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Glashütte Original - The watch that changed the world

Glashütte Original The watch that changed the world

The surprising historical importance of the chronometer.

If not for the chronometer, the world would be a very different place. First of all, this article probably wouldn’t be in English. I wouldn’t be speaking it, and chances are you wouldn’t either. Why’s that, you ask? Let’s do a little thought experiment here, if you’ll allow me to borrow your speculative imaginations for a couple of minutes. 

English today is the most spoken language in the world, purely due to the United Kingdom’s colonial dominance in a previous era. There used to be a saying, that the sun never set on the British Empire due to how numerous and widespread their colonies were, which seems crazy today when you think about the actual size of the British Isles. 

How did the British beat out the Portuguese (who got into the empire business in 1415, almost four centuries before the Brits), the Dutch (who also had a huge head start in empire building), the French (double their country size) and the Spanish (ditto) to establish the biggest empire the world has ever seen?

Obviously, the answer is highly complex, with several contributing factors, but I’ll give you one of the biggest reasons. They had better clocks. Don’t laugh. I can explain.

The biggest problem about launching a colonial campaign (leaving aside the fundamental moral bankruptcy of such an endeavour) back in the early modern era was that of marine navigation. Naval forces long had the ability to determine latitude by measuring the sun’s declination at its zenith. Determining longitude was trickier — it required precise information about local time relative to a reference time, and accurate timekeepers were needed for this purpose. Tough as it was to find a timing instrument accurate enough to function on land, being at sea exponentially increased the challenge, since the motion of the waves would interfere with a clock’s regulating organ. 

Early successes in marine exploration owed more to luck than actual navigational prowess — Christopher Columbus didn’t know where the hell he was going and thought he was in India when he made landfall; Vasco de Gama only made it to India by sailing within view of land for nearly half the total distance travelled. John Harrison’s invention of the marine chronometer in 1761 catapulted the British naval forces way beyond any other nation’s, allowing them to surpass the other colonial powers in almost every area, from acquiring new territories to trouncing their rivals in sea battles. 

La montre qui changea le monde

Marine timekeeper, H2 by John Harrison, 1737-1739

In other words, watchmaking — and specifically chronometers — shaped the world as we know it today. So, the next time someone asks you why people care so much about precision in mechanical watchmaking, you’ll have a nice little history lesson to give them. Optimally, you’d even have a chronometer on your wrist, just to drive home the point.

Germany was never really that big in the empire game before the 20th century, but when the German navy began to equip its ships with German-made chronometers, these marine timekeepers came from Glashütte.

La montre qui changea le monde

Glashütte Original marine chronometer © Glashütte Original

In 2009, Glashütte Original released the Senator Chronometer in homage to this world-changing device. Instead of certification by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC), Glashütte Original preserved the German spirit of their Senator Chronometer by certifying them with the German Calibration Service. The in-house manual-winding calibre 58-01 has a zero-reset mechanism for more precise time-setting, a jumping big date, and a power reserve of 45 hours.

La montre qui changea le monde

Senator Chronometer 2009 © Glashütte Original

This year, Glashütte Original celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Senator Chronometer with an elegant version in red gold, with a case design that has been subtly refined to emphasise elegance and classicism. The calibre 58-01 continues to inhabit the 2019 Senator Chronometer, its every beat a tribute to the timekeepers that shaped the modern age.

La montre qui changea le monde

Senator Chronometer 2019 © Glashütte Original


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