Hacker News Re-Imagined

Mechanical Watch

  • 4298 points
  • 2 months ago

  • @todsacerdoti
  • Created a post

Mechanical Watch

@ThePhysicist 2 months

Replying to @todsacerdoti 🎙

I was curious how he did those visualizations so I looked at the source code. Turns out he codes everything by hand in WebGL [1]. Absolutely impressive stuff. Source code is non-minified so you can have a look and understand everything as well.

[1]: https://ciechanow.ski/js/watch.js


@mettamage 2 months

I hope Nicky Case puts this in his list of explorables :)


@mattmoose21 2 months

Interesting to see why seiko calls their automatic line 21 jewels.


@joshwcomeau 2 months

This fits into a category of thing known as “explorable explanations”. They’re an amazing form of media. This one is particularly brilliant!

Check out this site for many others: https://explorabl.es/


@99_00 2 months

How difficult is it to bootstrap the ability to manufacture mechanical watch parts?

It was only in 2017 that China joined the elite club of countries capable of making ballpoint pens. Is it that hard?



@michael1999 2 months

What great work. The only thing I had to read twice was how energy is restored to the oscillation. The text doesn't discuss the role of the slope on the jewel fork teeth. But everything else was so clear as to be transparent. What a loving gift.


@boesboes 2 months

Wow very comprehensive & well done.

If mechanical watches tickle your fancy, there is a ton of watch repair video on YT. I particularly enjoy wristwatch revival (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD80T1s2Za4K682CQDGwEKQ).

A warning though, if you consider to get into that hobby. I tried, it's really hard, expensive (I spend close to €1k and that is with b-quality stuff. Good stuff is 5-10x more expensive.) and can be rather frustrating. Finding parts to buy can be complicated depending on your locale, loosing parts is very easy and destroying parts, even when gentle and careful is par for the course.

I hat to put my repair hobby on halt after running out of practice pieces. All now have broken or missing parts. your milage may vary ofcourse :)


@1970-01-01 2 months

Interesting content, interactive, ad-free, and social-media free. The entire site is a great example of how the old Web was better than it is today.


@Teknoman117 2 months

As much as I might like features of smartwatches, my favorite watch is a skeleton style mechanical watch my grandparents bought for me a number of years ago. Watching the teeny tiny gears moving around is somewhat cathartic.


@archon810 2 months

https://ciechanow.ski/archives/ - the blog archive is full of such marvels.


@rabuse 2 months

That's it, this is gonna make me pull the trigger on a skeletonized watch. I've been wanting one for a couple years, but never really sat down and browsed, but I appreciate the mechanics so much more after reading this.


@Andrew_nenakhov 2 months

This is breathtaking, couldn't stop reading until finished. It'll be my go-to example of the best possible educational material.


@richardlblair 2 months

Did not read, but I did play with all the slidey things. They were fun.


@tamiral 2 months

This is such an easy to follow understanding on mechanical movements. WOW! From someone who tinkers with watches all the time and has to explain a simple mechanism over and over I've found my resource to send to friends now.


@leeoniya 2 months

i'm continuously astounded by how accurate the Omega Aqua Terra is. it will be within 90s over a 30 day period after 4 years of daily use with no servicing. the fact that something mechanical and so tiny operating at 3.5hz can do this is mind blowing to me.

it has a cool [8800] co-axial escapement: https://www.kapoorwatch.com/blogs/through-the-scope-the-omeg...


@BadassFractal 2 months

Incredible work with this article. I didn't realize experiences like that were even possible in the browser without a whole company backing the effort.


@rotten 2 months

This bumps up my desire to build my own mechanical watch using one of the kits here: https://rotatewatches.com (something I've had bookmarked for a while as a possible rainy day project)


@ChrisMarshallNY 2 months

That's very cool.

One of my favorite memories, as a kid, was visiting a museum in Toronto (I think it was the Science Museum).

Many of the exhibits had buttons that you could press, to make them go.

I remember a giant steam piston. That was cool.


