I met a guy who had an old Swiss chronometer watch, a self-winding mechanical one. As I looked at it, admiring the fine workmanship, I suddenly noticed a detail that used to be taken for granted: the thing had a seconds hand that was moving around the face of the watch.
So what, you say?
So, it was moving, not in the swift jerky jumps we’re so used to in today’s superbly accurate Quartz watches. This hand moved at a constant rate, sweeping around the watch, which is why it used to be called a “sweep hand” back then. I remember this from my father’s watch when I was a small child: I would try in vain to discern any movement in the hours and minutes hands, but the sweep hand moved in its slow, stately march, signaling the inexorable continuity of time.
And it occurred to me that the switch from mechanical to electronic analog watches makes the seconds hand mirror the zeitgeist of their respective periods in history. The jumpy quartz-driven hand is such a great fit to the hectic, jerky pace of our modern life, whereas the sweep hand is a better reflection of the more sedate lifestyle of centuries past…