Timing is Everything: Precision Chronometers

Ramadan is sometimes called “The best of times.”

The history and significance of the holy month is inter-woven with the idea of time itself, and with the fast being observed all around the planet, these days, there is much to be said about getting the timing just right.

For me, this is something that is both interesting and important, and I would like to share a few thoughts surrounding the idea of time, and the accuracy of our timekeeping.

Man’s ability to measure time accurately has taken quantum leaps since the time when the Quran was first written down.

"Eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct from the black. Then fast to the night." (Qur'an 2:187)

Back then, I can imagine, the world was a different place. Telling time accurately was limited to devices like sun clocks, using poles or tall structures, or the sundial, and the water clock (also known as the clepsydra). I’m sure that such devices were quite marvelous at the time. With the perfection of glass blowing, the hour glass was added to the list. Still, determining time accurately was mostly a hit and miss thing, and when clouds covered the sky, sunrise and sunset were a little more difficult to determine, not to mention prayer times.

Much later we invented mechanical clocks, and these too, I am happy to say, have come a long way since the first ‘beta’ version.

Later still we were introduced to the Chronograph. The first modern Chronograph, a device of unparalleled accuracy, was invented by Louis Moinet in 1816, and it was used for astronomical calculations. What is a chronograph? Well, basically it is a watch that measures seconds, with either a stop-watch or bezel scale, and often has sub-dials showing minutes and hours. These became popular in a whole range of sporting events, where accurate timing was important.


As the Swiss watchmaking industry developed and refined its technology, the pursuit of perfection in timekeeping was the goal. Then, in 1973 five watchmaking cantons came together to create an independent testing and certification body to certify the most accurate watches in the world – it was called the COSC. Now watches of unmatched accuracy could be tested and certified as Chronometers.

“Chronometer” is a watch industry term for timing accuracy, and not all wristwatches are chronometers. To qualify, the mechanism must be rigorously tested over 15 days, under various conditions, and only once it has ticked all the boxes can it display the coveted “Officially certified Chronometer” badge. Only around 3% of Swiss watches earn this mark of distinction.

Rolex, for example, is a leader in this respect. The image shows the 2235 Rolex movement, which is accurate to within seconds every day. The certification does not apply to digital, electronic watches.


These precision instruments became hugely popular with aviators, enabling them to perform quick and accurate distance and time calculations quite easily. Today, the “Chronometer” label is a sign of excellence in watchmaking.

Perhaps, being surrounded by so many watches every day, I am more sensitive to the subject than the average person. For me, though, there is a particular delight in knowing that a collection of mechanical moving parts can be designed to such a high level of precision.

Our world is changing, and the way we think of time is evolving too. There seems to be less time today, and ever more to do. The sun rises and sets at different times around the world so many people use applications, including time calculators, electronic reminders and printed calendars, to remind them of when the Ramadan fast starts (when the sun rises) and pauses (when the sun sets) in their time zone.

So in this special time of year, especially in this part of the world, take a moment to consider that something we take for granted today – being able to tell the time with great accuracy – has not always been the case. No matter whether you check the time on your electronic gadgetry, or prefer instead to have a Swiss certified wristwatch, may this be the “best of times” for you too.


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