@chairmanwow1 2 months

@subsubzero 2 months

As someone who has been into mechanical watches since I was kid, this article is beyond amazing and explains everything about how a watch is powered with excellent interactive diagrams and cool animations. The author should try to go after other areas of mechanical movement like operation of a car or a plane. So well done!


@FR10 2 months

As usual Bartosz with another extremely high quality post, I have one question, in this bit:

> However, when the driving gear can’t rotate because it’s blocked by the rest of the gear train, the cannon pinion can overpower the friction of that tight fit and rotate on its own. This lets us set time without interfering with the gear train, which could break the delicate parts.

How can the cannon pinion (green) both overpower the friction to slide freely and also be attached to the driving gear (blue) when functioning regularly?

Does this imply that the driving gear and cannon pinion wear each other out every time you adjust the time?


@mayapugai 2 months

This is a wonderful article! Thank you to the author for taking the time to write and animate all this.

I want future generations to have access this so I have to ask - how can I back up this page with all of the interactive 3D animations still operational? Simply saving the HTML file doesn't seem to work.


@wardedVibe 2 months

Bug report: the balance wheel animation when run on Firefox on my android eventually becomes a forced oscillator, with the slider running off to infinity


@tempestn 2 months

> Once the pallet fork unlocks the balance wheel, that wheel has to start spinning very quickly. This is why gears in the gear train have holes in them – it reduces their moment of inertia so that the barrel can accelerate them more quickly.

I think that should say "unlocks the escape wheel", not the balance wheel.


@soheil 2 months

Crazy to see this thing with the spring is constantly rotating so furiously all the time all so just that the second hand would move ever so slowly once a second.


@sakopov 2 months

A few months back I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a watch maker servicing a mechanical watch. This started a mild obsession with watch making and I've been watching these videos ever since. For anyone interested, here's an awesome video [1] of a guy putting together a watch and explaining how all 60 parts of a typical mechanical watch work together (by the way the tools he uses are as cool as the movements themselves). It's surprisingly easy to follow for a noobie.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkK6e4tb5Qk


@sebmellen 2 months

Just imagine the utopia that would emerge if all education were conducted through web-essays like this. Bravo!


@anuvrat1 2 months

Words aren't enough to describe Bartosz's work, every one of them is a masterpiece.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BCiechanowski Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ciechanowski


@s3ctor8 2 months

I didn't know I sas going to learn about watch mechanisms today, but I couldn't stop reading!


@wumms 2 months

Bug report: on page load, the play/pause button for the stop lever interaction [0] shows the play icon albeit the animation is already playing.

(The div needs the class 'playing' added, e.g.

  <div id="stop_lever_interaction" [...]>
    <div class="play_pause_button playing"></div>
instead of

  <div class="play_pause_button"></div>

[0] https://ciechanow.ski/mechanical-watch/#stop_lever_interacti...


@_fat_santa 2 months

There's something magical about mechanical watches. Maybe it's just knowing that you have this perpetually winding machine on your hand (in the case of "automatic" mechanical watches).

Also knowing that the thing will last forever, take care of it and it will probably outlive you. Can't say that about an Apple Watch.

If you want a good mechanical watch that won't break the bank I suggest picking up a Seiko SKX (though prices have been going up), a Vostok Amphibia (might be hard with the ukraine conflict) or a Timex Marlin.


@esaym 2 months

If this makes you think mechanical watches are cool but you don't really want to wear one.. you can go the other direction. Ebay is full of old mechanical driven (be it pendulum or wound springs) wall clocks that are looking for new owners.


@1-6 2 months

Certainly a labor of love. Well done!


@tokujin 2 months

How can I save the page with the interactive animations to my computer?

I'm using

  wget --page-requisites \
       --span-hosts \
       --execute robots=off \
       --adjust-extension \
       --convert-links \
but I get "Loading..." messages in place of the animations when I open the saved html on Firefox.


@clord 2 months

> when we pull the crown all the way out to enter the time setting mode, that stop lever blocks the balance wheel, which stops the watch in an action known as hacking

whoa, is this the origin of the word "hacking" in the "throw something into the wheels to make it work" sense? very interesting.


