Radio Times

Question –  What do these watches have in common?

Radio Control 1991-2009

Radio Control watches from 1991-2009

Answer – Radio Control and split second accuracy!

Although it’s been around since the mid ’80’s, Radio Control on clocks and watches is still very much in the minority.

There are plenty out there of course, but rather like 4 wheel drive cars – you know – safer, better traction in poor road conditions and reasonably priced, they haven’t taken the world by storm.

And it’s the same for the Radio controlled watch. It too has many advantages, all good, but not universally accepted.

It does beg the question – why? and what ARE the advantages of Radio Control.

Note – top left is the Junghans Mega 1, the first RC watch, others are Casio, Oceanus, Citizen, Dugena, Regent, Skagen, Kienzle and others.

Well first off – your watch always shows the right time. The watch receives the correct time from atomic clocks – so you have the  most precise watch in the world.  No setting, no resetting and always on time….which is arguably the most important requirement for any watch, surely.
Then the  watch movement doesn’t have to be  expensive high-end quartz – I mean around + or – 15secs a month should do it.  So it can be low to mid priced and affordable.
What else?
Well it makes World Timers for once a really practical proposition – no worries about moving the time forward or back and being slightly out – because it’s never “out”. Just set your zone and it automatically moves to the “correct” time, every time.  And DST or Daylight Saving Time……forget it – that’s done automatically for you every time, so no missing that appointment!

So where are these Atomic Clocks, how accurate are they and how do they control your watch?

Well it’s all pretty simple as far as we are concerned. Various countries across the world have these marvelous caesium clocks (Atomic Clocks).  The ones that are accurate to a second in 20 million years sort of clock.
These in turn send their time signal to a transmitter and it is received by your watch……There – I said it was easy!

Where are the clocks –

In Germany, the official time is established in the Physkalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Braunschweig the national
meteorology institute.
In Great Britain, the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington near London is in charge of their clock.
In the USA, the responsibility falls to the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) at Fort Collins in Colorado.
In Japan, it’s the responsibility of the Communications Research Laboratory (CRL) in Tokyo.

How –

The time calculated by these atomic clocks is first sent to radio towers.
In Germany the transmitter is in Mainflingen near Frankfurt.
In the UK there is one in Anthorn in Cumbria, England.
In the USA it’s located in Fort Collins in Colorado.
In Japan it’s in the Otakadoya mountains in the North East and Hagane in the South West.
The German radio tower in Mainflingen for example has a range of up to 1,500 km & covers most of mainland Europe.

Atomic Radio tranmission ranges UK, USA, Germany, Japan.

Atomic Radio transmission ranges UK, USA, Germany, Japan. (image ©Casio)

Today the Atomic clock transmitting stations have a quite incredible range.

Here in the UK we’re also spoilt for choice.  Depending on the watch model we can pick up the transmitter in Cumbria  (it moved from Rugby in 2002)  or from Frankfurt in Germany, which is over 700 miles away (I live in Scotland).

In the USA their transmissions are even more powerful at a 1500 miles radius or more.

The graphic on the right here shows their respective ranges and rough locations….

Today there are watch models that have pretty much world cover. In some models they have as many as 5  tiny built-in receivers.  Those models will pick up the Atomic signals from all the locations shown on the map here –  the USA, UK, Europe and Japan – and incredibly these watches are still  relatively inexpensive!

Just as an example the Casio watch shown here in the first small image is a 5 receiver model and quite  inexpensive at around £30.00

Casio Atomic 5 receiver watch

Casio Atomic 5 receiver watch

They can also be highly sophisticated – here is another Casio – an Oceanus Manta 5 receiver model. Somewhat more expensive perhaps but with Solar Power in addition to RC, Chronograph and Timer functions and a very high quality build, it shows the wide variation in styles available today –

Casio Oceanus Manta RC

Casio Oceanus Manta RC

Like some of the more expensive Oceanus and Citizen Attesa models, these tend to be marketed and sold in Japan only, though with the internet of course, now available to all.
The Oceanus shown here is an all analogue Radio Controlled watch and like others of this type, attempts to synchronise (get a signal) at night, say at 1am.  If successful OK, if not it tries again at 2am then 3am and normally takes around 2 minutes.
This model is also a World Timer and has a Titanium case and bracelet and for an RC watch is very neat at only 8mm thickness.

Of course Radio Controlled watches are not the sole preserve these days of the Japanese, there are many others, such as Junghans of course as the originator of the first Mega 1 – this is their latest version – the Mega 1000 –

Junghans Mega1000 RC watch

Junghans Mega1000 RC watch

With this watch they hark back to the days of the first Mega 1, with it’s digital presentation, but with superb clarity and the very latest in radio reception movements. Junghans have a wide range of more traditional Radio Controlled watches and again for this technology are not expensive.

And let’s not forget dress watches – they too can be Radio Controlled –
This one is a Dugena, a rather stylish German designed and manufactured watch complete with Radio Control, with a digital calendar display, auto DST and a signal call on demand feature. So there are plenty designs and styles to choose from.

Dugena Radio Controlled Watch

Dugena 4381661 Bicolor Gents Radio Watch

So back to the question.

Why is it that this fabulous watch technology isn’t more widely accepted?
I mean not only do you get Radio Control now but it is often accompanied by so many other upmarket features.
Solar Power (no battery changing), World Timer (with RC this really comes into it’s own) plus chronographs & timers features, alarms, Titanium, Water Resistance, anti-reflective coatings, scratch resistant this and that……the list goes on.
There are lots of styles available now such as divers, aviators, minimalist or dress and surely are becoming the ultimate watch…..so what’s the problem?

Well I suppose it’s us again…..people….and our likes and dislikes and of course that peculiar place that a watch has in our affections.
It’s really very personal…..

I mean – clockwork people are not in the least interested – those of us who love the mechanics of a watch, the quality of miniature wheels and cogs all working in harmony to create a measure of – time.  A work of art even.
They don’t care a jot if it’s a few seconds out in a day or a week! – it’s close enough – we’re not computers anyway!

And there are  many others.  I mean and I’ve heard it said – do we NEED to be so accurate?

Do we really need 4 wheel drive when it only snows for maybe a week each year and when do we ever go off-road?

Well maybe not often I suppose, but it’s nice to have the choice and maybe that’s what it’s all about. Yes we have innovation, new technology and so on and good that we have it otherwise we’d stagnate. But we also have tradition and elegance and craftsmanship and beauty.

Watches may be about time, but in a way are somehow timeless – so as long as the price is right, why not have both!

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