Can Your Watch “Hack It”?

A Watch Gang Article On The Hacking Function And Whether It Is Necessary

When discussing watch movements, the terms "hacking" and "non-hacking" are often tossed around. For new collectors, this can often cause confusion and can also lead to misconceptions regarding to the quality of a watch's movement. In this article, we will discuss what the terms hacking and non-hacking mean as well as what effect, if any, they have on the quality or accuracy of a watch movement.

So, What's Hacking?

The best way to discover what "non-hacking" means, is to understand the hacking mechanism of a movement. Watch hacking, otherwise referred to as the "second hand halt mechanism" or "seconds stop function", is a function that allows the watch wearer to stop the second hand of movement at will. This is typically accomplished by pulling a watch's crown out to its time-setting position, which causes the hacking lever to stop the balance wheel and gear train of the watch. It is important to note that this does not stop the timekeeping function of the watch, it merely disengages the hands of the watch to allow for setting of the time.
The hacking function is a relatively common feature in modern watch movements. It comes in quite handy in situations where a watch or watches need to be synchronized and when absolute accuracy is of the highest importance. A prime example of where this function has a specific application is in the military environment, where military personnel set their time to assure that mission timing is accurate. For example, wearers can synchronize their watch with a highly accurate clock, such as an atomic clock.
Vacheron Constantin Caliber 5100

Are Non-hacking Movements Less Accurate or Poorer Quality?

The short answer to these questions is -- Absolutely not!

In fact, many of the highest regarded watchmakers produce non-hacking movement, such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Consantin and Zenith. The quality of these movements is, by far, some of the best made in the market today. There are even Hi-beat movements (36,000 bps) made that are non-hacking.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero
In addition to the brands already mentioned, which utilize in-house manufactured non-hacking movements, many brands utilize third party built non-hacking movements in their watches from makers such as Seiko and Miyota. These movements are selected for their time proven performance and durability, from decades of use in the market.  Examples of this are the Seiko 7S and Miyota 82 families of movements, which have been widely used workhorses throughout the watch industry.
SevenFriday Q1

How Do I Set The Time on A Non-Hacking Movement?

The answer to this question really depends on individual preference and whether you are laid back about the time or an accuracy hawk.

If you are laid back about whether your watch exactly matching the time down to the second setting the time is pretty simple:
  1. Check your phone or any reliable clock available.
  2. Pull your crown out to the time-setting detent.
  3. Set the hour and minute hands to match the time
If you are a stickler about having your watch being as close to the atomic clock as possible, the process of setting your non-hacking watch gets a little more "involved".
Patek Philippe 5168G - Aquanaut
The process of "hacking" a non-hacking watch movement is referred to as the "back pressure technique". This is a well established technique by watch enthusiasts that is used to slow down and stop watch movements in order to sync their second hands for timing purposes. If performed correctly, this process will essentially help the most fickle collectors quickly adjust their movements.Please note: Prior to attempting, the watch's mainspring must not be fully wound.
  1. Set time to 1 minute past the actual time.
  2. Unscrew the crown and pull out to the time-setting position.
  3. When the second approaches the 12 o'clock position, apply a very slight amount of reverse torque to the crown. The amount should be slight, just enough to make the minute hand move in reverse.
  4. Maintain constant slight backwards pressure for 10 to 15 seconds. The second hand will stop.
  5. When the atomic clock reaches the seconds indicated on your watch, release the pressure on the crown and allow the second hand to move again.
  6. Move your minute hand to the proper time.
While this process isn't as easy as laid back the "set it and forget it" steps outlined above, it will definitely get an accuracy hawk their desired result. 
Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5390
In this article, we have provided you with a baseline explanation of what the hacking function is and how it applies to watch movements. The question of whether it is a necessary function has and will always be a source of great debate for watch collectors, who all have their own preference regarding what an ideal watch should include. At the end of the day, a hacking lever has very little to do with the overall quality of a watch movement, which is shown by the numerous prestigious Swiss brands who do not incorporate them in their movements.  Whether you like hacking or not, there is a world of fantastic watches out there to explore...so, get out there and see what you like.

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