Time, and its inevitable passing, is how we shape our existence. From start to end. Time is by definition hard to define, yet it consumes our lives, against our will. Our relationship to time has become increasingly important as modern society demands timeliness and consideration for past and future. How we perceive time is unique to each of us, but how we map time has always been a singular practice: Watchmaking.
There is a certain contradicting element behind the practice of mapping time. It can be mapped in three categories, past, present and future. A modern way of mapping these categories would be by use of a stopwatch (past time tracked), a clock (current time) or an alarm (future time).
Mankind pursues control. Control of fire, physics, chemistry, biology and every other element surrounding us, but the one element that man is yet to control is time. Time is always ahead; never to be paused, stopped or fast-forwarded. This relationship between mankind and time has sparked my interest to examine how time is being mapped through the art of watchmaking.
In modern times, electronic devices have replaced the need for a mechanical wristwatch and turned wristwatches from a necessity to a status symbol and a luxury. This development has amplified the inherent unique value proposition of a mechanical watch – a man built device – designed to harness and catalogue time through ingenious and intricate methods. When I think of the similarities between a watch and a map of a city, there are several things that come to mind.
Data can disrupt the user experience and understanding of a city map if not presented correctly (clutter or lack of clear relevance). The data of a watch (the empirical data) is the ‘how’ of time mapping – the mechanical function behind the timekeeping. These functions range from common and simple to extremely rare, which can be expensive and difficult to produce.
I will be critiquing a wristwatch with several data layers and filters, however, I must introduce some data points (mechanical functions) that are used to keep track of and display time on the dial of a watch.
Hand wound: A hand wound watch requires the owner to wind the watch up by hand, in order for the movement to keep running.
Automatic: An automatic watch depends on weights attached to the movement to wind itself, harnessing the centrifugal power from wearing the watch.
Tourbillon: A tourbillon aims to counter the effects of gravity by mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage, to negate the effect of gravity when the timepiece (thus the escapement) is stuck in a certain position. By continuously rotating the entire balance wheel/escapement assembly at a slow rate (typically about one revolution per minute), positional errors are averaged out. Originally an attempt to improve accuracy, tourbillons are still included in some expensive modern watches as a novelty and demonstration of watchmaking virtuosity. The mechanism is usually exposed on the watch’s face to show it off.
Minute repeater: A repeater is a complication in a mechanical watch or clock that audibly chimes the hours and often minutes at the press of a button. Simple repeaters strike the number of hours, while minute repeaters chime the time down to the minute, using separate tones for hours, quarter hours, and minutes. They originated before widespread artificial illumination, to allow the time to be determined in the dark, and were also used by the visually impaired. Now they are mostly valued as expensive novelties by watch and clock enthusiasts
My map critique will be of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime.
This watch is an attempt to incorporate 20 complications, 1366 components, 7 years of development and 2 years of production into one $2.6 million wristwatch, making this “map of time” a truly rare and exclusive example. My critique will consider the way time is being mapped and displayed on the watch.
As in any regular map, too many filters or layers could result in lack of legibility, where too much information could clutter the map and be an obstruction rather than an enabler for understanding.
Despite the obstruction caused by half of the dial being unreadable as it is worn against the wrist, the dial poses some challenges on its own. The amount of information is overwhelming to say the least. Far too much information crammed into limited space makes the dial difficult to read. The hand carved pattern of the case also makes it hard to distinguish what the levers and pushers on the side represent.
Other than the obvious visual opulence of the watch, it also represents more existential problems when it comes to its mapping capabilities. The purpose of wearing a watch is to be kept informed about the passing of time at a glance. In this example, the information load is too great for the user to read the “map” quickly, going against the very principle of a watch.
The term “mapping time” is ambiguous, just like time itself is ambiguous in that it is raw data which holds no value, and once it has passed, it can never be reproduced or repurposed. This is why time is valued not by its inherent qualities, as there are none, but by the emotional connections we attach to our experience of it.
This specific “mapping of time” is successful because it is attaching novelty and emotions to its practice, but unsuccessful because of its distractions from the purity and effortlessness of time and its passing.
“The reason why I wear a watch is not to keep an eye on time, but to appreciate the moments where I’ve lost track of time”
My prototype will examine how to map time, mixing traditional techniques and craftsmanship with modern aesthetics and technologies for intuitive legibility and use across multiple platforms.
For a truly immersive user experience, the prototypes vantage point will be the traditional look and functionality of a classic wristwatch, mixed with the connectivity and customizability of modern digital devices, a hybrid of sorts. The prototype will make better use of the features of the watch, by allowing the user to transfer the information showcased on the dial of the watch, onto any digital screen using hand gestures.
In order to further appreciate the inner workings of the watch, the user would also be able to broadcast an interior view of his movement to a digital screen. This practice will help show the process of the time being mapped and will help connect the data to the map.
With integrated digital qualities, seamless “shareability” and a traditional movement and look, this prototype will truly appreciate the process behind timekeeping and the art of mapping time – giving the user the power to watch time being mapped in real time.