back to article Brit horologist hammers out ‘first’ ATOMIC-POWERED watch

Could this be the chronometrist’s ultimate timepiece, the peak of horological haute couture? British bespoke movement maker Hoptroff today claimed to have produced the world’s first personal chronometer with an on board atomic clock. The result, says Hoptroff, is a accuracy of 1.5 seconds every 3.15 x 1010 seconds - that’s …

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  1. Thomas 4
    Thumb Up

    Screw the iWatch

    I want one of these babies. Oo

    1. Rob
      Go

      Re: Screw the iWatch

      If Breitling made one, I'd mortgage the house, wife and my son and get a few loans to buy one.

      1. Alan Edwards
        Happy

        Re: Screw the iWatch

        The Quantum SA45s, the timekeeping gubbins of the watch, costs $1,500, so the display mechanicals are costing $48,500

    2. FartingHippo

      Re: Screw the iWatch

      Too right. If you can't use it to attract a metallic boat and thus escape Dr Kananga's alligators, I'm not interested.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Screw the iWatch

      But really - we already have clocks that can set from the radio rime signals and GPS watches - both are already extremely accurate to the point of further accuracy is pretty pointless. I suspect any iWatch would run NTP so it's already going to have sub second accuracy so unless you are using your watch for piloting a cruise missile or high frequency trading etc. I can think of better ways of spending the dosh.

      1. Thomas 4

        Re: Screw the iWatch

        @AC - I fear you are missing the point. The point is that when someone comes up to you and says "Hello peasant, I have an iWatch" you are in a position to retort "Well, that's pretty cool but inside my watch, right now, a high power laser is firing at a radioactive isotope, keeping time accurate to a nanosecond. But yeah, I guess an iWatch is pretty cool as well."

  2. Peter Fairbrother 1
    Holmes

    Cesium is not radioactive

    Cesium-133, as used in atomic clocks, is not radioactive (and afaik it's not "nuclear material", whatever that is).

    1. Dabooka Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Cesium is not radioactive

      I'm sure your technically accurate description will go a long way with the chumps at Terminal 5. [pass the gloves] :-)

      1. andy k O'Croydon
        Coat

        Re: Cesium is not radioactive

        Or the chair-moisteners in Sector 7G.

        The one with the glowing green rod on the back.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: the chumps at Terminal 5

        ...will only see a watch. Unless you stick an entirely unnecessary "Nuclear" symbol on the front face, they won't treat it any differently from a Casio.

        1. Havin_it
          Joke

          Re: the chumps at Terminal 5

          Unless you stick an entirely unnecessary "Nuclear" symbol on the front face

          Definitely not flying El Al with that one then.

          "Welcome to Tel Aviv, sir. Anything to declare?"

          "Only my chutzpah guv."

          "Sir, I notice your watch has an atomic symbol on it...?"

          "Ah, yes that... Oh no! It's not nuclear, you see what it is is, it's got this gas chamber that..."

          "Sir, please step out of the line."

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Cesium is not radioactive

      Correct. Cesium atomic clocks don't involve radioactivity. Mr. Smith should stop doing drugs while writing for The Register.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Cesium is not radioactive

        > Mr. Smith should stop doing drugs while writing for The Register.

        Well, Agents need to keep themselves occupied while on watch duty in the Matrix, so a little whimsicality is expected.

  3. Valerion

    About "time"

    I so need this. I often worry about turning up to work 0.00001 seconds late.

    I bet the battery doesn't last 1000 years though.

    1. Natalie Gritpants
      Facepalm

      Re: About "time"

      Presumably that's why there is a "lithium-polymer battery fed through a micro USB port".

    2. Phuzi
      WTF?

      Re: About "time"

      I thought title suggested it would though lol

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: About "time"

      I wonder how small it's possible to build a 1000-year capable RTG?

      C

    4. Number6

      Re: About "time"

      Yes, my first thought was battery life. 40mA from a lithium battery, 25 hours with a 1AH coin cell, 200 hours from an 8AH C cell. Definitely not a small watch.

