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Why did watch hands always spin very quickly on my grandma's arm?

KiwiJosie

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Hey team.
I have a question that's got me stumped, and I was wondering if anyone might be able to shed some light on this mystery.

My grandma (who has now passed) couldn't wear any watches as the watch hands would always spin frantically whenever they touched her skin. In the end we had a special thick leather strap made which mitigated the problem. We grew up not thinking much of it, it was just her quirk. But now I'm working in medicine I'm wondering why this happened to her? Anyone come across this before or have any ideas or theories as to why this might have happened? Cheers
 

musicguy

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My grandma (who has now passed) couldn't wear any watches as the watch hands would always spin frantically whenever they touched her skin.
Did you see this happen with your own eyes?

Welcome to the NAWCC Forum!


Rob
 

Tom McIntyre

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This was a common story when I was young and it was attributed to "natural magentism" which has never been accurately described or documented by any scientific studies.
 
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musicguy

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even if there was some sort of natural magnetism
in humans that I don't believe why would the hand spin around
that does not sound like magnetism.


Rob
 

Tom McIntyre

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even if there was some sort of natural magnetism
in humans that I don't believe why would the hand spin around
that does not sound like magnetism.


Rob
You had to be there. For almost everyone science was a mystery until after WW2.
Since watch companies were selling nonmagnetic watches and no one knew why, they were grasping at straws.
 

roughbarked

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My father once said that watches would stop on his arm due to magnetism but I always reckoned that this was because he may have often had his hands in or near electromagnetic fields during the short period in his life where he may actually have worn a watch.

The hands on a watch cannot spin around unless there has been a mechanical failure within the watch train.
It will only happen until the mainspring runs down.
 

musicguy

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The reason for all of our skepticism is that the modern watch mechanism has a system like a ratchet that locks the wheels of the watch during each clockwise and counter clockwise movement of the balance. The ratchet mechanism, called the escapement, would need to be removed for the hands to spin freely.

The rate can be affected if the hairspring were to be ighly magnetized, but the result of that would never be large enough to make the hands spin.

I bought a new watch a couple of weeks ago that gained 15 minutes an hour, I sent it back for examination and have not heard back but I suspect there was an error in assemly or possibly a serious issue with the hairspring. The watch was designed for the balance to swing back and forth 7,200 times each hour (normally described as 14,400 Beats per Hour). It was actuay beating 18,000 BPH or 9,000 complete swings.
 

PatH

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I couldn't wear wristwatches, either. They would stop after a day to so (even when fully wound). I could leave them in a drawer for a while, then try again, with the same result. My sisters or mom could wear the same watch for years. A band, or some sort of extra layer between the metal on the back of the watch and my arm alleviated the problem. Not sure what the cause was, perhaps the type of metal used for the back, but no issues now.
 

Chris Radek

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Hi and welcome Josie,

I am sad that it was so long ago and she's gone now. It would be so cool for us all to meet up at some NAWCC event and help her run experiments! Maybe we could get to the bottom of whatever it is, and we'd also get to hang out with an interesting grandma, which is always fun. Mine have been gone a while.

I wish you could tell us exactly what you saw, exactly what the watches were, who the watch guy was, and all about the situations where you saw this. I wonder if he was maybe playing a trick? I know most memories that old are fuzzy and it's impossible to know things for sure though. At least if you're like me anyway.

I think stories like this are pretty wonderful and interesting, especially when they are repeated by many people over many years, but yet they are clearly in conflict with the evidence we have, especially here in this case, about how watches work, a thing people here really know about. So there is something going on, right? The thing is, it's probably not about watches.

I recently learned that during the heydays of the Glass Armonica (an eerie sounding musical instrument with spinning glass bowls that sing like when you rub the rim of a wine glass) the instrument was known to cause mysterious deaths, to the players, and even of audience members hearing it. There are newspaper reports of men in the audience exclaiming and standing up and immediately dying upon the start of the playing. Of course there is no reason for this that makes sense to people applying logic and science, yet the stories were very persistent, and people even warn modern players to this day!

So I could suggest all sorts of things, like that you might get a cheap watch and some magnets and experiment to find that you can't make the hands spin no matter what you do with the magnets. But something like that isn't going to help you understand your memories, which I do believe you have. That understanding will probably remain elusive.

Meanwhile I would love to hear any more details you remember. And I hope you do find other things on this forum too. Watches are pretty neat. How is your late spring weather? Count me jealous.
 
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Chris Radek

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I thought some more about this during dinner, and I think I have at least a partial answer to your question. I was thinking about my own grandma, and her second oldest boy, who was a bit of a trickster.

I'm assuming these facts:
1. There is no such thing as personal magnetism etc.
2. You saw a watch spinning when placed on your grandma.

A piece of knowledge that will help you is this: It is easy to accidentally damage or intentionally alter a mechanical watch so that when it's wound, the hands spin rapidly until it runs down. This can take a few seconds if you wind it just a bit, or maybe 30 seconds from a full wind, as the hands do the rotations that would normally take several hours or all day.

So this opens up all sorts of possible answers. If my uncle the trickster had a watch like this (maybe he dropped his and it broke in this way), I can imagine him winding it up behind his back, and placing it on his mom, and making a big commotion about how she's making the hands spin. Then when he takes it off of her and carries on for a bit while it runs down (he probably practiced this ahead of time...) he can put it on his own arm and show everyone that it's now still, as expected. He could do it a second time and it would be really convincing!

Later I can imagine he would show everyone the trick, and grandma would laugh along with him and call him a honyock, but the story is so fun and the trick was so clever that they decide to keep it. Embellishments would be added with each retelling. Or if he was being a bit mean, he might never tell her, and she might just believe him. I don't remember her ever wearing a watch - she probably didn't know or care much about how they worked. But I think he would tell her and she would be in on it. Maybe she preferred a certain kind of unusual watch strap anyway, and what a fun story to tell about why!

Thanks for this diversion! I hope this helps you fill in the pieces.
 

thesnark17

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I heard a professional watch repairman give the personal magnetism speech to my mother, c. 2010. It was in regard to a quartz watch which wouldn't run very long on a new battery.

He recommended a new watch but suggested that it would have the same issues in a few years.

At the time, I was young and knew little about watches, so I didn't argue the point with him, even though I figured he had to be wrong.

Thinking back on that conversation, I am amused. He could have just told the truth (that dirt had got into the movement over time and it wasn't worth repairing)... my mother knows nothing about watches and wouldn't have argued with him...
 

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