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?