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What Time Is It Really?
Today you and I carry around a magical gizmo crafted from silicon and glass that does almost everything we can imagine. Besides serving as a telephone, our cellular devices work as flashlights, typewriters, credit cards, datebooks, calculators, guitar tuners, cameras, photo albums, kitchen timers, portable computers, and stopwatches. In fact, they do pretty much everything that a Swiss Army knife doesn’t do. Cellphones are so widespread today it’s estimated that more people around the world have cellphones than toothbrushes.
But before multi-purpose cellphones became ubiquitous, people carried various single-function devices to do each different job – cameras, video cameras, slide rules, compasses, pens and notebooks, tape recorders, thermometers, remote controls, or whatever specific tool they needed to do whatever job it was they needed to do.
People also wore wristwatches. That is, until cellphones, and then the Internet-connected smartwatches that followed them, replaced watches as well.
Even though they’ve become superfluous today, my interest in gizmos and gadgets is perfectly captured by wristwatches. And not just any watches by the way, I’m particularly fascinated by tool watches.
Tool watches are the timekeeping devices created in days past to do certain jobs. Just like Collies and Australian Shepherds were specifically bred to help ranchers herd cows and sheep, tool watches were specially designed to do very specific tasks.
My humble little collection includes timepieces created for SCUBA divers, pilots, race car drivers, world travelers, and polo players.
Polo players? Yes, I’m fascinated by how one of the watches flips over to protect the crystal from being shattered by a speeding polo ball. Another can time an entire race at the same time it tracks individual laps, while a third remains accurate despite the pressure of a 1,200-foot-deep dive, and a fourth is armored to maintain accuracy despite the inexorable magnetic pull of the North or South Pole.
The irony is that even though my iPhone can do most of those things, I don’t really need to do any of them. I’ve never been on a polo pony, I’ve never dove deeper than 136 feet, I haven’t trekked to either pole, and I’m not a pilot.
The watches that ride on my wrist aren’t constructed of gold or platinum, they’re not festooned with jewels, and they won’t impress the doorman at any trendy club. Dilettantes and rappers wouldn’t wear any of them, and no one’s ever given one as a gift to celebrate a graduation or anniversary. Truth is, most people don’t even notice them.
Perhaps the most interesting watch I have is a Glycine Airman.
First introduced at the 1955 Basel Watch Fair, the Airman was designed for pilots who crossed time- and datelines and needed to know the time across multiple destinations.
What Time Is It Really?
Instead of tracking time in typical twelve-hour AM/PM increments like other watches, the Airman presents time across 24 hours. The day is broken down into six-hour quarters, where 6 AM is marked at the spot that usually represents 3:00, 12 PM is situated at 6:00, and 6 PM is at the spot usually reserved for 9:00. At high noon, the hour hand is pointing to the bottom of the dial, while at midnight it’s pointing at the top.
Although I have absolutely no practical need for the unique function the watch provided to pilots, it has done something exceptional for me – it’s made me think about time differently, dividing up the 24-hour cycle in a way I’ve never thought of before. With typical watches, 24 hours is divided into two sections of 12 hours each – day and night. But with a 24-hour dial, the day is divided up differently. Wearing my Airman makes me both more aware of the time passing and more productive with the time I have.
Needless to say, if I only want to look at the time I can see it on my phone, my computer, my dashboard, and lots of other places. But if I want to look at the time differently, I only have to look at the 50-year-old watch on my wrist.
I’m sure the watch’s designers never thought of THAT function. But for me it’s both fascinating and valuable. And it’s something my cellphone will never give me – no matter how many other amazing things it can do.