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What is a hacking movement?

Early development

WWI and the interwar years

Not cyber hacking...

Hacking in the computer world means something entirely different than in the horology universe. When it comes to digital hacking, the connotation is strictly negative unless you are a white-hat hacker, doing good for the masses by engaging in vulnerability testing. Yes, in cyberland, the good guys wear white hats, and the bad ones wear black hats. Not literally, of course; it is an analogy to the action Westerns of the silver screen!

Here is a succinct definition from Techopedia.com
 
Hacking is the catch-all term for any type of misuse of a computer to break the security of another computing system to steal data, corrupt systems or files, commandeer the environment or disrupt data-related activities in any way.
 
It should also state that it is often, but not always, done for "fun" and profit. But you didn't come here for a cybersecurity lesson. You are here to learn about a hacking movement in watches.

While not as much of a necessity as in the past, the hacking complication pays tribute to the history of horology and adds another bit of cool factor to the timepiece.

- Chaz Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches

Horological hacking

A hacking watch movement is one that stops the movement momentarily so that it can be synchronized with a trusted time source or with other watches. If you are a fan of WWII movies, the troops frequently synchronize their watches before starting a mission. In combat, military action is dependent on precise timing and positioning. And this is the reason the hacking movement was developed.
 
So, how exactly does a hacking movement work? Glad you asked. The beat manager of the mechanical movement is the escapement wheel. This frail-looking gear with widely spaced teeth works continuously to control the movement of the watch's hands. Rather than reinvent the wheel or at least the definition of this wheel, let's see what Wikipedia has to say on the topic.
 
"The escape wheel teeth alternately catch on two fingers called pallets on the arms of the pallet lever, which rocks back and forth. The other end of the lever has a fork which engages with an upright impulse pin on the balance wheel shaft. Each time the balance wheel swings through its center position, it unlocks the lever, which releases one tooth of the escape wheel, allowing the watch's wheels to advance by a fixed amount, moving the hands forward. As the escape wheel turns, its tooth pushes against the lever, which gives the balance wheel a brief push, keeping it swinging back and forth."
 
Here is a simplified 3D model of the escapement wheel (1) and pallet (2) by Constantin Stancescu.

Now, check out this cool drawing by Mirzek Kameric. Pull the stem to the winding position (1), the lever moves into the teeth of the escapement wheel (2), and the entire escapement train stops. The Pallet is shown (3).

Now that you know how the escapement wheel works, how does hacking work, and what does this gear have to do with it? The premise is simple - when the crown is pulled out to set the time, a lever moves into the teeth and stops the escapement wheel from moving, enabling you to set the minute, hour, and seconds hands simultaneously. Presto-chango, all watches are now at the same time, at least for the time being.

In five short years following Bleriot's flight, Europe and most of the rest of the world was plunged into the horror of WWI. Dirigibles and observation balloons were still in use but eventually succumbed to the rapidly developing airplanes. Watches and compasses now served to guide bombers to targets to deliver their ordnance as accurately as possible.

The airplanes of WWI were often hard to control. That meant the pilot was ill-advised to take his hands off the controls to retrieve his pocket watch. The same value that leads Santos-Dumont to seek a solution carried full force into combat.

Most aerial combat during WWI occurred during the day due to lack of proper instruments and lights. Bad weather almost always grounded the planes of the time. So watches did not need large quantities of luminescence. The just needed to be easy to read. Therefore, the iconic black dial and large contrasting Arabic numerals became standard issue.

As a result of experiences in WWI, U.S. Navy captain Philip Van Horn Weems designed an independently adjustable seconds ring. This feature allowed pilots to accurately synchronize their watch with a radio time signal without stopping the sweep seconds hand. Although "hacking" watch movements to allow everyone in a combat unit to synchronize their watches to the second, the practice could result in throwing pilots off course, ruin missions, and risk the airplane and crew.

