2010-03-20

Automatic watches work in space

"An automatic watch will not work in space, because
there's no gravity there."

You sometimes hear or read the above as an explanation for why some models of watches used in space are manual wind instead of automatic. This explanation is not quite right.

It has been suggested in some watch information that when spaceflight was new, one didn't know for certain that automatic watches would work when worn by spacefarers, as the reason behind pace models being manual wind. There is some kind of reason to this, since it wasnt's very farfetched to think that the wearer would float around more or less motionless most of the time. (Obviously n automatic watch doesn't wind if it's motionless.) In practice it didn't turn out that way, you consume lots of calories during spaceflight.


The real reason for early manual wind watches in space

For example, in Breitling's own catalogue it's clearly written that the Cosmonaute model (a chronograph) was introduced in 1962 and that the company invented the automatic wind chronograph in 1965. The Speedmaster was chosen in 1965 and Omega didn't introduce an automatic variant until 1973. The manual one was submitted to NASA for the 1978 selection and adopted. I don't know, but his might have had to do with better ability to withstand the possibly severe environment.

And since then, there has been at least one kind of autmatic chronograph in space, Sinn's 142 St S for the first time in 1985.


How automatics work without gravity

It's correct that in a gravity field, you can keep a watch stationary and rotate it, which makes the rotor turn and wind the watch. Like for instance in a watch winder, which would not wind watches in zero gravity.

But that's not the only way you can get the rotor to turn:


Imagine placing a watch flat on a table and pushing it back and forth. Of course the rotor would turn, but you haven't involved gravity in the least.

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