    5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: About "time"

      > I bet the battery doesn't last 1000 years though.

      The electronics won't last even 30.

  4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Not radioactive

    As caesium atomic clocks use the stable isotope caesium-133, it is not radioactive, and there is no danger of being accused of moving nuclear material while travelling.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Not radioactive

      Damn. Beaten to the punch!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not radioactive

      So long as it doesn't have glow-in-the-dark numbers on the dial!

      1. Cameron Colley

        I happen to have experience transporting radioactive material across international borders.

        My Tritium keyring from El Reg never so much as raised an eyebrow.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: I happen to have experience transporting radioactive material across international borders.

          ...except if the tritium caused a brain tumor?

        2. tabman
          Thumb Up

          Re: I happen to have experience transporting radioactive material across international borders.

          How can I get myself one of those Cameron?

        3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I happen to have experience transporting radioactive material across international borders.

          >My Tritium keyring from El Reg never so much as raised an eyebrow.

          Was it under 2oz and did you put it in the magic terrorist-proof clear plastic bag?

          1. Cameron Colley

            Re: I happen to have experience transporting radioactive material across international borders.

            @tabman: Sadly El Reg don't sell them any more as the store has closed. I think searching fr "tritium keyring" might show something up on google though.

            @Yet Another Anonymous coward: It was attached to my keys -- even went through US security with it.

            1. M. Poolman

              Re: I happen to have experience transporting radioactive material across international borders.

              I had a couple of those key-rings, both now sadly defunct. Could El Reg do them again ?

    3. Alan Edwards
      Happy

      Re: Not radioactive

      > As caesium atomic clocks use the stable isotope caesium-133, it is not radioactive, and there is no danger

      > of being accused of moving nuclear material while travelling.

      Doesn't stop the idiots seeing the word 'atomic' and thinking it could wipe out the city if you dropped it.

      The makers might want to learn from NMR, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging. People saw 'nuclear' and got scared, so it was rebranded magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Same thing, less scary name.

      How about 'laser-excited chromometer'?

  5. Simon Harris Silver badge
    Facepalm

    It may be the most accurate watch in the world...

    ... but it takes half an hour to work out which of the dials is actually telling the time!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It may be the most accurate watch in the world...

      And seeing as there are no actual dials there, just the hands, the time you read may well be wildly out anyway!

      Yes, yes, I know that the pictures are of the squirkit board and not of a finished product. Get over it.

      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: It may be the most accurate watch in the world...

        And it will need to be reset twice each year to accommodate summertime/dst.

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: It may be the most accurate watch in the world...

          nah, you just use different dial for it!

        2. Boothy

          Re: It may be the most accurate watch in the world...

          Quote "And it will need to be reset twice each year to accommodate summertime/dst."

          I would hope at that price it would do that itself!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. StephenTompsett
    Happy

    Too many moving parts...

    Hands are so steam-punk. An 'Atomic Clock" needs a digital display.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Too many moving parts...

      Only if they are Nixie tubes...

      1. John Sager

        Re: Too many moving parts...

        Dekatrons!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too many moving parts...

        The Woz and his Nixie tube watch ...

        www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4R3hODnTGo‎

    2. Number6

      Re: Too many moving parts...

      Hands are so steam-punk. An 'Atomic Clock" needs a digital display.

      So fingers rather than hands then?

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Too many moving parts...

      If you look at the 'front', there appear to be a ring of what look like LEDs, possibly multi-colour, which may work like those in a Solsuno watch, replacing the main hands of the watch. That would be pretty cool.

    4. Steven Roper
      Joke

      Re: Too many moving parts...

      Are you admitting to being so amazingly primitive that you think digital watches are a pretty neat idea?

  7. Red Bren
    Facepalm

    Most accurate watch in the world?

    If I bought this for my wife, she would set it a few minutes fast so she wouldn't be late...

    1. Ragarath
      Coat

      Re: Most accurate watch in the world?

      But then, as I do, she would know the watch was 2 minutes late and realise she can be 2 minutes late.

