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    The Second Hand: Why Is It Useful?

    The second hand on your watch may be more important than you think. Read more to learn about watch hacking and how the second hand is used for this.

    Watches are not only essential items now. They are also important fashion items that can complement any style. With a great increase in the popularity of watches from different brands, they are being created in more versatile and unique designs. From affordable brands to luxury ones, and from analog to digital watches, most of them will have a second hand. Have you ever wondered why most companies never take out the second hand from their watches?

    Second Hand Wristwatch Installation
    Installation Process of the Second Hand of a Wristwatch

    Did you know that this fine needle is way more important than you might think? In this article, you will learn about how the second hand in your watch came to exist and why it is an invaluable part of the device now.

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    A Brief History of the Second Hand of Watches

    Did you know that the second hand on your watch was introduced much later than the hour and minute hands? Yes, the second hand was not there until the 15th century and gradually became popular after the 20th century. They were first seen on German watches, mainly on pocket watches and specialized scientific clocks. An addition of a “fourth wheel” by watchmakers that would have a rotation period of one minute was the backbone of the second hand. The second hand initially had a different sub-dial and was not moved to the center of the main dial, co-axial to the minute and hour hand until the 20th century. Now, most watches have a second hand and it is quite uncommon for a watch not to have one.

    Is Your Watch Working?

    Almost all of us wear watches every day. The one thing you would always look at to make sure that your watch is working properly is the second hand. A quick look at your second hand, and you know that your watch is working. If it moves in the proper rhythm, your watch is fine. If not, it’s time to change batteries or get a new watch. It is also known as an “operating indicator” for your watch. The ever-moving second hand on a watch makes it feel more alive and is just fun to look at.

    The Heart of Your Watch

    The second hand on your watch is actually the heart of your watch. Even though there are multiple components of a watch, such as a mainspring, a balance wheel, a gear train, etc, the watch functions by a single mechanism. There are a series of wheels in a watch. The movement of the wheel that causes the second hand to move is responsible for the movement of the minute and hour hand respectively. This means that your watch would just stop if the second hand was not there.

    Now if you own a watch that has no second hand, to begin with, then that is a whole other topic.

    Watch Hacking

    Watch hacking is a fancy term for synchronizing and resetting your watch. If you have a mechanical watch, how do you reset the time? There is a screw with a crown on the side of the watch which, when pulled, will stop the watch, and then you can rotate it to adjust the time. By pulling the crown, it causes the brake or a lever in the movement to touch the balance wheel. As a result, the movement will ultimately come to a halt. This process is called watch hacking. However, this is only possible for mechanical watches.

    Resetting a Mechanical Watch via the Crown
    Resetting a Mechanical Watch via the Crown

    So how does the second hand play an important role in this? Watch hacking is also known as the “stop-seconds function”. This means that this process requires stopping the second hand. If there were no secondhand, you would not be able to synchronize your watch. Once you pull the crown you will see that the second-hand stops moving. That is how you basically know that your watch has stopped.

    Now, match your watch hands with a reference time and then push the crown down to start your watch again.

    This method is definitely important for all of us using watches but has been crucial in the military where each soldier synchronizes their watches with each other so that actions can be carried out more precisely.

    You might want to wait for the second hand to reach 12 before turning the crown so that once the watch starts, the timing will be more accurate.

    Back Hacking

    Do you own an automatic watch? If that is the case then you must be wondering what the second hand in your watch does. The process by which automatic watches are reset is known as back hacking. You will see a crown in these watches too. Turn the crown gently counterclockwise while in the time setting position. Given that the hands of a clock always rotate clockwise, you now understand why this technique is referred to as “back hacking.”

    Although back hacking is important for resetting automatic watches and is sometimes unavoidable, it is recommended not to repeat it several times and it negatively impacts your watch.

    More Precise Time Keeping

    There are sixty whole seconds in a minute. So if you want more precise and accurate timekeeping, you have to rely on the second hand. This function is important in timers mostly. So, in order to carry out and measure small tasks like climbing the stairs, drinking a glass of water, or maybe participating in some type of competition, measuring seconds is essential.

    If you have a chronograph watch then you will notice that there are large central seconds for the chronograph function. They usually have a subdial for running seconds or sometimes no hands at all. Chronograph watches are high in demand because of their accurate second measurements which are important in terms of measuring speed or distance rather than time.

    If you are someone who goes out on a run every morning or evening, you know exactly what we are talking about. Observing the second hand during your exercise period will help you keep a note on your progress as you can tell how far you have run in a certain amount of time. In this case, if you only measured this time in minutes, you would not be able to see much progress. But as soon as you start counting the seconds, you will see that you did come a long way because every second count.

    Also, how would you count down to a new year or your friends’ birthdays if there were no second hand on your watch?

    Aesthetic Purposes

    The second hand in watches have become so common nowadays that without it a watch looks broken or incomplete. Second hands are also commonplace for wall clocks. Some clocks even have pendulums to account for the second hand. For stylistic purposes, some second hands are now designed in a separate color from the hour and minute hands, and sometimes these colors glow in the dark! One of the most modern additions is perhaps the gliding motion of the second hand instead of its more common tick-tock motion.

    Top luxury brands like Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, and Blancpain all have second hands on their watches. Affordable brands like Seiko, Citizen, Alpina, and Invicta are no different when it comes to the second hand.

    Medical Purposes

    Did you know that a healthy human heart precisely beats 70 times per minute on average? You might have noticed while visiting a doctor that they check their watches while placing a stethoscope on your chest. Why do they do that? They try to match every beat with every second. If your heart beats slower than that then you may have a problem. Also, they can calculate your heart rate by counting the number of beats per ten seconds.

    What About Digital Watches?

    Yes, you would miss out on the clicking sound and motion of the second hand if your watch is digital but digital watches also come with a second display as well. So don’t worry if you own a digital watch. As long as you can count seconds on your watch, irrespective of the type of watch, you can get all the benefits.

    If you own a smartwatch, it certainly gives you a lot of added benefits. In terms of measuring your exercise information and health, such as heart rate and blood pressure, it still uses the same principle of measuring seconds.

    Smartwatch with Heart Rate Monitor
    Smartwatch with Heart Rate Monitor

    The second hand on your watch might not seem very useful. But if you take a closer look, you will eventually realize that it has so many functions. After all, it was introduced after the minute and hour hand. It would not be added if it had no purpose at all.

    David Novak
    David Novak
    For the last 20 years, David Novak has appeared in newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV around the world, reviewing the latest in consumer technology. His byline has appeared in Popular Science, PC Magazine, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Electronic House Magazine, GQ, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, Newsweek, Popular Mechanics, Forbes Technology, Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Glamour Magazine, T3 Technology Magazine, Stuff Magazine, Maxim Magazine, Wired Magazine, Laptop Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly, Indiana Business Journal, Better Homes and Garden, CNET, Engadget, InfoWorld, Information Week, Yahoo Technology and Mobile Magazine. He has also made radio appearances on the The Mark Levin Radio Show, The Laura Ingraham Talk Show, Bob & Tom Show, and the Paul Harvey RadioShow. He’s also made TV appearances on The Today Show and The CBS Morning Show. His nationally syndicated newspaper column called the GadgetGUY, appears in over 100 newspapers around the world each week, where Novak enjoys over 3 million in readership. David is also a contributing writer fro Men’s Journal, GQ, Popular Mechanics, T3 Magazine and Electronic House here in the U.S.

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