@rammy1234 2 months

I found this interesting. For more mechanical watch reference - https://www.timezone.com/2003/10/04/mechanical-watch-faq/


@krzat 1 month

This is random, but a lot of these parts exist because of the way it is constructed.

I wonder how minimal this kind of watch could be if you had a unrealistically accurate 3d printer and the design was essentially optimal (done by machine learning perhaps).


@shepherdjerred 2 months

Every post from this site is gold. I've learned so much from it.


@gotaquestion 2 months

There are many centuries of engineering behind this. I went to the Museum of Horology in Austria. It has examples of the first mechanical clocks, up to today's timepieces. It is fascinating looking at the giant, wrought-iron town clocks that kept shitty time and bent and rusted, and seeing different parts of the clock evolve over the years, especially as engineering & metallurgy improved.



@niviksha 2 months

This blog itself is a work of art, like mechanical watches themselves


@spaetzleesser 2 months

I got this wooden clock for Christmas a while ago: https://smile.amazon.com/ROKR-Mechanical-Building-Supplies-B...

Definitely helped me to understand how clocks work. And it’s fun to watch it.


@avestura 2 months

This man is marvelous. Even though I know how top-notch he is at writing interactive blog posts, he surprises me with his quality every time I open his new blog posts. Bartosz is a huge inspiration for me.


@muh_gradle 2 months

Enjoyed this one very much. I am hoping to get a blue dial Orient Bambino to wear for my wedding. I've always loved that watch. I'll have to refer to this article to explain the "but why mechanical.." question.


@ubermonkey 2 months

This is really, really beautiful and cool.


@bacon_waffle 2 months

For folks who are interested in the subject matter: electronic tuning fork movements, like the Accutron 214, are amazingly elegant bits of engineering. Both the time regulation and motive power are provided by a tuning fork (vs the balance wheel and mainspring), which is kept oscillating through electromagnetism (vs the escapement) in one of the first consumer applications of the transistor. The movement was designed and started being manufactured in the late 1950s.

Max Hetzel's patents are a good starting point - https://www.accutrons.com/tuning-fork-watch-patents


@slavoingilizov 1 month

This is genius. Attention to detail and quality of the writing and delivery is amazing. The fact that the watch in the first animation also shows accurate time reminds me of the 9:41 in each iPhone screenshot when Steve Jobs was doing the Apple demos. Sweating such details indicates a labour of love.


@_asummers 2 months

I love 1940s/1950s instruction videos. Here’s one from Hamilton that shows how they work that I really like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL0_vOw6eCc


@smetj 2 months

Will we still be able to find and consult this mesmerizing piece of documentation art in let's say .... 100 years? Pretty sure mechanical watches will still exist then.


@sunpazed 2 months

What an awesome explainer! I love mechanical watches. I have a relatively cheap Stowa Antea which runs a simple hand-wound Peseux/ETA 7001. It’s so thin, the entire watch is less than 7mm thick. All of what you see in this explainer is crammed into that tiny space the size of a stamp.


@jagged-chisel 2 months

That scale can’t be right. Pocket watches are bigger than a quarter.


@mbubb 1 month

Really beautiful site. Made my morning. I wear mechanical watches on a daily basis (I rotate between a few Maratec/CountyComm models) I like the size, weight and the sound and the feeling of the counter weight moving around. And the feedback of the bezel as I time an egg or a load in the dryer...

I really like the correspondence between the respect for the ingenuity of this technology and the "handcrafted" WebGL.

Last line:

"With creative use of miniature gears, levers, and springs, a mechanical watch rises from its dormant components to become truly alive."


@vladde 2 months

They have other blog posts as well, all equally interesting and detailed.


@jagger27 2 months

@beeforpork 2 months

Amazing! He's done it again, I am blown away! Thanks you very much for this unmatched level of documentation quality!


@elorant 2 months

I'd gladly pay for content like this. It's so informative. I've watched yt channels of people who disassemble and fix automatic watches, but never understood all the intricacies in such detail. This is what journalism, or writing in general, should be about. Explain things and go into details.