      Then one day, the watch connects to an ntp server, realises it is 2 minutes fast, sets the proper time and then she turns up 2 minutes late for the next 1000 years :)

    2. Ted Treen
      FAIL

      Re: Most accurate watch in the world?

      Mine would, too. However, she'd still be late...

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    Willy-waving.

    Could this be the chronometrist’s ultimate timepiece, the peak of horological haute couture?

    Er, no. That would be something having that sort of of accuracy, but done with clockwork. In the world of watches your el cheapo quartz job will easily qualify for chronometric accuracy, yet a clockwork one that does will set you back a tidy sum.

    When it comes to watch willy-waving it's all about the craftsmanship, not the accuracy. Thus we still have multi-tourbillon watches at the high end of things, purely because they're bloody complicated to make.

    1. Steve Todd
      Thumb Up

      Re: Willy-waving.

      You should see the gyroscopic tourbillons, beautiful to behold with the balance wheels rotating on all 3 axis while they regulate the watch, but stupidly expensive (think 7 figures for a watch). Quartz and radio controlled time signals beat mechanical long ago, in the same way that cars beat horses, but people still spend big money on race horses.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Willy-waving.

        people still spend big money on race horses

        That's because you can still turn that one into lasagna filling if things don't work out

    2. J__M__M

      Re: Willy-waving.

      Like so: http://www.calibre11.com/tag-heuer-mikrotimer-flying-1000/

    3. Gadgety

      Re: Willy-waving.

      You are of course absolutely correct in your assertion. People (males) love their mechanical complication watches. Still you are implying that this atomic watch is not complicated to make, which I guess it is, at least in a miniaturized form.

  9. Robin Bradshaw

    What?

    "The unit contains a temperature controlled caesium gas chamber. A laser is used to heat the radioactive atoms, and a microwave resonator to detect the emissions from the atoms’ electrons as they change energy levels as part of the radioactive decay. The frequency of the microwaves is highly stable and provides the clock’s beat."

    Unless symmetricon have some freakish new way to make a physics package the caesium used is caesium-133 which is not radioactive, and radioactive decay has nothing to do with it.

    Here is a great video where engineer guy explains how a Cs atomic clock works, please note references to radiation are to electromagnetic radiation, ie microwaves

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2BxAu6WZI8

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: What?

      But if the proton is NOT STABLE, then El Reg is actually RIGHT!

  10. Chemist

    "Must try harder"

    "and a microwave resonator to detect the emissions from the atoms’ electrons as they change energy levels as part of the radioactive decay."

    "and a microwave resonator to detect the emissions from the atoms’ electrons as they change energy levels" -Fixed

  11. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Nukular material

    "you’ll need some kind of official say-so to go gallivanting around with nuclear material in your pocket."

    But... but... you can freely buy a Traser watch full of beta-active tritium! Must be a Government conspiracy...

    1. Tony Haines
      Mushroom

      Re: Nukular material

      Reminds me of Mr Burns' Grandfather:

      "Come on, come on! Crack those atoms! You, turn out your pockets. (worker does so) Atoms! (counts them) One, two three, four… six of them! Take him away!"

  12. ukgnome Silver badge

    Where can I get one?

    I have searched and not found one, not that I am likely able to afford it. But it is my 40th coming up and maybe a family member would like to buy me one.

    1. Robin Bradshaw

      ukgnome search ebay for "fe-5680a" it wont be so much a wristwatch as an atomic clock rucksack but itll be cheaper :)

  13. Michael Hoffmann
    Coat

    Demon powered?

    Was I the only one who read "gnomon" and thought... "gnome", "miniature demon", then wondered if this one of those Discworld watches that go "bing, bingle-dee-bing, Time For Work, Insert-Your-Name-Here!"

  14. Anonymous Coward 15
    Mushroom

    Needs a nuclear battery

    like in old pacemakers. Also needs some Nixie or VFD tubes.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    That's useful

    Now I can tell just how late my train is to the nearest nanosecond.