Following his successful trans-Atlanic flight in 1927, Charles Lindbergh collaborated with Weems to develop the Hour Angle system which further enabled the wristwatch to determine longitude.

The German military specified a design that set the standard for what we think of as a classic pilot's watch today. By 1936, aviation advances allowed airplanes to fly at all hours and in foul weather (although grounding in severe conditions was common). The result was the Beobachtungsuhr (B-Uhr), or Observer.

The watch world is a rich tapestry of innovation and creativity. Advances are more often than not driven by real-world needs, and the hacking movement is a perfect example.

- Esti Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches

Do I need a hacking movement today?

Wellll (imagine a drawn-out well in a Southern accent - don't worry, I am from the South) that depends. Some say why and others say why not? I possess a couple of watches with hacking movements and confess to have never taken advantage of the capability. But it is a cool complication nonetheless.
 
While researching this article, one article opined that a hacking movement is an excellent way of assessing the accuracy of your mechanical timepiece. Sync to a known accurate source and see how closely your watch keeps pace. I had not thought of that. I am a watch geek, but not that big a one.

Are there other hacking movements?

The majority of automatic movements do not stop the second hand when the stem is pulled out. I could not find out why this is the case, but it seems to be.
 
While we're at it, are there quartz hacking movements? Not "officially," but when you pull out the stem on a quartz watch, it stops using power. No power, no secondhand movement.
 
This feature allows manufacturers to put a battery in each watch, test it to make sure everything functions, then turn off the power for shipment, storage, etc. Long storage and shelf time can eat up a lot of battery life. When a battery dies quickly, consumers become upset. We know what that leads to, right?

Wrapping it up

Hacking movements were developed to meet a serious military need like pilots and divers watches. The military doesn't need the capability anymore because of sophisticated digital alternatives. But nothing says a watch geek, freak, or fan shouldn't have one in their collection. Who knows, a solar flare might fry all that fancy electric stuff leaving you in charge of synchronizing the recovery.

Contents

Early development

Not cyber hacking...

Hacking in the computer world means something entirely different than in the horology universe. When it comes to digital hacking, the connotation is strictly negative unless you are a white-hat hacker, doing good for the masses by engaging in vulnerability testing. Yes, in cyberland, the good guys wear white hats, and the bad ones wear black hats. Not literally, of course; it is an analogy to the action Westerns of the silver screen!

Here is a succinct definition from Techopedia.com
Hacking is the catch-all term for any type of misuse of a computer to break the security of another computing system to steal data, corrupt systems or files, commandeer the environment or disrupt data-related activities in any way.
It should also state that it is often, but not always, done for "fun" and profit.
But you didn't come here for a cybersecurity lesson. You are here to learn about a hacking movement in watches.

Given the fact that Santos-Dumont was a regular participant at the airshows of the day, other pilots exhibited one of the earliest known examples of wrist envy. As a result, the pilot's watch soon became a "must-have" instrument in the cockpit. And, not just for "keeping up the the Santos-Dumonts" reasons. Advances in powered flight were enabling planes to fly further and faster. With a reliable watch and a compass, pilots had the tools they needed to calculate time-speed-distance, determine when to move to the next leg of a flight, judge how much fuel was left, and generally be safer in the air.

Pilot Louis Bleriot wore a Zenith wristwatch when he made aviation history being the first to fly an airplace across the English Channel in July of 1909. Taking advantage of the feat for marketing purposes, Bleriot commented upon landing that he was very satisfied with his Zenith and would recommend it to others. The records are unclear on the point of Bleriot's comment being spontaneous or rehearsed.

WWI and the interwar years

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua."

- Chaz Chazanow

Founder at LIV Watches

Advances during WWII

French watchmaker Zenith continued to manufacture their pilot's watches. Striking a neutral stance, Zenith sold its watches to both the Allies and the Axis. They used their 1939 Type Montre d"Aeronef design as the basis of their wristwatch. It featured the black dial and white arabic numerals with the large onion-style crown at 3 o'clock.