@quantum_state 1 month

A wonderful article … Thanks!


@s1mon 2 months

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is how the parts were modeled. I asked @BCiechanowski on Twitter and the response was "Modeled in Shapr3D [0], animated manually in JS". Another person asked about the gears, and he said "Gears are just generated programmatically, it made it very easy to tweak their shape as needed".

Overall, a fascinating workflow.

[0] https://www.shapr3d.com


@smusamashah 2 months

All of articles from this blog are worth archiving and putting in a library in this exact interactive form forever. I never understood mechanical watches before. Now I know exactly how they are made possible. Thanks for explaining it visually while interaction with the visuals.


@cbdumas 2 months

This page got the HN hug of death it seems. Absolutely deserves all the traffic he is getting, Mr. Ciechanowski's blog is an absolute gem.


@naikrovek 2 months

Normally I would crap (pretty hard) on web tech, because normally, it's only ever used to make websites harder to follow in the name of design, or to create new ways for ads to be served to me.

This site, and the most recent blog entries on this site, are excellent examples of why web technologies are not all bad. People seeking new ways to make money make everything bad, eventually, and thankfully there are bastions of utility without sales still to be found, sprinkled around.


@sarang23592 2 months

What an insanely cool demo of the workings. This is so informative. I mostly dismiss such stuff thinking I won't understand it but this one was easy to follow even for me. Loved it


@jonsen 2 months

I was reminded of the great video lecture

Gerald Sussman Teaches Mechanical Watch Ideas at MIT:



@xcambar 2 months

This article is everything I want the Internet to be: high quality contents and high interactivity so that the matter is more "palpable".

This is peak Internet, huge congrats to the author(s).


@hexo 2 months

There are no images, like, why? :(


@rocqua 2 months

I have a mechanical watch. I wish it was quartz. I simply could not find any quartz watch in a style I liked. I even prefer thin watches.

I feel like the field of actually nicely designed quartz watches is dead from competition with mechanical and smart watches. Where smart watches are just ugly, and mechanical watches look amazing but are more hobby or conversation pieces than actually good for telling time.


@amai 2 months

In 20 years we will see similar visualizations about car engines which used petrol instead of electricity. We will be awed by the complex mechanisms, which were necessary at that time to make a car drive as we are awed now by the complexities of mechanical watches.


@adulion 2 months

mechanical watches fascinate me, i joined /r/seikomods and assmbled one form parts i found of ebay.


@gjvc 2 months

This is what the web should be all about.


@noduerme 1 month

Really cool stuff. The author has come up with a wonderful way of really imparting an understanding of how things work. I loved the one they did on internal combustion engines.

If there's one thing I'd love to see, it would be a similar breakdown of manual and automatic transmissions.


@jIyajbe 2 months

Wow. I had no idea how intricate and CLEVER the mechanism of a mechanical watch is. Being no engineer, I cannot imagine how someone could think of all these clever designs. (Yes, of course the mechanism evolved over time. Even so.)

I have been wanting to buy an old mechanical watch. When I do, I will never again complain about how much a watch repair shop charges.

Also, the explanation, presentation, and animations are top-notch. Amazing work by the author!!


@jnord 2 months

An absolutely amazing article, detailed explanation and beautiful graphics. Thanks so much for posting!


@nintendo1889 2 months

I always thought a compass that floats in water, and is also a sundial would be neat. Not super accurate but very good for military, offgridders and preppers, wherever there's limited access to power.


@nodesocket 2 months

What a fanatic writeup. I’ve been fascinated with mechanical watches for what seems like forever. I browse YouTube at night and see collections by Mr. Wonderful and John Mayer (mostly very high end collector grade Rolex, Patek, AP, IWC). I actually splurged and purchased a new Omega Seamaster Professional Diver 300 automatic and absolutely love it. It does have a see-through back making watching the caliber 8800 movement hypnotic.


@blacklion 1 month

Oh, wait, is it same author who wrote excellent GPS explainer?! Yes, it is! Another masterpiece, then.

