Hacking is not something that’s exclusive to computers. It’s also not just a way to find simple solutions to daily life problems (aka “life hacks”). In fact, there’s an act of hacking that predates the computer age. We are, as the title suggests, talking about watch hacking. But what is watch hacking? Well, it is essentially the act of making a seconds hand stop on a watch by pulling out the crown. If a watch “hacks” it means that it has a function that stops the seconds hand from moving. This might not sound particularly interesting—especially since quartz watches have made this a common aspect of watches/watchmaking. However, on mechanical watches it is not always an integrated part of their construction. In order to get the seconds hand to stop, a mechanical watch needs a lever or some other mechanism to halt the balance wheel. Manufacturers of mechanicals pre-build some watches with this feature. That being said, hacking can also be established by enthusiastic engineering-minded watch owners.
Hacking the Insides
Most watches that “hack” incorporate a balance stop lever (aka hacking lever). Stopping the balance wheel, by pulling out the stem one-or-two steps, kicks the lever down for a quick freeze. Watches that hack can be pulled apart to see how they enact the function. On automatics the auto-rotor is removed first; Hand wound (manual wind) watches don’t require this step. The movement is disassembled to a point where the lever and balance wheel are easily seen/manipulated. At this point one can view the stop lever (hacking lever) in action. If one is more mechanically inclined, this is an opportunity to employ a jerry-rigged hack. That is, of course, if the watch doesn’t already have a hacking lever. For the sake of brevity we’ll just say be careful when trying this on your own—it’s very easy to damage a movement when making DIY variations in its construction.
In terms of quartz, a hacked movement involves circuitry. When a stem is pulled out on a quartz watch it stops the conversation between the battery and gears—which is facilitated/regulated by the quartz crystal and the movement’s circuitry. It takes more electrical engineering skill to pull this one off at home (to put it mildly).
Hacking the Conversation
There are numerous forums, blogs, and watch community resources available to describe the full process of a watch “hack”. Some hands-on enthusiasts give demonstrations through Youtube and on their personal websites. In simple terms, to reiterate, a watch hack is simply stopping the seconds hand. While quartz has this as a standard feature, it isn’t always a part of mechanical watchmaking. Hopefully this quick crash-course/glimpse into this aspect of watchmaking has helped hack you into the subject. If opening up a watch seems a bit daunting at any point, make sure to contact an experienced watchmaker about things. Not everyone can hack it at hacking—but there are watchmaking experts who have your back—no matter what watch needs its ticking stopped and looked at.
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.