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60 Seconds? 60 Minutes? Going Decimal!

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The Swatch Beat collection from 1998 - read on for more information about this group of Swatches (pic from tonguechic.com):

beat.jpg

 

 

 

We are so used to looking at clocks and watches, and reading off the time, we rarely stop to consider the format of the minute markers on the dial and the action of the seconds hand.. In particular, there is the fascinating question of why there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. In fact, this question has never been completely answered, but part of the solution lies in ancient history and in the development of number counting systems. In the West, we have now grown used to counting on the decimal base 10 system, with a secondary system also being very important to modern technology - the binary or base 2 system. OK, there are still exponents of the base 12 or dozenal counting system, and there are certain advantages in base 12 counting because 12 is divisible exactly by 2, 3, 4, and 6, as opposed to the number 10, which only has 2 and 5 as divisors (apart, of course, from 1 and itself). leaving aside these three more important systems, various peoples, ancient and modern, have used different number systems, with the ancient Babylonians adopting the extraordinary base 60 system first actually codified in a script  by the Sumerians between about 4,000 and 2,700 BC, and then incorporated into cuneiform script. Even more extraordinary is that this most ancient of number systems is the fundamental reason why we still measure seconds and minutes in units of 60.

 

 

Pocket watch from 1795 by George Auziere showing in detail the use of both the French Revolutionary decimal system of time and an alternative conventional reading with the usual 12 hour markers. Note also the calendar function that is set to the French revolutionary calendar where each month had thirty days, divided into three ten-day "decades" or weeks. The Revolutionary calendar lasted a bit longer than the related time-keeping system which is detailed bin the text below (pic from traveltoeat.com):

wpid-Photo-Jul-25-2012-205-PM.jpg

 

 

 

Rather than try and put this interesting revelation into my own words, I shall quote a marvellous book entitled, "Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of mathematics" by Alex Bellos and published by Bloomsbury in 2010. In this short account is also contained some information of a watch-collecting interest, and I think members of the forum will find it of interest, so here is the relevant passage:

 

  "In cuneiform there were symbols only for 1, 10, 60 and 3600, which means that the system was a mixture of base 60 and base ten, as the basic set of cuneiform numbers translates into 1, 10, 60 and 60 X 60. The question of why the Sumerians grouped their numbers in sixties has been described as one of the greatest unresolved mysteries in the history of arithmetic. Some have suggested it was the result of the fusion of two previous systems, with bases five and 12, though no conclusive evidence of this has been found.

   The Babylonians, who made great advances in maths and astronomy, embraced the Sumerian sexagesimal base, and later the Egyptians, followed by the Greeks, based their time-counting methods on the Babylonian way - which is why, to this day, there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. We are so used to telling the time in base 60 that we never question it, even though it really is quite unexplained. Revolutionary France, however, wanted to iron out what they saw as an inconsistency in the decimal system. When the National Convention introduced the metric system for weights and measures in 1793, it also tried to decimalize time. A decree was signed establishing that every day would be divided into ten hours, each containing 100 minutes, each of which contained 100 seconds. This worked out neatly, making 100.000 seconds in the day - compared to 86,400 (60 X 60 X 24) seconds. The revolutionary second was, therefore, a fraction shorter than the normal second. Decimal time became mandatory in 1794 and watches were produced with the numbers going up to ten. Yet the new system was completely bewildering to the populace and abandoned after little more than six months. An hour with 100 minutes is also not as convenient as an hour with 60 minutes, since 100 does not have as many divisors. You can divide 100 by 2, 4, 5, 10, 20, 25, and so, but you can divide 60 by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30. The failure of decimal time was a small victory for dozenal thinking. Not only does 12 divide into 60 but it also divides into 24, the number of hours in a day.

   A more recent campaign to decimalize time also flopped. In 1998 the Swiss conglomerate Swatch launched Swatch Internet Time, which divided the day into 1000 parts called beats (equivalent to 1min 26.4secs). The manufacturer sold watches that displayed its 'revolutionary vision of time' for a year or so before sheepishly removing them from its catalogue."

 

 

 

Verge escapement decimal pocket watch from the French Revolutionary period, now in the British Museum, the source of this picture: 

AN00234947_001_l.jpg

 

 

 

My own observations on the passage quoted above are firstly that, as a collector, I shall now be on the lookout for decimal watches old and modern, with particular eyes on acquiring one of the decimal Swatch timepieces. In fact, since reading the book by Bellos, I have discovered that there is a fascinating world of collectible decimal watches out there, and I illustrate a few of these models here on this post. Then, another observation is that as our ability to measure and register time intervals of less than one second on watches has grown, so we have reverted to the decimal system in these small time intervals. There are, of course, chronographs that measure intervals of a twentieth of a second, but the general trend in chronograph measurement is towards one tenth of a second/one hundredth of a second, and while decimalization has failed in its claim on our general telling of the time, it has increasingly dominated the measuring of intervals below a second on modern watches and stopwatches.

 

 

German-made decimal watch by Rainer Nienaber, 2014, with normal clock subdial at nine o'clock position (pic from watchprosite.com):

ahci_image.3770863.jpg

 

 

Decimal pocket watch from about 1900 (pic from journal.hautehorologie.org):

fhhmag_slideshow_003344-008.jpg

 

 

Current Chanson David Swiss-made automatic decimal watch that incorporates a combination dial so that time can also be read in the conventional manner (pic from 1.bp.blogspot.com)

N_C_D-Ch006.jpg

 

 

 

Rare Gallet MultiChron Decimal chronograph from 1942 (first series) with EP40 hand-wind movement. Note the conventional markers on the main dial in addition to the decimal reading (pic from galletworld.com) and a Heuer Carrera chronograph from the 1960s also with a decimal scale, used primarily for specialised industrial and laboratory timings (pic from onthedash.com):

gallet_multichron_decimal_horton_300.jpg

 

53Car3647DJE.jpg

 

 

 

A decimal clock put up as an art work on The Leas, Folkestone - the idea of local artist Ruth Ewan and inspired by the French Republican decimal time system. it does have a conventional dial on the reverse side (pic from s0.geograph.org.uk). A very similarly styled decimal clock dial is pictured in an April Fools' Day post of 2013 claiming that the Australian government was committed to institute a decimal time system throughout the country.

