What is a hacking movement?

What is a hacking movement?


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



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.


"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



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.


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?



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.





Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.