As I assembled myself this morning, specifically as I attached my Apple Watch to my wrist, I reflected upon the mechanical watches and clocks I have owned and the ticking sound they make. This in turn reminded me of the sound made by mechanical automobiles. The sound of mechanism in play is so gratifying that both battery powered watches and electric automobiles are at times outfitted with synthetic reproductions of mechanical movement and sound. For watches the mere appearance of a ticking minute hand (as opposed to the velvety sweep of a battery powered device) is an achievement.
Mechancial watches, clocks and cars align their necessity for winding and stimulation with our human desiderata; and the resulting tick, grind or groan is poetically reminiscent of the heartbeat. We are after all more mechanical than electronic; that is, more changeable and unpredictable than precise to the second.
The term “mechanical” oddly suffers an element of disregard. Aside from the calumny of habitual or inhuman, mechanical is snobbishly associated with artisans – that is, craftsmen which initially sounds good but more specifically implies tradesmen such as a smith, wright or journeyman or a manual labourer sometimes disparagingly called a “grease monkey”. These are skilful men but nonetheless the “trades”. Consider for example the word “banausic” which means “merely mechanical,” coined in 1845 from the Greek banausikos “pertaining to mechanics,” from banausos “artisan, mere mechanical,” hence (to the Greeks) “base, ignoble;” sometimes said to be literally “working by fire,” from baunos “furnace, forge”.
Notwithstanding the lower class signification of the term mechanic the expression “complicated watch” applies exclusively to the most exotic mechanical productions.
In horology, a complication is any feature of a mechanical timepiece beyond the display of hours, minutes and seconds. A timepiece indicating only hours, minutes and seconds is known as a simple movement. Common complications include date or day-of-the-week indicators, alarms, chronographs (stopwatches), and automatic winding mechanisms. Complications may be found in any mechanical clock, but they are most notable in mechanical watches where the small size makes them difficult to design and assemble. A typical date-display chronograph may have up to 250 parts, while a particularly complex watch may have a thousand or more parts. Watches with several complications are referred to as grandes complications.
Far removed from the image of muscle and brawn confronting a furnace or forging an iron, the comparative purity of electronic devices and machines has similarly dampened the glitter and ornamentation associated with mechanical devices; viz., gold and diamond-trimmed bezels, alligator straps with gilded buckles, cars with brilliant grills emblazoned with chrome. Yet the tactile feature of mechanical devices – their weight alone – preserves a degree of attraction.
As we increasingly opt for electronic devices we become incrementally separated from them. There is little need for our association with the electric devices apart from plugging them in for a battery charge. They are no longer dependent upon our calculation of the date or time; there is no need for exertion to wind their spring; the maintenance of the parts of the automobile is now as electrifying as being an electrician allows. The electric world is binary; that is, on or off. Gone are the mechanical products (visible and audible) of the components. Indeed, gone are the components. A watchcase is now but an antique replica of a vacant image. Small wonder the appearance of electric automobiles are changing so radically.