Since almost the beginning of time, humans have relied on the sun as a light source and to help us tell the time. Early humans could figure out how long they had until nightfall by looking up at the sky and gauging the position of the sun in the sky; later, the invention of the sundial allowed people to check the time by looking at the shadow cast by the sun across the dial’s face.
In today’s technologically advanced world, we’ve again come to the point where we can rely on the sun to aid in our timekeeping abilities. The solar watch is among the newest and most advanced inventions in the world of watchmaking. There are many reasons why solar watches have become so popular recently—and we have every reason to believe that their popularity will only grow as more people become aware of the benefits and features of these fascinating timepieces.
The Different Movements
In order to understand why solar watches are such a revolutionary invention, we must first look at the other types of watch. The thing that makes a watch work is referred to as its movement, and there are only a few different types of movement:
The first watches were invented way back in the late 16th century, and they were purely mechanical (batteries wouldn’t be invented until hundreds of years later). In order to power these mechanical watches, watchmakers engineered their timepieces with a tiny, tightly coiled strip of metal called the mainspring.
The mainspring is what makes a mechanical watch work—it’s essentially the engine of the watch. The watch’s wearer winds the mainspring by twisting the watch’s crown (the knob on the side of the watch), which increases the tension of the mainspring. The other components of the watch work together to gradually release tension from the mainspring in tiny, measured increments—as tension is released, the various components of the watch tick forward, allowing the watch to tell accurate time.
Mechanical watches are marvels of mechanical engineering and must have seemed magical when they were first invented. Today, you can still find mechanical watches for sale, and they’re incredible timepieces. There is one problem with mechanical watches, though—they have to stay wound in order to work. If you set your watch down for a few days, you’ll pick it up to find that it’s no longer running (or, if it is, that it’s slowed to the point where the time is no longer accurate). It can be time-consuming and inconvenient to have to constantly wind your watches, especially if you have a sizable collection.
The automatic watch was invented to solve the problem of constantly having to wind mechanical watches. Automatic watches are engineered to wind themselves—kind of. Inside of an automatic watch, you’ll find a special weight rotor. As the watch’s wearer walks, the natural motion of their swinging arms makes the rotor spin around inside the watch—and as the rotor spins, it winds the mainspring.
Because of this self-winding mechanism, automatic watches are much more convenient than mechanical watches—but they still come with a caveat. In order for an automatic watch to wind itself, the internal rotor needs to be put in motion by human activity. So, as with the mechanical watch, if you set your automatic watch down for a few days, it will need to be wound again before it can accurately tell the time.
The quartz watch is a 20th-century invention, and it was made possible because of advancements in battery technology. Instead of relying on a mainspring to power the watch, quartz movements use a small internal battery—a lithium battery.
The use of lithium batteries allows watchmakers to design compact, relatively simple quartz watches, which is why many inexpensive watches feature quartz movements.
The one problem with quartz movements, however, is that batteries inevitably need to be replaced. Over the life of a quartz watch, you may end up having to replace the battery several times. Not only can it be inconvenient and expensive to go to a watch repair shop to have somebody replace the battery, but disposable batteries can have devastating impacts on the environment.
The newest of the types of watch, solar watches combine the best features of all the other movements: the longevity of mechanical and automatic movements with the accuracy of quartz movements. And when you factor in that they’re efficient and eco-friendly, it’s no wonder why watch enthusiasts and environmentalists alike should be big fans of the solar watch.
Like quartz watches, solar watches are equipped with internal lithium batteries. The biggest difference is that solar watches’ lithium batteries are rechargeable, and they’re constantly charging by using the power of the sun.
How Do Solar Watches Work?
You may have seen a solar panel affixed to the roof of a house, or maybe you’ve driven past a massive farm of solar panels. While solar panels are obviously too large to put on a wristwatch, solar watches use the same technology of solar power, although in a much smaller form.