I've understand mechanical watch internals thanks to hundreds of hours of procrastination spent on watch-repairing youtube channels, but I wish I had such presentation several years ago.

Same with GPS - I've deep-dive into GPS when I've bought my first receiver, I think in year 2002 or something like this, and it was HARD at these times (there was Internet, of course, but good texts on GPS were very hard to find).

Now, thank you to Bartosz, I have two excellent links to hand out if I'm asked about these topics. I understand them well, but I never ever will be able to explain them so clear and accessible.


@alanbernstein 2 months

I always enjoy reading these, but this one is special for me because it relates to two back burner projects I'm thinking about recently:

1. building a custom mechanical timer, which I want for practical use.

2. designing a real-world alethiometer - a fictional watch/compass device with chaotic (magical) behavior - which runs entirely on clockwork. I've been wondering how to incorporate a source of significant entropy into a watch movement. One idea, for example, is something like a double pendulum, but made from torsion springs.


@barbazoo 2 months

I couldn't quite figure it out from the (excellent) writeup but when you wind up the watch, you wind up the barrel AND the balance wheel, right?


@aliljet 2 months

This may not be the most valuable comment, but my goodness, the quality of this writeup and it's interactive descriptions of complex mechanical components AND their interactions is radically impressive. The treatment of complex topics in deeply visual and partially interactive ways, for me at least, is a remarkably helpful way to learn.


@marcodiego 2 months

Nice! Now show us how a mechanical watch with a 3-axis tourbillon works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TveIl2whXY


@KaiserPro 2 months

This is a most excellent writeup. Its so very clear, understandable, but also precise.

A word of warning, diving into watches and clocks can be a time/money sink.

If you're not careful you'll end up building something like this: https://www.secretbatcave.co.uk/projects/electromechanical-c...


@jrh206 2 months

This article is fantastic. Beautiful illustrations and comprehensive explanations.

Creating something like this takes a lot of work. Consider supporting the creator on Patreon if you want to enable them to create more of these: https://www.patreon.com/ciechanowski


@eggy 2 months

I started with Greg Daniel's masterpiece: Watchmaking.



@zlippslip 2 months

My brother is a watch maker and fixer. It's an art that's becoming rarer and rarer with the advent of smart watches. Although his job is surprisingly secure because very wealthy people tend to pay a lot for their very fancy watches to be fixed or made. It's kind of sad how far we're moving from watches which last hundreds of years as heirlooms with minimal maintenance, to electronic waste generating items with components made as cheaply as possible and at most last several years before their irreplaceable battery dies and you purchase another.

Watches are robust technologies that work without internet connectivity, are crafted/maintained by people paying attention to mechanical parts that are sometimes about as thin as human hairs. Humans have used them for hundreds of years and they are really freaking cool.

If you think the animation is awesome(it is), consider owning the real thing. Not just for my brother's sake, but maybe for your families.


@zerop 2 months

Since everyone is appreciating the. writeup for details, comprehensive and animation done by author, I was thinking if there is any library/platform to build such tools/animations so that masses of teachers, who can write good content, can write and animate like this. This would really make learning experience impressive.


@xjconlyme 2 months

This one is insanely good.


@ramtatatam 2 months

If I was born 20 years before I was born I would be able to enroll in clock-making faculty in University of Technology I graduated. They discontinued this faculty, and the only remaining part was a course of precise mechanics I received..

This article is pure gold. It makes me thinking how much of know-how is already lost and how much can we find in some old book stores... I'd buy a book about clock making.


@rotanibmocy2 2 months

Amazing animations and incredibly well explained. Best ELI5 of a mechanical watch EVER


@sillysaurusx 2 months

Does anyone know how the author supports themselves? They have a patreon, but it’s not enough to make a living: https://www.patreon.com/ciechanowski

The hardest part for me when doing open source work full time was giving it up and getting a day job. I was fortunate that my wife was the breadwinner, and that I got to see what it was like to be a stay at home husband. I’ve often wished to go back to it. Did the author figure out a way, or is he wealthy?

