Scales: Measuring More Than Time

Posted by: Mark Moss   |   7 November 2011   |   14 Comments  

Scales. Indispensable to the obsessive cook, but also something that has clinched the sale of a few watches over the years too.

Some scales are more or less essential, like the days marked around the outside of the dial on a perpetual calendar:

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Others add additional functionality to the watch and it is these we will be looking at in this article. It’s interesting to see how trends in these sort of scales come and go – some are rarely seen in modern watches whereas others are just as popular as they ever were.

Let’s start with one that’s not been that popular for many decades now.

Telemeter

In the 20s and 30s, it was common for a watch to have several scales on its dial, making it versatile but doing few favours for its readability.

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The example above, for instance, has hours and seconds marked as well as an outer tachymeter scale in addition to the one we’re interested in, the telemeter. It was usual for the telemeter to be the inner scale on a watch with multiple scales, rather than finding it by itself. You’ll note that it is marked in kilometres with divisions showing 1/10 km too and that gives away its function. As does the word itself, its components coming from the Greek têle, meaning “far”, and metron, meaning “measure” (or arguably the Latin metrum), so a way of measuring distance. Specifically, in this instance, range-finding.

The same Heuer catalogue from 1946 gives a great explanation of how this works:

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Ummm. You may have noticed that that’s in German, unfortunate if you can’t read the language. The English version in the catalogue is disappointingly sketchy. The gist of it is to press the top pusher once when you see either the muzzle flash or smoke of enemy gunfire and press it again when you hear the detonation. The distance of the gun can then be read from the telemeter scale and, presumably, the range set of your own artillery to reply.

It’s pretty obvious why this scale became less popular after WWII but it’s still possible to find the occasional watch that includes this scale today, just not on any TAG Heuers.

Here’s a nice example of a heavily patinated, but typically colourful, telemeter Heuer from around the 1930s:

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The telemeter scale is the blue inner one, again calibrated to 20 km as the catalogue illustration above. More information on this specific watch can be had on collector Stewart Morley’s blog here .

Tachymeter

The tachymeter is by far the most popular scale on Heuers and TAG Heuers over the years, and one that cemented their links to the motor racing world.

The primary usage of the tachymeter is to measure speed over a fixed distance. The pusher is pushed once at a specific point and again once a second reference point is reached, such as the mile markers on a motorway. Or the kilometre markers on an Autobahn come to that, as the beauty of the tachymeter is that it is agnostic to the units that are being measured. This is explicit on the bezel of most Rolex Daytonas, which are marked with “units per hour”. That didn’t stop a number of manufacturers, notably Tissot, thinking that the markings were specifically kilometres and releasing watches with the measurements “converted” to miles:

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Oops.

In the telemeter watch above, we can see the tachymeter scale in red, but in the 50s and 60s, the trend was more towards having the tachymeter as the sole scale. Somehow though, the practice of having this scale in red stuck and in that period we often see tachy scales in red.

In the 50s, the Heuer-made Abercrombie & Fitch Auto-Graph set a precedent using a stylised script for its tachy scale and variations on this were used by Heuer for over a decade:

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