Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
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NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
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In 1801, the great watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon, a device that increases the accuracy of the watch. But now the watch is already very accurate, and the tourbillon significantly increases its value.

How to sell a tourbillon watch?

The answer is a little later.




The very first device for at least roughly determining the time at all was the only one, inaccessible at night and cloudy weather, at least approximately showing how much time is left before dark. The sun, of course – what else?

But if everyone has something, then they don’t really want to use it. Not to mention the fact that it has practically no accuracy – plus two to three hours in general. Firstly, it wants to start something of its own, and secondly, more precisely – so that you can at least agree on when to meet.

The first such instrument, most likely, was a pole, in Greek a gnomon, that is, a pointer.  You stuck it in the ground and look at the length of the shadow. When it’s the shortest, it’s noon. And by the length of the shadow at the moment you can already estimate what time it is – if you know what an hour is.

Please note: the fact that the clock is all the same, measuring 1/24 day, was invented relatively recently. Previously, it was believed that 12 daytime hours and 12 night hours – separately. Therefore, at different times of the year, the clocks were of different lengths. For example, in the winter in Rome, an hour was equal to about 45 minutes.

The earliest sundials found by archaeologists were made in Egypt around 1500 BC. About 500 years later, they appeared in China, and for the Greeks and Romans they were already a common thing. One thing is clear – there was no need to talk about their great accuracy, plus or minus an hour …

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
Sundial in Beijing




The sun, air and water, as we were taught from childhood, are our best friends. I’m not sure about the air, but water was more capable of doing a person the same service as the sun – helping to determine the time. The time it takes for a given vessel with a hole to empty is approximately the same.

There were two types of water clocks. In the East, a cup with a hole was floating in the pool: as water gets into it and the cup sinks, time has passed. And in Europe, water flowed out of a cylindrical vessel – usually transparent and with divisions, so that you can immediately see how much has passed and how much is left.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
Water clock from Persia

The Greeks gave the water clock, at first glance, the beautiful name “klepsydra”, meaning “water thief”. And in Rome, such a clock measured the time of the speech of the judicial orator, so as not to delay the process. The water has flowed out of the vessel – “time has expired”, and this is a figurative expression from there.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?

It was not easy to supply vessels with water with timestamps – the less water, the slower it flows out. Both Galileo and Bernoulli once asked themselves the problem: what should be the shape of the vessel so that water flows out of it evenly? It turned out to be difficult to solve it …

The water clock already has a hand that marks a specific time, sometimes of a very original design. Some of them forced the bell to ring at the appointed time. And for the American Indians, leaky boats served for hours – as it sinks, time passed.

If sundials were usually installed on city squares, clepsydras were already made for houses and estates – a market appeared. How to stand out on it? Or high cost and beauty (like Gnei Pompey, who decorated watches with gold and jewels), or cunning gadgets, like Harun al-Rashid (his clepsydra, sent to Charlemagne, beat off the clock with falling balls).





On a Byzantine sarcophagus of the 4th century, there is an image of the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of Achilles. Look at the figurine in the hands of the sleep god Morpheus. This is a different kind of clock – hourglass. Unlike water watches, the speed of sand pouring is always the same, no matter how much it pours out – uniform hour marks can be applied on cylindrical watches.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
The wedding of Peleus and Thetis

The hourglass has become a heraldic symbol, and a rather gloomy one – death and frailty of life. Death was often depicted with an hourglass. And on the flags of the most brutal pirates like Blackbeard, the hourglass meant that all the captives would be killed.

But also peaceful seafarers widely used the hourglass. The four-hour watch was celebrated by turning the half-hour hourglass eight times. Each time a bell was struck, hence the popular nautical expression “to beat the vials”. 8 flasks – end of watch.

The hourglass is still actively used in medicine – to mark the constant time of procedures. This is because it is usually small – a maximum of half an hour or an hour. True, in the Japanese city of Oda there is an hourglass 5.2 meters high, designed for exactly one year!

In addition, now such a watch is a popular souvenir. How to position them so that they can be bought at a high price? The first, obvious solution – to decorate with gold and jewelry, like the watch from the Metropolitan Museum. The second is to press on the steps for accuracy, as in medieval Paris, where black marble crumbs boiled in red wine were taken as sand.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
16th century golden hourglass

And you can ask for an absolutely insane price for a watch in which instead of sand there are small diamonds! I’ve seen these at the Tel Aviv Diamond Museum. Yakutsk ALROSA sells such a watch with 160 carats of small diamonds for $ 1600 – inexpensive! In Thailand, they made a watch abruptly – they have 10,000 carats of diamonds, and they want $ 3,000,000 for it. And after all, someone will buy, no doubt about it …




For a long time, all these funny movements gave way to mechanical watches, they became more reliable and more accurate. The first mechanical watches were made in China in the 8th century, then the Arabs mastered them, and from them such a useful secret has already got to the Europeans.

At first, such a clock was moved by weights, but the pendulum did not appear in them immediately. In 1288 they arose on the tower of Westminster Abbey. They were difficult – the clock of the cathedral in Strasbourg stroke every hour, part of the day, church holidays and Easter. But they had only one hand – the hour.

After Galileo’s research, a pendulum clock appeared. But they cannot be carried with you – they must not be moved. Yes, and it is not worth carrying to distant lands – the acceleration of free fall changes, and with it the speed of travel. As a matter of fact, it is usually large – not very tricky!

But by that time, the revolution in watchmaking had already been made by Peter Henlein of Nuremberg. Either in an almshouse (as the modern website says), or even in a debt prison (information from a school textbook in German), he built the “Nuremberg egg” – the world’s first pocket watch with a single hand. They spent 40 hours at the same plant – that’s a lot!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
“The Nuremberg Egg”




There are more and more pocket watches – any wealthy bourgeois can already carry them with him. Which watches will survive, which ones will they buy? It is clear that gold and stones will help in this – after all, a luxury item. But again, it is easier to sell something that has additional amenities.

