Watches – So How Did They Tell Time In Ancient Egypt Anyway?

Historically, the definition of watches referred to the division of the period between dusk and dawn or the time between sunset and sunrise. Watchmen replaced each other at each of these intervals and the sounding of gongs during the change of shifts was a means of keeping time. Quite often these watchmen were also placed on watch-towers to warn of the approaching of enemies.

The use of the portable and stationary sundial was probably the earliest means of telling time. Some of the oldest sundials can be found in Eygpt dating back to 1500 BCE. In this day of atomic clocks, we still test the accuracy of our clocks and watches by the great timepiece of nature, our sun.

The moon being the most conspicuous of the objects in the night sky was also according the title, The Measurer of Time. The regular and uniform change in its shape through the 30 day monthly cycle helped in specifying date and time information in the absence of modern instruments. For example, tribesmen could specify meeting at dusk on the night of the full moon for a feast to celebrate the coming of spring.

Another historical instrument is the clepsydra or water clock. The principles behind its use were very simple. In the beginning, it was a vessel of water that had a small hole at its base that allowed water to drip out drop by drop. As the level within the container was lowered it showed the time upon a scale. There were issues with the rate of dripping, the size of the hole and the regular refilling of the vessel but once these were resolved one had a very practical means of telling time. The sundial could not be used indoors, at night or in stormy weather but the clepsydra worked equally well anywhere regardless of the weather.

The hourglass in principle was similar to the clepsydra. It simply permitted a flow of fine sand through an opening at a uniform velocity from one funnel shaped compartment to another until one of the compartments had emptied itself. All that needed to be done after that was to turn the hourglass upside down to start the cycle again. The hourglass possessed solid advantages over the clepsydra. It would not freeze or spill and it did not need refilling. It was also run at a steady rate whether the reservoir was full or near empty and it was cheap to make. The origins of the hourglass date back to the third century BCE.

The first watches as we know them were invented in the 1500s. These were bulky cumbersome machines that relied on weight as their driving power. Most were quite inaccurate and only had the single hand for the determination of hourly intervals. The Renaissance period starting with the 17 century gave rise to many unique inventions and innovations that led ultimately to the development of modern wrist watches and clocks as we know them today.

Some of these include the invention of the repeating mechanism that used bells to sound quarter hours in the 1670s, the implementation of the spiral balance spring at around the same time and the invention of the self-winding movement in 1780. A second hand was added in the late 1600s and Roman numerals were added to mark the minutes. Eventually due to the rapid pace of innovative development, a wrist watch would only have to be wound once a day instead of every twelve hours. And today with quartz watches utilizing batteries with up to four years of life, nothing needs to be done except read the time!

Fine watches and clocks today are both a marvel of technology and artistic design. They are a statement of individuality, style, social status or mere practicality. Indispensable instruments for men and women, boys and girls of all ages!

Source by Michael Renais

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