The Watch Eclectic

My friend Peter has made up a slogan for the station: “WWVB, all time, all the time.”

Zeit Synctime WatchI have this fascination with watches. I can’t tell you why, because I don’t know why!

It probably started on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where buying knockoff watches is a sport enjoyed by three generations of my family.

Over time, Helaine has bought me some really nice watches too, including the one pictured. Made in Germany, it is identified on the face as Synctime. Whether that’s really the manufacturer or the name of the model has not been established.

This watch has a tiny radio inside. Every morning at 1:00 AM, it listens for a signal from WWVB in Boulder, CO (My friend Peter has made up a slogan for the station: “WWVB, all time, all the time”), and then resets itself to the correct time.

I’m not sure how a little wristwatch can hear this very low frequency station, but it does. It doesn’t catch it every night, but I’ve still never seen it drift off even a second. Because the station is on a frequency well below the AM broadcast band, the antenna should be extremely long. Obviously, that’s no impediment.

It has had its band repaired twice and the stem replaced once. The crystal has a few deep gouges. It does not take a licking and keep on ticking.

When I first got the watch, I’d send it to Chicago every year or so to get the little button battery changed. The process was described by the importer as difficult. It is. I know, because tonight, I changed the battery.

You know it’s time to replace the cell inside because when the second hand points to the “12”, it stops for five seconds, then races to the “1.” That’s disconcerting the first time you see it. Watches aren’t supposed to do that.

There are four tiny screws on the back of the case and another tinier one that holds the battery inside. A rubber grommet, probably meant to keep it watertight, immediately pops off as soon as the case is dismantled.

Wearing a set of magnifying lenses, I made the change in about 15 minutes. Then, pushing the stem in a staccato fashion, I electromechanically lined the hands up at 12:00:00. From there, it was placed it on a windowsill.

I waited. The instructions say recalibration can take five days! Until the clock ‘hears’ WWVB, the hands don’t move at all.

Tonight, it only took around 10 minutes. Once the signal is heard, the hands race around the face, stopping at the correct time… in California. A pull of the stem and twist of its knob, moves the hour hand, one hour at a time, until EDT is reached.

I love this watch. It’s thin and stylish (though its band has sometimes wreaked havoc on my shirt cuffs) and still 100% geek approved.

3 thoughts on “The Watch Eclectic”

  1. Geoff: I think all the WWV frequencies are *above* the AM broadcast band.

    Broadcast Frequencies

    WWV operates in the high frequency (HF) portion of the radio spectrum. The station radiates 10,000 W on 5, 10, and 15 MHz; and 2500 W on 2.5 and 20 MHz. Each frequency is broadcast from a separate transmitter. Although each frequency carries the same information, multiple frequencies are used because the quality of HF reception depends on many factors such as location, time of year, time of day, the frequency being used, and atmospheric and ionospheric propagation conditions. The variety of frequencies makes it likely that at least one frequency will be usable at all times.

    Jim W6EU

    Truckee, CA

  2. No – it’s below the AM dial. WWVB is like WWV, just different:

    NIST radio station WWVB is located on the same site as WWV near Fort Collins, Colorado. The WWVB broadcasts are used by millions of people throughout North America to synchronize consumer electronic products like wall clocks, clock radios, and wristwatches. In addition, WWVB is used for high level applications such as network time synchronization and frequency calibrations.

    Signal Description

    WWVB continuously broadcasts time and frequency signals at 60 kHz. The carrier frequency provides a stable frequency reference traceable to the national standard. There are no voice announcements on the station, but a time code is synchronized with the 60 kHz carrier and is broadcast continuously at a rate of 1 bit per second using pulse width modulation. The carrier power is reduced and restored to produce the time code bits. The carrier power is reduced by 17 dB at the start of each second, so that the leading edge of every negative going pulse is on time. Full power is restored 0.2 s later for a binary “0”, 0.5 s later for a binary “1”, or 0.8 s later to convey a position marker. The binary coded decimal (BCD) format is used so that binary digits are combined to represent decimal numbers.

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