  16. JDX Gold badge

    Pictures?

    The innards are cool but where are the 28 dials?

  17. CraPo
    FAIL

    Something missing?

    And what is the name of the timepiece itself?

  18. PC Paul
    Facepalm

    Cold start time setting?

    So after the lithium battery runs down and it loses the current time/date, how does it get reset to sufficient accuracy?

    NTP over Bluetooth wouldn't cut it to get sub-microsecond precision so presumably you need a calibrated, rack mounted and UPS protected atomic clock it can connect up to and resync?

    1. Ed 13

      Re: Cold start time setting?

      You have to set the time yourself through the modules serial interface (It's not RS232, it's TTL level serial </pedant>).

      I would imagine that Hoptroff have designed some mechanism to do that with the classic winder that you have on pocket watches.

      All you are getting with the Cs source is a very stable time reading, not an absolute measurement of time.

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Cold start time setting?

      Pretty simple actually, you just hold both the hour and minute buttons down for a few seconds until it flashes and when you press the select button it stops flashing and the seconds are at zero.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Radio controlled watches render this timepiece redundant

    Watches in radio contact with national atomic clocks, that is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Radio controlled watches render this timepiece redundant

      That's exactly what I was thinking. My $30 Casio "atomic" (radio updated) wristwatch keeps perfect time, with the battery lasting 3+ years, thank you very much.

      I guess the only time my watch won't update is after The Bomb has gone off; should I be out of signal in an underground shelter, I may find myself being 0.001 seconds late opening my ration of Spam.

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: Radio controlled watches render this timepiece redundant

      There are some limitations to radio controlled watches.

      The first and most obvious is that the most common type need to be within 1500 km of a time base transmitter (there's 1 for Europe, one for the US of A and one in Japan that I know of). There are quite large chunks of the world that are out of range. There's another type that uses the GPS time base, but they need more power.

      The second is that the signal is strong and free from interference. From experience this is oftern untrue. Synchronisation can fail for days at a time.

      Better to use NNTP time from the Internet or the time base from the cellular network which is more pervasive.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Radio controlled watches render this timepiece redundant

        There are far more transmitters than that. I know, because the cheapy radio clock I bought from a market stall syncs with the germany signal, although I'm in the UK, so it's an hour fast :(

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_clock#List_of_radio_time_signal_stations

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Radio controlled watches render this timepiece redundant

          You're picking up the European transmitter (the UK is within 1500km of it - most of the UK anyway). The UK has its own, but it's an incompatible format and frequency so most radio clocks use the European signal.

  20. John Savard Silver badge

    Indeed

    Atoms change energy levels when electrons descend from one shell to another. This is what happens when fluorescent lamps or neon lights shine. If radioactive decay took place, the watch would run out of gas eventually as the gas changed to another element, or at least another isotope.

    After seeing so many watches that set themselves via short-wave time signals, I was waiting for a watch like this to go beyond quartz. Too bad it's so expensive. Hope that a cheaper, slightly less accurate, but more stable, rubidium version comes out soon.

  21. Crisp Silver badge

    It looks ugly, bulky, and difficult to use

    So why do I want one so bad?

  22. Steve Williams
    Unhappy

    Long-term rate stability: good. Instantaneous timekeeping: less good.

    Since the display is based on mechanical hands driven by stepper motors, the amount of time the stepper takes to activate, and the stepper's variance over the years, will be a significant source of inaccuracy if you really want to know the correct time NOW.

    Even an LCD or LED display takes a significant time (in atomic clock terms) to build up an image.

    That's to say nothing of the time taken in the neural pathways to the brain to actually perceive the time.

  23. Christoph Silver badge
    Boffin

    I'll wait for the next version

    I want one of the atomic clocks they're designing now, which they reckon will be accurate to better than one second.

    That's not one second in X million years, that's one second in 13.8 billion years. Better than one second accuracy since the Big Bang.

  24. Alan Sharkey
    Facepalm

    But where does it get the initial time from when you put the battery in?

