How does a clock work? Answering all your queries


There are many different types of clocks that are used nowadays. And many of them work in different ways. For instance, the digital clocks, the analog clocks, the atomic clock, the astronomical clock, the candle clock, the hourglass clock, the water clock, and many others are all types of clocks that function in completely different ways. Most of them like the water and the candle clock are obsolete nowadays. But were quite a big part of humanity’s daily lives a few centuries ago.

When most of the people ask the question like how does a clock work? they are mostly referring to how does the analog ( quartz ) clock work as that is the most common clock being used. And the first one that comes to mind when we think of a clock. So here is how an analog ( quartz ) clock work?

A picture of an analog clock to better answer "How does a clock work? "

Clocks basically use oscillators to keep the gears moving. And the movement of the gears prompts the minute hand to move which then turns and makes the hour hand move.

 ( Looking in a bit more depth )

  1. So basically what happens is that the battery or the power source provides energy to the microchip circuit within the clock
  2. Then this current makes the quartz crystals that are precisely cut and placed within the clock to vibrate at a speed of 32768 times a second.
  3. The Microchip circuit detects the crystal’s vibrations and turns them into regular electric pulses, at a speed of one per second, This is what we actually need as we want the clock to move forward after every second.
  4. These electric pulses then turn to mechanical power and move the gears
  5. The one gear that moves makes the other gear move. Hence, making the clock tick every second. Til the appliance of the power remains intact

Insides Of A Clock

Three of the most fundamental parts of every clock out there are :

  • A TimeKeeping Mechanism: This is a way that the clock keeps an accurate account of the time passing by’
  • An energy source: This is a way to provide energy to the motion of the clock, this could be a battery, solar power, an electric appliance, springs, or anything of that sort
  • Display: Finally, this is the part that everyone sees. This can come in quite various designs. It could be a cartoon character or an antique-looking wooden lady, this entirely depends on the maker and what he/she wants his/her work to look like

All of these movements seek to achieve perpetual ( smooth motion ). The oscillators that make the gears move are powered by either direct electrical appliances or batteries. Batteries are the most common way of supplying power to these time-telling machines. But going back in time, there was also a time when people used to use a direct connection with electricity to supply clocks with power

This was all about how the Analog clock ( the most commonly used clock ) work. Now let’s look into how some other how other types of clocks work

How do Digital clocks work?

Digital clocks mostly use a 50 or 65-hertz oscillation of AC power or in other words a 32,768-hertz crystal oscillator as in a quartz clock to tell time.

Most of the digital clocks out there come with a 24-hour a day format. But some also come with a 12-hour option like in the analog clocks ( in this case, they show an A.M. or P.M. and many come with an option to work both ways. Let’s dive into a bit more detail

Just like the Analog clock, it also requires batteries to run along with an oscillator and more or less works in the same fashion

The oscillator in a digital clock is usually in the form of a crystal that is made up of glass. And as the electric charge passes and goes through the crystal, it will cause a lot of vibrations and make a sound. This sound is then converted into an electronic signal. Which through using a counter is converted to oscillations of 1 Hz oscillations. This is done through the work of various counters. The very first of which would count 10 oscillations as one. And another one present alongside with it would count 60 as one ( or six 10 ones )

Diving into a bit more depth

This basically becomes the base of hertz being one oscillation for one second. Each counter is connected with an electronic chip that then goes on to signal displays, that goes on to signal the display and which then uses light to display the present time of the moment

The display is either an LED or LCD light display which is also referred to as the “7-segment display”. The number seven here comes because there are exactly seven segments that can light up for displaying a number. To elaborate on this, the digit “8” uses all of these seven segments to display. These lights are located on the display in such a way so that they can easily display two sets of 2-digit numbers. The electronic innards of a digital clock are derived in a way that they go and change each four of the digits when an hour is up. And keep on going with a sequence and flow

If you want to learn more about how digital clocks work, modern electronics has an article on this too, so do give it a look too if you want “How the Digital Clock WorksOpens in a new tab.

Now lets look into how an atomic clock work, the one clock that basically changed all of our lives without most of us realizing it

How Do Atomic Clocks Function?

You probably have heard of atomic clocks as they are the most accurate type of clock that we have been able to build. Atomic clocks are also used scientifically in various ways. The authenticity of it being the most accurate clock can be inferred by the fact that it looses 1 second after every 138 million years. And there have been even more accurate ones made, that go even further and lose a second after billions of years. An example of a famous place it is used at is CERN, NASA, and many others.

Atomic clocks are clocks that measure the oscillations (movement) of atoms. This is pretty complicated stuff but the basic concept is that all atoms of a given element vibrate or tick the same number of times per second. To elaborate, there are 9,192,631,770 ticks in one second. And though this number seems a bit weird it is quite important. Since today the international standard for what a second is based on that many vibrations/ticks of a cesium atom

A picture of a miniature atomic clock to better answer the question "How does a clock work?"
A picture of an atomic clock

But why are these atomic clocks so important. And why do we even need clocks this accurate?

Fun fact:

The clock that the U.S. uses to calibrate its time is accurate to a second in a 100 million years. So if you had put one of these clocks in the medieval ages they will still tell the same time in this day and age.

Data transmission on the internet, as well as the GPS navigational system, cell phone towers, and even the high grid, depends on this clock. In conclusion, our high-speed interconnected world works because we can use these different pieces of technology that are super-accurate when it comes to time. So, you take that out of the way and say goodbye to the internet. And isn’t that just sad?

Moreover, whenever we build a new clock, engineers find a good way to use it. So, in the future, if we develop even more accurate clocks, who knows where they will lead us

Why Are Atomic Clocks Important For Technologies Like The Internet?
A picture of a question mark to  to better answer the question "What are atomic clocks? All about them"
What are atomic clocks?

Well, as we have already discussed, atomic clocks have a big impact on our world as a whole.

Let’s start with the internet, where exact timings are critical. And atomic clocks as we know by now is what helps with that accuracy. Moreover, for GPS satellites to work out your precise position, your timing of the signals it sends and receives has to be super accurate. The signals travel at the speed of light, which means that an error of even a single microsecond error translates to an error of 300 meters on the ground. The timing has to be so precise that even tiny effects like relativity need to be tracked. So we do have Einstein to thank for that because if we didn’t have his equations we wouldn’t have a GPS.

To be exact with each and every microsecond GPS satellites have to carry atomic clocks. The more accurate the clock is, the more accurately GPS can calculate your location

if you want to know more about atomic clocks, we have an elaborate article written on it, so do give it a look if you are interested “What are atomic clocks? All about themOpens in a new tab.

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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