Posted by: Ticktock | February 12, 2012

The Power to Stop Time!!!

Have you ever heard about people who have the unfortunate ability to ruin their own wristwatches simply by wearing them? I’m a skeptic and have heard a lot of bizarre stories, but I’ve never come across this extraordinary claim… until now.

A friend at a dinner party admitted that she had this confusing problem that she wouldn’t ordinarily believe if it hadn’t happened to her so consistently throughout her life. Any time she’s ever worn an analog watch with a battery, it has died an “untimely” death (within a few days). When the watch was away from her wrist, it would start working again (after a few hours or days) without explanation. Her curse does not apply to watches that need to be wound. This friend is an intelligent critical thinker who has never given me any reason to distrust her, so if we eliminate the possibility that she’s lying, what is the explanation for how she became one of the rare individuals who are “watch-cursed”?

When I arrived home from the dinner, I searched the internet and noticed that there were a few discussions about this on various skeptic forums. Apparently, my friend is not alone in her curse. I was amused by the explanations that were coming from my peers, which ranged from dismissive to probable. I think it will help me to wrap my mind around the problem to list the various ideas that I came across.

Clumsiness –  The most common explanation that people proposed was clumsiness. Perhaps the watch-cursed individuals are not noticing that they are prone to knocking their watches into the wall and other objects. This explanation is poor because most watches are sturdy enough to handle the occasional bump, and I’m pretty sure that people are self aware enough to notice if their clumsiness is a bad enough problem to cause damage to their accessories.

Confirmation Bias – Perhaps the watch-cursed have been unlucky a few times with their wristwatches, and they are more prone to remember the times when their watches broke than the times when they didn’t. Are they forgetting the time that they wore a watch for a year because it doesn’t fit in with their narrative of being cursed? This answer is more likely if the watch-cursed is relying solely on childhood memories and less likely if the curse has been recently tested.

Electromagnetic Uniqueness – Can people emit uniquely powerful electromagnetic waves? I’m no biologist, but the claim seems implausible and unlikely. My limited searches did indicate that humans emit EM waves at extremely low levels, but I don’t think there’s any indication that these EM waves are stronger in some individuals than others. I’m willing to revisit the idea if I’m wrong about it, but the fact is that this explanation would only complicate things.  The watch-cursed would also be having problems with cell phones, ipods, and other electronics (and there are some who make this claim, just not my friend), so wristwatches would be the least of their problems.

Hoax – The first thought that came to my mind was that someone related to the watch-cursed was practicing mischief by secretly replacing the batteries in the watch with old depleted batteries. This is a complicated explanation because most watches require a great deal of effort to replace the battery. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it’s probably not the answer we’re looking for.

Subconscious Sabotage – Maybe the watch-cursed subconsciously break their watches in the middle of the night because they enjoy the attention that this curse gives them. This one is just silly, in my opinion, but it gave me a good laugh when I came across it on a forum.  I don’t take it seriously.

Moisture – Does unusual perspiration or excessive hand washing play into the explanation? This is a hypothesis that I proposed because it may explain why my friend’s watch starts working again after it has been set aside for a few days. Perhaps it has had time to dry out.

Coincidence – Two watches breaking in a row would be coincidence, but a history of broken watches is a pattern. Yes, someone could have extremely  bad luck with watches, but we might as well say that the watch-cursed are truly cursed. What’s the difference?

I’d love to hear if you have any alternate explanations for this phenomenon. Perhaps the answer has something to do with the piezoelectric effect from the quartz crystals. Perhaps there’s a more obvious answer that I haven’t considered.

I’m also wondering if anyone has advice for how the watch-cursed can be tested in a controlled way. My thought is that she would have to wear several different types of watches on one wrist and record if and when any of them break. But, I bet there are better ways to test this than that. Any thoughts?

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Responses

  1. A tendency to purchase watches at clearance-sale prices (when the battery would already be low from drain) along with selective noticing would be my guess. Casual observations make things which are perfectly normal seem strange and “a lifetime” probably equates to 2-3 incidents, but is remembered as more.

    The fact is that watches and batteries fail. Even if they fail at an unusual rate given a specific individual, the odds that any one of us does NOT experience some unusual events in our life is highly unusual in and of itself. I wrote a piece for theoddsmustbecrazy.com a few weeks ago about this (you can find it here: http://www.theoddsmustbecrazy.com/2012/01/07/knot-that-strange/).

    The claim reminds me of the “SLI” claim – that some people emit some kind of an electrical charge that results in a lot of broken light bulbs and street lamps going out when they’re around. I also wrote about this a few years ago: http://icbseverywhere.com/blog/first-years-archives/something-stupid-i-heard-today-nat-geo-edition/.

    • I never wore watches unil I because a nurse. If the watch has a metal back and batteries it will stop with in weeks. Plastic watches such as a swatch are unaffected. Once I stop a watch its dead for good. I changed so many watch batteries, they never work again. My mom was electrocuted when she was 7 months pregnant with me. I’ve heard or should say read its common in people who hace suffered a serious shock.

  2. Environmental, something about the environment they live or work in that breaks watches. Think strong magnetic field, or electric charge. Although unclear why this would “wear off” when the watch is transferred to someone else but possible.

    And yes coincidence is possible. If the failure rate is once in a thousand days, and they feel “special” because it fails in the first week, then as many a thousand people in the world might have gone through 3 watches in sequence in the first week of ownership by chance alone. Factor in something else say: dodgy batch of watches or batteries, bad environment, and allow a bit more than a week to fail, and we could be talking about a lot of people.

  3. Clumsiness is my bane. After destroying 10 or so watches I switched to wearing the dial under-wrist. Problem solved.

    Of course, I later gave up watches completely after I started carrying a cell phone. Problem further solved!

  4. So, I have stopped every watch I have ever worn within 2 weeks. Both when I lived in Virginia and a child and teen and after I moved to NYC as an adult. My mother stopped buying me watches after the 5th or 6th one stopped. She then gave me my late uncle’s pocket watch which also promptly died. When you are a teen aged boy, you tend to get watches as gifts a lot (especially when people notice that you aren’t wearing one), so after my mother stopped buying me watches, friends and family would either for my birthday or Christmas. Being polite and well brought up I would always start wearing them and they would always stop within two weeks. By the time I graduated High School, I had a box of 14 dead watches atop my dresser. So I moved to NYC to attend college and later stayed to pursue my career and as I made friend and began to celebrate holidays in the city, the gifts of watches resumed and every single one stopped within two weeks. As it happens, one friend, who is now one of my dearest friends, and I realized that we BOTH had the same issue. She had a box of watches back at her house in Pittsburgh just like I did. For her part, the most telling moment came when she bought 2 of the same watch for herself and her childhood best friend. Her’s stopped after two weeks and she later called her friend to apologize for buying her a bum watch and her friend said that hers’ was working fine. It continues to work fine to this day. Both my friend’s and my family members have had no such issue with watches and when my friend and I lived together with my late partner and another roommate, that roommate gave me and my partner each watches from the same manufacturer and store for Christmas, that yea. Mine was dead in 3 days and my partner wore his for years afterward. That was, in fact what led my BFF and I to discover that we had the same effect on watches. That’s my experience with this phenomenon. Oh, and I am not clumsy, didn’t do sports as a kid, didn’t do physical labor for any of my jobs as a teen or an adult and never showered with any watches on. Neither did my BFF.


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