He could also be a Superman, being able to do this with a full time job or contracting work.

I spent a few days studying their blog. The work is so good that when I retire, I’ll make a conscious effort to copy their style as closely as possible. It seems like the optimal way to transmit knowledge.

I wish there was an equivalent to YouTube sponsorships for blogs. If this had a 3 minute preroll ad, they would be rolling in money.


@yumraj 2 months

This was fantastic, for the first time in my life I actually understood what jewel means and what n jewels refers to when it comes to a mechanical watch.

If Bartosz is reading this, I'm genuinely curious how much time did it take him to create this post. It looks like an insane amount of work with all the knowledge acquisition, write up, animation and so on..


@overlisted 2 months

This author author is like 3B1B but with engineering


@mc4ndr3 2 months

The canvases occupy so much of the screen (on small phones) that it is sometimes difficult to scroll the page. Otherwise, amazing article.


@MengerSponge 2 months

This is lovely! While there's a lot of watch content on YouTube, I'm amazed that no one has called out Clickspring's skeleton clock build. It's also a masterpiece, just in a different medium:

Full build playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZioPDnFPNsETq9h35dgQ...

Direct link to the first episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8Y146v8HxE&list=PLZioPDnFPN...


@zerop 2 months

Who had invented mechanical watches?


@matheusmoreira 2 months

The GPS post blew me away but this one about watch movements is just so incredible.


@natly 2 months

This guy deserves way more patreons than he has: https://www.patreon.com/ciechanowski


@andoli 2 months

brilliant work in every aspect, really blew my mind


@Razengan 2 months

Is there a “gearpunk” hobbyist community anywhere? Where people design mostly un-electrical contraptions or even mechanical computers etc.? Would be a pretty fun and rewarding hands-on craft.


@justAlittleCom 2 months

Mechanical watch nerd here. This describe an ETA (swiss) movement, I really prefer the Japanese movement (I know mostly seikos). The mechanism are more simple and more robust. For instance, on ETA the crown mechanism is really sensitive, a lot of tiny fragile parts with a lot of tension in them, it go wrong easily.

Also, seeing this web page I got frustrated by the fact it doesn't tackle what got me the hardest time: how can the crown move the hands without any clutch mechanism (some have) ? It's a matter of friction and torque, so it's hard to get while reasoning on a "perfect" mechanism.


@tpl 2 months

Love the diagrams. Great write up!


@JohnBooty 2 months

I am absolutely astounded. This is incredible craftsmanship, on par with mechanical watches themselves.

This creator is absolutely among the best at his craft. I lack the words to properly describe my admiration.


@lvturner 2 months

For those interested in watch assembly (I'm differentiating between assembly and watch making), I can highly recommend https://diywatch.club/ I bought one of their kits and was super satisfied with it.

You could do it cheaper by buying random parts off eBay or Taobao, I did this for a second watch - using the following video from the "Watch Repair Channel" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rieKmfaKMCY

But having your initial attempt somewhat de-risked gave me the confidence to dive head first into other concepts and ideas.

I'm not quite ready to do a tear down and service of a movement, but with a timegrapher on the way... it won't be long before I'll end up scratching that itch too!


@veltas 2 months

Would love something like this for cars.


@xwdv 2 months

Wow, I didn’t expect I would read all that but the visualization was so great and made it easy to follow, I learned more about mechanical watches than I ever thought I would!

If every subject could have visualization like this I could learn anything!


@zander312 2 months

Stunning visuals and interactivity!


@herodotus 2 months

Replying to @todsacerdoti 🗣

Mr Ciechanowski's articles are themselves complete works of art. Another brilliant article and collection of interactive animations.

My favourite escapement is the detent escapment. I saw a cutout model at the Imperial Science Museum in London. Even after staring at it for ages I could not figure out how it worked!


@sprobertson 1 month

I wish there as much detail on the escapement as on the springs. The bouncy sliders are a fun way to draw in the attention but springs are already intuitive... I'd like to see that kind of visualisation effort applied to the harder concepts.


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