I’ve had a life long hobby quest to find the perfect clock. I’ve always wanted a clock that you didn’t have to set. One that survives a power outage. One that automatically springs forward and falls back. One that remains accurate.
Years ago in my early adulthood I discovered the so called “atomic clocks”. The name is a bit of a misnomer as these retail clocks are not actually atomic clocks. But rather they receive a radio signal from a real atomic clock https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_clock and purport to display accurate time. If they worked as advertised they’d satisfy all my requirements for the perfect clock.
I have purchased and used many of these retail atomic clocks since the late 80s or early 90s. In my humble opinion all of these retail atomic clocks are a failure in implementation. Great idea, poor implementation. I will illuminate.
The basic idea with these retail atomic clocks is that they are designed and built to receive a radio signal from the NIST atomic clock. Sounds great right. And they do work to some extent. There are two big problems with these clocks as I see it. One is signal strength, or the lack of it or the lack of ability to receive it reliably. I have found that these clocks do well if they are near a window. But when hanging on an interior wall they are unable to get a good signal reliably and consistently and consequently they cannot calibrate frequently enough with the mother time source, NIST. That is epic fail #1.
Epic fail #2 is as follows. First let me state that in my quest to find the perfect clock I desire to have a reasonably fashionable looking, if not somewhat decorative clock for my home. I want an analog clock not a digital one. I have a digital clock on the top of my screen so I’m not worried about knowing accurate time to the second. What I want is an analog clock on the wall that blends in with the home comfortably and that satisfies my requirements for accuracy and convenience. Moving on.
So the 2nd failure of these analog retail atomic clocks is in their calibration of the analog hands to the digital time in the computer chip. You see these retail atomic clocks have a tiny computer that receives the time via radio signal, and there is a device that converts the digital time signal into the mechanical analog clock. It is in this part of the clock that they have failed. There needs to be a way for the digital and analog clocks to calibrate with each other. But from my observation with approximately 6 different brands of retail atomic clocks, they do not have this calibration capability. What happens over time is that the analog hands wander away from the actual time. Over time I see that these clocks deviate from correct time by as much as 5, 10 even 15 minutes after several years. So that for instance when it’s time to spring forward, and I move the clock to the window so that it can receive the signal, I can watch it reset it self (the hands move rapidly) and when it is done resetting it is 5 or 10 minutes off. After seeing this same problem with several brands of retail atomic clocks I deduce that they did not bother to account for the analog hands deviating out of calibration.
What is needed is for the hands to have (logically) a sensor that detects when hour, minute and second hands are all in a known position, let’s say all 3 hands straight up at 12. So that at digital midnight the computer could tell the analog hands to adjust to midnight. That would do it, or something similar.
It is these 2 failures in the retail atomic clock that have prompted me to seek alternative solutions. By the way I presume that the digital retail atomic clocks do not have a calibration problem. Though I presume they have the same radio signal strength & reception problem. I simply am not interested in the digital ones. I have owned one or two as a novelty. Now days we all have a cellphone, laptop, desktop etc. that are quite accurately synchronizing to accurate time servers on the internet.
So after decades of disappointment with retail atomic clocks I may have found analog clock nirvana! It was about a year ago I thought about this quest again and went about searching. It occurred to me that there is a new technology which is ubiquitously available. Internet & Wifi. I started looking for wifi clocks and was pleasantly surprised to find that they do exist in numbers. Shouldn’t be surprised.
I see there are many digital wifi clocks available. Cool, but not what I’m looking for. I landed on https://www.american-time.com . Which are not exactly retail products but somewhat industrial. They’re not plug n play. Basic electrical wiring is necessary. And some rather unusually complex wifi configuration. But now I’ve had one hanging on my wall for about a year and it’s terrific. I think I have finally found the perfect clock. At least this is the best one I’ve found in ~30 years of casual looking.
How it works: The clock is 110v powered so no batteries. It doesn’t keep time during a power outage but I have a cell phone, laptop so I don’t care. When it powers up it connects to your wifi and syncs with a time signal from a configurable time server over the internet.
When I was researching the clock, I had exchanged several emails with American Time. And I vigorously tried to inquire as to whether or not and if so how the analog clock was calibrated to the digital clock. Unfortunately the gentleman who was kindly and patiently responding to my emails was unable to comprehend nor answer the question. However after about a year of observation I conclude that so far the analog hands of the clock have indeed remained very much in sync with the digital time. For proof I offer the video below where I show first that the time on a tablet is within a few seconds of the time on my laptop, followed by showing that the time on the American Time clock is within a few seconds of the time on the tablet. Good ’nuff.