Just yesterday I read on The Watchismo Times (a blog dedicated to unusual timepieces) about a new mechanical wristwatch designed with a linear time display rather than the traditional circular clock face. (See “Urwerk King Cobra CC1 Reintrepretation of 1958 Patek Philippe Cobra Prototype – Cylindrical Retrograde Linear Jumping Hour Display.”)

This design is thought-provoking: We normally conceive of time as a line, and yet for centuries the standard timepiece interface has been a circle. The author of the Watchismo site explains why this is:

Why do we think of time as travelling in a straight line yet display it rotating around a circle? The answer is straightforward: mechanisms that continually rotate are much simpler to produce than those that trace a straight line then return to zero. In fact, the latter is so difficult that, until now, nobody has ever managed to develop a production wristwatch with true retrograde linear displays.

It makes me think about how I conceive time personally. In the big picture, I think I do see time as a straight line going infinitely to the left and right.

In spite of the more linear design of the calendars I use, I believe I conceive of the calendar as a circle, as if the year were superimposed on a standard clock face. However, in my mind, the calendar runs counterclockwise with January at approximately the 11:00 position. I think my circular conception of the calendar comes from the periodic nature of the solar year. Why the year goes counterclockwise in my mind I don’t know.

When it comes to my conception of days, though, I see some ambiguities. I do conceive of them on some level as a circle of 24 hours, but on reflection I think that conception is at least partly based on the circular clock faces we use to keep time, as well as on the collective 24-hour standard we use to keep our society synchronized.

Certainly the new Urwerk King Cobra CC1 provides food for thought about how we think about time and about the user interfaces of the devices we use to keep track of it. Below is a link to Watchismo’s picture of the watch. Watchismo also provides many fascinating details about how the watch is designed and constructed.

Urwerk linear wristwatch

Urwerk linear wristwatch

AB — 10 July 2009

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