The United States did not produce a purpose-made pilot's watch. One of the most widely produced models supplied to American forces was the A-11. Manufactured by Bulouva, Waltham, and Elgin, the watch featured the required high-visibility black dial with white Arabic numerals. The manually wound movement featured a hacking function for synchronization. Some A-11s were waterproof, some were dust proof, some had luminous hands, , and some did not. All had a larger crown at 3 o'clock, but not in the onion style.

Postwar evolution

Horological hacking

A hacking watch movement is one that stops the movement momentarily so that it can be synchronized with a trusted time source or with other watches. If you are a fan of WWII movies, the troops frequently synchronize their watches before starting a mission. In combat, military action is dependent on precise timing and positioning. And this is the reason the hacking movement was developed.
 
So, how exactly does a hacking movement work? Glad you asked. The beat manager of the mechanical movement is the escapement wheel. This frail-looking gear with widely spaced teeth works continuously to control the movement of the watch's hands. Rather than reinvent the wheel or at least the definition of this wheel, let's see what Wikipedia has to say on the topic.
The escape wheel teeth alternately catch on two fingers called pallets on the arms of the pallet lever, which rocks back and forth. The other end of the lever has a fork which engages with an upright impulse pin on the balance wheel shaft. Each time the balance wheel swings through its center position, it unlocks the lever, which releases one tooth of the escape wheel, allowing the watch's wheels to advance by a fixed amount, moving the hands forward. As the escape wheel turns, its tooth pushes against the lever, which gives the balance wheel a brief push, keeping it swinging back and forth.
Here is a simplified 3D model of the escapement wheel (1) and pallet (2) by Constantin Stancescu.

Now, check out this cool drawing by Mirzek Kameric. Pull the stem to the winding position (1), the lever moves into the teeth of the escapement wheel (2), and the entire escapement train stops. The Pallet is shown (3).

Now that you know how the escapement wheel works, how does hacking work, and what does this gear have to do with it? The premise is simple - when the crown is pulled out to set the time, a lever moves into the teeth and stops the escapement wheel from moving, enabling you to set the minute, hour, and seconds hands simultaneously. Presto-chango, all watches are now at the same time, at least for the time being.

"While not as much of a necessity as in the past, the hacking complication pays tribute to the history of horology and adds another bit of cool factor to the timepiece."

- Chaz Chazanow

Founder at LIV Watches

Do I need a hacking movement today?

Wellll (imagine a drawn-out well in a Southern accent - don't worry, I am from the South) that depends. Some say why and others say why not? I possess a couple of watches with hacking movements and confess to have never taken advantage of the capability. But it is a cool complication nonetheless.
 
While researching this article, one article opined that a hacking movement is an excellent way of assessing the accuracy of your mechanical timepiece. Sync to a known accurate source and see how closely your watch keeps pace. I had not thought of that. I am a watch geek, but not that big a one.

Are there other hacking movements?

The majority of automatic movements do not stop the second hand when the stem is pulled out. I could not find out why this is the case, but it seems to be.
 
While we're at it, are there quartz hacking movements? Not "officially," but when you pull out the stem on a quartz watch, it stops using power. No power, no secondhand movement.
 
This feature allows manufacturers to put a battery in each watch, test it to make sure everything functions, then turn off the power for shipment, storage, etc. Long storage and shelf time can eat up a lot of battery life. When a battery dies quickly, consumers become upset. We know what that leads to, right?

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua."

- Esti Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches

Wrapping it up

Hacking movements were developed to meet a serious military need like pilots and divers watches. The military doesn't need the capability anymore because of sophisticated digital alternatives. But nothing says a watch geek, freak, or fan shouldn't have one in their collection. Who knows, a solar flare might fry all that fancy electric stuff leaving you in charge of synchronizing the recovery.