independently of each other, both men invented a type of a spring-balanced watch. By exactly measuring the shape and tension of a spring tucked inside the watch, Huygens and Hooke both created small, mobile time pieces that kept accurate time even when they were jostled. Though there were still inaccuracies, the method itself was an unparalleled success, and the method is still used in many modern watches today that include a detached lever escapement.

Hooke and Huygens raced to get the patent for the spring-balance watch, and both men had credible claims to having invented the mechanism first. Unfortunately, Richard Hooke, who was a notorious hothead and continual dueler, ended up cutting his own case short. Hooke was embroiled in any number of disputes with other inventors about his claims to particular theories and inventions; he even argued with Isaac Newton over his claim to gravitational theory.

In the end, Hooke’s argumentative nature got the better of him. He was killed in a duel in 1703 before he could prove his side of the story. In the end, Huygens got the credit for the spring-balance watch and the patent on the pendulum clock. Huygens also went on to patent a pocket watch in 1675. That same year, he also designed a type of internal combustion engine that ran on gunpowder. (The watch worked better.)

Why does all of this matter, you well may ask? In the end, it may turn out to matter entirely. There is an element of impersonal detachment that has become a trend in modern Western consumerism, which tends to tell us that a watch is, in fact, just a watch. And so it might be, but the small crystals and wheels and springs within the timepiece on your wrist were the product of great sweat and blood and tears, and quite a lot of human personality. It is a piece of history: diverse, sometimes conflicting, but still beautiful. The timepieces that we use today, for all their apparent simplicity, are an elegant and compact reminder of the deeply personal nature of clock-making, and a lasting monument to the products of human ambition, intelligence, and initiative.

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