CHRONOMETER [kruh-NOM-i-ter]: a wristwatch or other timepiece

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Chronometers are crafted items which display the time of day and night.   It’s a simple as that.

Chronometers originated in the early 18th century and were primarily meant to be useful to navigators.   But over the years they have become common, ordinary watches, including wristwatches.   They come in all sizes, shapes, and configurations, but they have a singular purpose: to tell us the time.

That is not to say that the telling of time is the only purpose of a wristwatch.   Sometimes they are fitted with other devices that measure speed, distance, the day/month/year.    There are even wrist devices recently introduced in American culture which contain small computers equipped to do everything a laptop can do.

As people have begun to carry computers on their person the wristwatch is slowly being replaced by cell phones and other such devices which record the time.  You will see people reach into their pocket or purse and pull out their cell phone simply to check the time.   (I find a wristwatch far more convenient, and can’t imagine not wearing one.)

The word chronometer is from the Greek (kronos) meaning time.  And (metro) meaning measure.  In Europe the term is a classified term with restrictions upon its use. But for all intents and purposes, the term is generally applied to any device that measures time.

The interesting variation in chronometers at this point in history has to do with the markings on the face of the watch.  Traditionally, the face is round and is divided into 60 segments, indicated the 60 seconds of an hour.   It is common for the face to be segmented into five minute  intervals, with the 15 minutes mark at the  1/4 place (the numeral 3), the 30 minutes mark (half hour) at the 1/2 place at the numeral 6 at the bottom of the circle, the 45 minute mark on the left at the 3/4 place  (enumerated by the 9) , and the full hour (60 minutes) at the peak (the 12.)   These designations are universal.

Consequently, the point marks on the face of the clock have been adopted into location signals.   A police officer may say to her partner, “The suspect is at your 9 o’clock, wearing a red jacket.”

Unfortunately, the digital watch has been introduced into society, with the hour and minute being flashed on screens of various sizes as simply “8:45 a.m.”   There is no round face.  No numerals. No sweep hands.    As result of this is that youngsters today may have absolutely no concept of the face of the clock.

Digital watches and clocks, however, are still designated as chronometers.  They still have a basic function: displaying the time.  However manufacturers may offer them for sale as “time pieces” or other fancier names.  In today’s world, people may own numerous fashion watches, some costing in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Mine’s a Timex.


Photo Credit: Charles Perretti

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