For example, at the end of the 17th century, the Englishman Fatio de Duillier learned to drill rubies with diamonds, getting small holes with very smooth and durable edges. The use of such rubies as watch bearings made watches precise and durable. This is what they do now.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
Ruby bearings

Then a repeater appeared in the watch – a mechanism that, when a button is pressed, beats off the time with a sound, allowing it to be used even in the dark, when the hands are not visible. Such a watch was useful for sailors who needed to know the time at night. I pressed the button – and I heard!

Quite good additional money could be obtained for a watch with a calendar – and simpler, which in months with less than 31 days had to be summed up manually, and more complicated, taking into account even leap years and adding the 29th day to February. Who won’t pay?

And in 1770, the Swiss Abraham-Lewis Perelet invented an automatic winding – an eccentric mechanism that converts the random movements of a person wearing a watch into energy that winds up a spring. If you walk a lot with such a watch, you don’t have to start it at all.

Later, they also came up with a bezel – a rotating ring on the dial, which serves as a timer. For divers, the bezel only rotates in one direction, so that random movement does not increase the time for which oxygen is sufficient. The last 15 minutes of the bezel are red – a signal to ascend.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
Bezel watch


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 “Until the vigilant Breguet rings his lunch”, was written in Yevgeniy Onegin. Breguet is not entirely true, with a dumb t at the end, a reading of the surname of the French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, whose watch wanted to buy everyone who could afford it.

This descendant of the Huguenots, who returned from Switzerland to France, when religious persecution subsided there a little, was not a simple watchmaker, but a rather serious scientist. He even became one of the forty “immortals” – a member of the Academy of Sciences and the Bureau for the determination of longitudes.

In addition to the fact that he established a quite noticeable production of high-quality and reliable models of pocket watches, so much so that there was also a copy for Yevgeniy Onegin, he was the inventor of useful improvements – for example, he improved the automatic winding mechanism.

But his most striking invention was, of course, the tourbillon – from the French word “tourbillon”, that is, a whirlwind. It was designed to reduce the influence of the Earth’s gravity, from which it is still impossible to hide, on the accuracy of the clock he created.

In fact, the tourbillon turns the entire clockwork around its axis within one minute, which, due to the influence of the Earth’s gravity, makes the watch rush for half a minute and lag behind for the next half a minute – this negates the influence of the Earth’s gravity on the accuracy of the movement.




It is clear that the tourbillon is not a very simple device. It consists of about a hundred of the smallest details and is so expensive that it still costs tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, watches with a tourbillon run more accurately, but is the game worth the candle and how many are willing to pay for it?

Throughout his life, Breguet, who produced and sold a huge number of his pocket watches, was able to sell only 35 pieces with a tourbillon. At the same time, a watch without a tourbillon accumulated an error of up to 15 seconds per day only due to gravity, while a tourbillon reduced it to only 1 second.

It should also be taken into account that Breguet made the tourbillon specifically for pocket watches – they are always in the same position during wear, and you can position the tourbillon so that the effect of it is maximized. Wristwatches were then a rare toy, mainly for women.

However, in the 80s of the XIX century, the unofficial ban on wrist watches for men came to an end – it was inconvenient for officers to use pocket watches in combat conditions. Breguet’s tourbillon was ineffective for wristwatches – their position in space could become anything.

This is not to mention the fact that watch parts began to be made with much greater precision than under Breguet, and they began to walk much better without any tourbillon. With this device, of course, it is better, but how to sell such a complex and expensive device, which gives a relatively low effect?




Tourbillon watches are a clear luxury item. How do they look different from watches without a tourbillon? Nothing! This is what needs to be corrected.

So they began to make special windows in watches through which the tourbillon is visible. Look, they say, and envy!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to sell a good watch at a high price?
Tourbillon watches




The tourbillon immediately became popular! Mechanical watches by that time were no longer the most accurate device for determining the time – electronic watches were much more accurate and, importantly, cheaper. The watch has turned into an artifact that testifies to the status of the owner.

And what else could give such an artifact a little more luxury and mystery, if not the most complicated unit of obscure purpose, perfectly visible through the round window? My watch has a tourbillon, but yours does not, and everyone can see this from a mile away – and who are you after that?

By the way, the use of the tourbillon has increased in the 21st century. In 2003, the renowned watchmaker Franck Muller invented the Tourbillon Revolution, a type of tourbillon with two carriages, one of which rotates horizontally and the other vertically. Such a tourbillon is effective at any position of the watch. Soon a new model appeared, which already rotated in 3 planes.

So the tourbillon has become a completely salable improvement, a sign that, firstly, you buy the very best, and, secondly, you can pay absolutely indecent money for it. True, he brings benefits, but in such situations, is it really important?




The degree of civilization is largely determined by the high cost of time. The time of a savage is almost worthless, the time of a civilized person is much more expensive and must be counted.

A prestigious item should not only differ from a non-prestigious one – this difference should be clearly visible. Do not run after everyone to explain to him what an expensive thing I have that he will never get …

When Peter Henlein was either in prison or in an almshouse, he was not obliged to do anything there. If he did that, he would die in obscurity. And he decided that it was better to work than to beat the thumbs – and achieved the result!

If in France they had not stopped chasing the Protestants in the tail and in the mane, Breguet would have remained in Switzerland, and all the considerable money for his labors would have flowed there. If a religion appears in a state that is better than others, it has to pay for it. And not just cash.

The tourbillon brings some benefit, but that’s not the point. It is like a star on epaulettes or braid on the leg. These are the things that get paid the most.


All illustrations from open sources

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