Solar cells are the smaller pieces that make up giant solar panels, and they can be very small—in the case of solar watches, they can be small enough to be well hidden on the watch’s face, so the wearer doesn’t even notice as it converts light into power.
To overlook the complicated details of their mechanics and provide a basic explanation: solar cells work by absorbing light energy and converting it into electricity. When a solar cell is placed on a solar watch, this electricity is used to recharge the lithium battery.
Do They Need The Sun?
The name “solar” might be something of a red herring—solar watches can absorb any kind of light and don’t need to be in direct sunlight in order to function. So even if you live at the office and barely see the light of day, your solar watch will still absorb and channel power from artificial light into its battery.
Benefits Of Solar Watches
While the inner workings of a solar watch are pretty incredible, most people find themselves interested in solar watches for their many features and benefits. Not only are solar watches reliable and long-lasting, but they’re durable and eco-friendly, turning solar power into electrical energy. There are plenty of reasons to consider adding a solar watch to your collection:
Reliability And Accuracy
Because solar watches are constantly recharging their batteries, they reliably tell time with unparalleled accuracy—with many solar watches vastly outperforming their atomic timekeeping, quartz, mechanical, and automatic counterparts.
Longevity And Efficiency
Even though solar watches rely on light in order to recharge their batteries, those rechargeable cells have a long life. Solar watches can retain battery life for anywhere from a week to several months—and that’s without any light at all. As soon as light hits the solar cell inside the watch, its battery will begin to charge again.
When the solar cell needs to be charged once more, your watch will signal the alarm by moving at two-second increments.
Durability And Water Resistance
Solar watches are often incredibly durable. This is due in large part to the fact that you don’t need to access the battery or wind the watch much—so their cases can be made with heavy-duty materials like titanium and hardened crystal.
Solar watches are also often highly water-resistant for the same reason. Because solar-powered watches don’t often need to be opened or fiddled with, the rubber gaskets that protect the inner workings of the watch from water penetration don’t wear out as quickly as with mechanical, automatic, or quartz watches.
It’s no secret that fossil fuels are harmful to the environment, and it may seem like batteries are a much more efficient and eco-friendly power source than materials like oil and coal. That is mostly correct, but batteries come with their own problems.
Not only does the production, transportation, and disposal of batteries create carbon emissions, but the mining of the materials used to make batteries can cause some pretty harmful effects to the environment. And when disposable batteries have outlived their purpose, the chemicals that leak from them when we throw them away can pollute the ground and the water.
Still, batteries are better for the environment than burning fossil fuels, but there are ways we can use them wisely. We can lessen our negative impact by using as many rechargeable batteries as possible, which limits the amount of resources used and the number of battery replacements that we throw away.
Jack Mason’s Solar Watch
At Jack Mason, we’re proud to offer a solar watch in our collection. Our solar watch with an analog display is bold and modern and designed with the wellbeing of the planet in mind—the case is made from recycled stainless steel, and the strap is made from recycled ocean plastic with a velcro clasp. One of the best solar-powered watches, it's complete with a fully functional digital compass and engineered to be water-resistant up to 100 meters; this is the signal of the perfect watch for the avid outdoors people among us.
With Jack Mason, all our bands are replaceable. If you prefer a leather strap, swap out the bands for an instant dress watch. You can have a multi-band collection with your favorite solar stainless steel watch.
You may enjoy our other adventuring watches: the Halyard Sport Chronograph with stopwatch and countdown timer capabilities and luminous hands or the Mirabeau with Japanese quartz movement. The date tracker will help you keep track of world times as you travel.
Whether you’re traversing through the wilderness or diving into the ocean to catch a glimpse of life below the water’s surface, Jack Mason’s solar watch offers the reliability, durability (protected by sapphire crystal), and functionality to get you where you need to go.
A History of Watches and Timepieces | Racked
The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction | Wired
How Do Solar Panels Work? | Photovoltaic Cells | Live Science.