    Alan

  25. Dr. Ellen
    FAIL

    Does not compute full time

    It'll get all bunged up when we have a leap second.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Miek
    Linux

    "Brit horologist hammers out ‘first’ ATOMIC-POWERED watch" -- Powered by Atoms? Are you sure? I Assume batteries are still required.

  27. David Paul Morgan
    Big Brother

    how much more accurate..?

    .. would this make gps location fixes?

    If it could be made small enough to go in sat-nav/smartphone devices?

    (big brother, 'cos he knows where you are..!)

  28. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

    This could be a very cool device.

    Years ago, the atomic clocks used in satellites were the size of cigarette lighters. (That was state of the art.) Not sure how much drift (accuracy) occurred when compared to this slightly smaller unit.

    The cool thing is that while its a bit big for a watch, its possible to build a pocket watch that could be used to make a more accurate personal GPS device.

    While they sell 'atomic' wall clocks (they receive the radio signal from the national time centers), imagine having your own clock that can automatically give you the correct time without having to sync with base stations or other devices.

    Ok, so its just a pure geek thing. ;-)

    I definitely want one.

  29. GBE

    What's with the "nuclear" and "radiocative" crap?

    WTF? There's nothing nuclear or radiactive involved in cesium "atomic" clocks.

    I hesistate to take cheap shots at authors, but that stuff was blatently made up from whole cloth. Perhaps we should take up a collection so the author can take a class on how to use Google and Wikepedia.

  30. FraGough
    WTF?

    Daily Mail school of headline generation?

    So it's not an atomically powered watch then, it's lithium polymer powered. Atomically CONTROLLED maybe?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Build 12 to patent it

    Maybe a bit of patent trolling?

    http://www.hoptroff.com/news.html

    1. Ray Gratis
      Unhappy

      Re: Build 12 to patent it

      I was unhappy when I looked at their patent-happy website. They have a patent which covers using the second hand to point to "other things". Sheesh.

  32. tabman
    Joke

    Back to the future reference

    Are you telling me this sucker's nuclear?

    No, no, no. This sucker's electrical but I need a nuclear reaction to [generate accurate clock pulses!)

  33. DougS Silver badge

    Where is the market for an accurate watch?

    These days, most people already carry a device with them that tells them the time accurate to within a fraction of a second. The wearing of a watch as a device simply to tell time, so necessary a few decades ago, is no longer practiced. Those who wear watches today wear them for fashion, and don't really care all that much about its accuracy as a timepiece.

    1. Boothy
      WTF?

      Re: Where is the market for an accurate watch?

      I wear a watch for convenience, not fasion, my other devices, such as my phone have to be removed from pocket and activated to show the time, my watch is just there, all the time, instant access (looks at wrist) and more accurate than any smart phone that syncs with NTP or the local cell network.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Where is the market for an accurate watch?

        Sorry, you're a fool if you think a wristwatch, ANY wristwatch, even a watch that has an atomic clock inside, is more accurate than a device synced with NTP. Go look up the specs for NTP and then tell me honestly that even if you have an infinitely accurate watch that there is any way you can actually SET that watch more accurately than NTP will set your phone.

        Even if it is accurate to one part in a billion billion billion billion if you set it a hundredth of a second off (which you'd be doing quite well to manage) it is still off by more than a NTP synced device, and it will remain always off by that hundredth of a second until the heat death of the universe.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Or you could let someone else do the heavy lifting and like me use watches radio-controlled by the caesium clocks in Rugby and Frankfurt. Not anywhere near as accurate but significantly more accessible.

    1. Boothy

      I use the same, and you have the added benefit that it's an absolute time, rather than just a 'ticker', so the watch/clocks set themselves correctly as soon as they are switched on, and notice automatically summer/winter clock changes. (Mine is also solar powered, so batteries not needed either).

      Also it's not in Rugby, it's in Anthorn, Cumbria, has been for years.

  35. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    Was this article written by Steven Fry???

    Looks to me like a load of old pendulums. Oh, wait

    Ah. The 'Gnomon Conquest'. Gorrit.

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