Watches Explained: Hacking

Watches Explained: Hacking

How to "hack" a watch:

So, you know what a mechanical watch is and that mechanical movements require (manual or automatic) winding to keep ticking.
You may have even heard the term “watch hacking” or “hacking a watch”, but what does that actually mean?
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No, hacking a watch does not involve stealing anyone's bank account details or impersonating their Grandma on Facebook.
Hacking simply refers to ability to mechanically stop a watches time ticking.
Identifying whether a mechanical watch movement has hacking is very straightforward: simply pull the crown out and look at the second hand – if it’s stopped moving, the movement has hacking, if it’s continuing to tick, it doesn’t.
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So, how does hacking work?

Hack-able movements have a fine L-shaped lever, (called the balance stop or hacking lever) which is mechanically linked to the crown and sits in a small gap between the ratchet and balance wheel. Pulling the crown out causes the hacking lever to pivot right into the balance wheel, creating a friction stop. 
Watch movement hacking lever
Without the back-and-forth rotation from the balance wheel, the entire movement comes to an immediate stop - similar to stopping the pendulum on a larger clock.  
In mechanical watches without hacking, pulling the crown out allows you set the time or to wind the main spring without the balance wheel and second hand stopping. 

Why bother?

Like most major-timepiece breakthrough's, watch hacking was first developed during WWII, enabling soldiers to perform synchronized maneuvers by being on the same timeline, right down to the second.
In today's world, this feature essentially allows you to set the time correct to the nearest second - the usefulness of which may be debated since mechanical watches generally lose/gain a few seconds per day anyway, but most will agree that it is a nice feature to have.
Due to the added complexity required in the movement, hacking is not usually found in cheaper or entry level watches, nor is it a mechanical feature of quartz/battery powered watches. Although a similar result is achieved by disconnecting the battery from the circuit, causing the movement to stop.
Mechanical vs quartz watch movement
Mechanical vs Quartz movement

Mechanical watches truly are a work of art and continue to have incredible innovations. If you're interested in what mechanical movements offer versus their Quartz counterparts, read our comparison here.
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