Why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist? It barely tells the time, and it can’t take pictures, tweet or connect to your Facebook. In fact, very few people would have the faintest idea what it is, or why you’d want one at all. But for those that do recognize its intricate gears and dials, this tiny, complex piece of machinery tells a vivid and incredible tale. It’s a story of gigantic scientific upheaval, of adventure and shipwreck on the high seas, of war and death. A story of amazing intellect, lost riches and impossible chance – a sunken treasure that Jaques Cousteau once described as “more valuable than the Mona Lisa” – and it’s connected with an ancient celebrity whose star shone so brightly that he’s still a household name more than 2200 years after his death… Read on!
Historians and scientists alike live for the great “Eureka” moments, where some newly discovered fact can turn our understanding on its head and lead to a richer picture of our world and our species. And there are few scientific or historic discoveries more significant than the one made by a Greek sponge diver in October 1900, on the Mediterranean sea bed…
Historians at the time largely ignored the device for one simple reason – the technology required to make such complex metallic gear systems simply didn’t exist back in 100 B.C. It appeared to have an epicyclic, or planetary gear system in it – and those hadn’t popped up anywhere else in history for another 1900 years or so. It was assumed that the machine had been misplaced, accidentally left with the wreckage, or wrongly cataloged, so it was shelved for another 49 years, until an English physicist called Derek Price decided to have a closer look in 1951.
With better technology and plenty of time at hand, Price soon realized that this was indeed an ancient device – in fact, there was some kind of instructive script carved into it, faded almost to obscurity, that put it right in the 100-300 B.C. period. This was a true Eureka moment – it put amazingly advanced technology in the hands of the Ancient Greeks.
In fact, it instantly became not only the world’s earliest known use of planetary gears, but the first known mechanism that used clockwork gears at all. Various civilizations earlier than the Ancient Greeks had used wooden peg-in-hole gear systems to transfer motion, but this was an order of magnitude more complex than anything before it, and indeed anything for a millennium and a half after it.
There began a painstaking scientific examination of every available fragment of this ancient machine – there were 82 pieces in total – over the course of the next 50 years. As technology improved, it was applied to the fragments of what had become known as the Antikythera mechanism.
RTFA. I’ve blogged about the antikythera mechanism before – especially when the first complete replication was completed. This is a fascinating tale of engineering history, coupled with early knowledge of the relative motion of heavenly bodies.
Bravo for Hublot deciding to replicate this in miniature.