Horology: Some Meaning and History

    You might turn a few heads saying this one out loud. Horology (typically pronounced “hō-rol-uh-gee”) may not come across well to polite company—at first. However, its origins are far from unsavory. Emerging from the 19th century—borrowing from the Greek “hōra-” for “hour” and the well established “-ology” meaning “study of”—horology directly translates to the “study of hours” (move over people of the night). If you’re not familiar with this term—it’s alright. In all fairness, it’s not one that often takes up time on our tongues nowadays. It is a bit of an archaic word. Yes, even the most well established watch and clock makers likely don’t use it in their daily parlance. However, it happens to relate profoundly to theirs and all our currently occuring lives.

    In fact, have you ever taken an interest in studying time? Then congrats—you’re an amateur horologist! Naturally, if the term horology means “study of hours” then a “horologist” is the term for someone who studies it (if you get the gist). The Merriam-Webster definition for horologist is established as, “1: a person skilled in the practice or theory of horology. 2 : a maker of clocks or watches.” Though this term emerged—and was more trendy—back in the 19th century, the practice is quite ancient. As far back as we’ve been able to record history (and perhaps further) we’ve all been trying to track down this tricky thing called “time”. But before we had machines like watches and clocks to track it, we first had to conceptualize time. Without delving into a PhD length lecture on the abstract concept of time, let’s check out a brief history.

    Humanity’s first horologists mapped the concept with the stars. You could say that the cosmos was our first Timex, or Seiko, etc…. As far as anyone can look back, it all started with the ancient Sumerians around 2,000B.C.. They used astronomical cycles along with the beginnings of sexagesimal (base 60) system to start building time-tables from the stars. Inheriting the sexagesimal system, our friends the Babylonians (and later the Greeks) continued this practice. In relation to these practices, around 1500B.C. horological enthusiasts in Egypt developed timekeeping technology based on “T” shaped sundials. Even further, the Egyptians had a system of twelves and twenty-fours to divide the days (sound familiar?). As time passed and transcontinental communication became more in-vogue, many gadgets emerged in the coming centuries. The first modern clocks were built by the 14th century and from there, as one might say, “the rest is history”. (For more on the division of time across history, check out Michael A. Lombardi’s article “Why is a minute divided into 60 seconds, an hour into 60 minutes, yet there are only 24 hours in a day?” in Scientific American).

    One of the better ironies of our modern times is that we’ve moved back to space to map time. We have satellites and telescopes that track our relative movement through time and space—which beam it all back home. Even with our most modern advances, however, it is apparent that the art of being a horologist is still a very hands-on trade/concept. Everywhere around the world people still turn their wrists up toward their facades to find a sense of place in time. Every day, manufacturers; repairers; and general horological enthusiasts keep the gears turning on one of our species’ most prolific and perpetual fascinations. So, whether you’re picking at gears in a shop or staring out at the night sky, you are part of the great concept that keeps moving us forward. So, to all our professional and amateur horologists out there—we send a salute. We hope to find you somewhere in time.

    Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.

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