4850820_971428f3.jpg

 

 

 

 it does seem that we are wedded firmly to clocks and watches that run to a 24 hour day, with sixty seconds per minute and 60 minutes in an hour. It took some time for clocks, watches and displays to become acceptable showing hours in twenty-four format, and even now, we do love our zero to twelve desisgnation. So I don't think we will be changing anytime soon, and efforts by the great and the good to change the system, be it from the French republic in the late 18th century, or Hayek and Swatch in the late twentieth century, have come to nothing. If you want to have a go at using decimal time without the hassle of buying a decimal watch or clock then why not just download one, like this example from brothersoft.com:

 

 

decimal_watch-141757-1.jpeg

 

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Decimal unit measure in time and motion studies as well as manufacturing and repair shop environments is quite common. It is very easy to calculate in tenths and hundredths as opposed to twelfths and sixtieths. :)

Later,
William

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Thanks for that addendum William. That explains why there are, in fact, quite a few decimal watches and timers out there for the collector.:)

Sorry to give you a headache, Rog. All part of the service.:laugh:

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1 hour ago, Jonesinamillion said:

I'm confused :D

 

so, if there are 100 seconds in a minute & 100 minutes in a hour; how many hours are there in a day?

Taken Wikiwhatsit:

 

Decimal time is the representation of the time of day using units which are decimally related. This term is often used specifically to refer to French Revolutionary Time, which divided the day into 10 decimal hours, each decimal hour into 100 decimal minutes and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds, as opposed to the more familiar UTC Time standard, which divides the day into 24 hours, each hour into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds.

The main advantage of a decimal time system is that, since the base used to divide the time is the same as the one used to represent it, the whole time representation can be handled as a single string. Therefore, it becomes simpler to interpret a timestamp and to perform conversions. For instance, 1:23:00 is 1 decimal hour and 23 decimal minutes, or 1.23 hours, or 123 minutes; 3 hours is 300 minutes or 30,000 seconds. This property also makes it straightforward to represent a timestamp as a fractional day, so that 2016-10-04.534 can be interpreted as five decimal hours and 34 decimal minutes after the start of that day, or 0.534 (53.4%) of a day through that day. It also adjusts well to digital time representation using epochs, in that the internal time representation can be used directly both for computation and for user-facing display.

Later,
William

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On 04/10/2016 at 18:20, William_Wilson said:

Decimal unit measure in time and motion studies as well as manufacturing and repair shop environments is quite common. It is very easy to calculate in tenths and hundredths as opposed to twelfths and sixtieths. :)

Later,
William

Interesting, must be a Canadian thing because in forty plus years of engineering over here I've never heard of it.

Everywhere I've worked here in the UK since I was an apprentice making widgets, some forty plus years now, has been in hour and minutes.

On the job I was on today it was 20 mi utes for the set up and a 15 minute run time machining the part or four an hour. Even the clock in/out if worked on the quarter hour so if you clock in late pay is docked 15 minutes and so on.

:)

 

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6 hours ago, BondandBigM said:

Interesting, must be a Canadian thing because in forty plus years of engineering over here I've never heard of it.

Everywhere I've worked here in the UK since I was an apprentice making widgets, some forty plus years now, has been in hour and minutes.

On the job I was on today it was 20 mi utes for the set up and a 15 minute run time machining the part or four an hour. Even the clock in/out if worked on the quarter hour so if you clock in late pay is docked 15 minutes and so on.

:)

 

Generally, in the North American auto industry customers are billed in "units" and flat rate mechanics are paid that way as well. One unit is equal to one hour. Therefore, 1.1 units = 66 minutes, 1.4 units = 84 minutes and so on. It makes it quite simple to keep track of the total of a number different billable jobs on a single work order. It is also how the time guides are written.

Later,
William

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6 hours ago, William_Wilson said:

Generally, in the North American auto industry customers are billed in "units" and flat rate mechanics are paid that way as well. One unit is equal to one hour. Therefore, 1.1 units = 66 minutes, 1.4 units = 84 minutes and so on. It makes it quite simple to keep track of the total of a number different billable jobs on a single work order. It is also how the time guides are written.

Later,
William

Yep I understand that but surely that is not the same as using AW's decimal clocks and watches. 

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2 hours ago, BondandBigM said:

Yep I understand that but surely that is not the same as using AW's decimal clocks and watches. 

It is a variation on it. As I recall, the decimal clock system was the creation of a French man. It was a system that nobody wanted for general use, including the French. The decimalisation of hours was the truly useful part of the system for the real world. The Gallet and Heuer Honour posted are demonstrative of this compromise.

Later,
William

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8 hours ago, William_Wilson said:

It is a variation on it. As I recall, the decimal clock system was the creation of a French man. It was a system that nobody wanted for general use, including the French. The decimalisation of hours was the truly useful part of the system for the real world. The Gallet and Heuer Honour posted are demonstrative of this compromise.

Later,
William

I can see that now and yes I have seen it expressed as for example 1.5hrs as well as 1hr 30m per part. But as said I've never seen the decimal time AW describes used at all.

Still hours, minutes & seconds here though and you don't get much more North American than the HAAS I was running today.

:laugh: :laugh:

20161006_153528_HDR_zps4a14nj7f.jpg

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