Why do wrist watches stop working for some people?

I’ve heard people claim that wrist watches stop working for them after a very short period of time. They replace the batteries, switch watch brands and styles, etc., but to no avail – every watch quits on them. Even when well taken care of and not dropped, damaged, or submerged, they seem to die after a few months of wearing them.

My mother and her husband both claim to have this problem. I don’t know if it pertains to only analog watches or digital as well. They say “cheap” wrist watches seem to work better for them and believe it has something to do with their body chemistry or magnetism.

So, what’s the “straight dope” on this?

Thanks in advance for your expert knowledge and information!

I’d heard this before, on another forum, basically, someone was sure that a person was generating a massive, watch ruining magnetic field. And I said that I didn’t believe that there is a good biophysical model for explaining how a human could generate a significant one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a lack of peer-reviewed research to search for one. I have no citations available.

My WAG at the time was that I tended to chew up and spit out watches rapidly, back in the day. I bashed more than a few crystals, because I wasn’t careful with how I swung my arms. So I have an idea why the watch stopped, and maybe the same thing, on a lesser scale, is happening in your case.

I’d heard people say how psychics can restart stopped witches, by warming them in their hands, the heat thinning gelled lubricating oil for a time. Or something like that.

I’d also have you ask them, if they believe they have mystical body chemistry or magnetic blood that stops watches – do they stop alarm clocks if they hug them? Can they affect other electronic devices they’re near – computers, other timers?

Maybe the whole thing is a personal confirmation bias.

One of my watched stopped recently. I can only imagine I over-wound it; but it’s supposed to have a clutch to prevent that. Unfortunately an overhaul costs at least $550. :frowning:

I think Cecil Adams did a column on this subject. I could be wrong about that and I’m most certainly to lazy to go and find it but IIRC, he said it’s not true.

Speaking from own experience, every time I’ve worn a watch, it goes completely dead after about a month’s time. This happens with new watches, old watches, cheap watches, expensive watches, battery operated watches and wind-up watches. Never tried a digital watch or a self-winding watch so I can’t speak to that.

It could be a personal confirmation bias. Don’t know and don’t really care. I got tired of getting new batteries and going to get the wind-up I have repaired. The cost was completely out of proportion to the value of the watches. So no watch for me just my cell phone which is more than adequate.

I also overwound watches, no one told me you’re not supposed to wind them until you can’t wind them anymore. I’ve also broken wind up travel alarm clocks in that way. I recently replaced a battery in an old watch that ran down, and it still didn’t start running. Then it did, for a few hours, then it stopped, and may have started again. But I guess it’s just porly made, and not making contact.

The question came up because my step-dad had a set of hearing aids that over the last 2 years have been in disrepair for at least 36 weeks. They send them in, fix and test them, but within a short time, the hearing aids don’t function properly. I asked why they had so many problems with them and my mother speculated that “maybe it’s his body chemistry.” I probed further and she said, “Well, you know, like the way that some people can’t keep watches working. We both have that problem.” I called “B.S.” and told her I would Google it to prove her theory wrong, but came up with no concrete answers.

Thank you all for your input. Interesting thoughts, Arkon, but they don’t seem to have any problems with alarm clocks, computers or say, microwaves, but those all run on standard household AC electricity, rather than a battery.

Personal confirmation bias I can believe, plus that fact that my mother is beyond gullible and believes almost every urban legend she hears. I, however, am a bit more discerning and like to get facts whenever possible. I searched the Straight Dope archives but wasn’t able to find the previous article on the topic. Can anyone point me in the right direction on that?

Also, if this phenomenon is true (a very remote possibility in my mind), are there any wrist watches that are less likely to be affected by “weird body chemistry?”

And, if it is some form of unusually high natural magnetism in the wearer, what other things in their life could be affected by this? I did a bit more searching and foundthat, “… some people have a high electrical field in their body and they end up draining their analog watch battery in less than a couple a weeks.” This, however, would not logically affect wind-up watches, though over-winding could.

I remember my grandfather having a self-winding watch powered by a person’s daily movement. According to Wikipedia, “this type of watch allows for a constant winding without special action from the wearer: it works by an eccentric weight, called a winding rotor, which rotates with the movement of the wearer’s wrist. The back-and-forth motion of the winding rotor couples to a ratchet to automatically wind the mainspring.”

Here are a few additional theories I came across:

So, what is it? Self-fulfilling prophecy, random chance, or (my favorite) “because Satan doesn’t want me to have nice things.”

Your input is pertinent.

It’s almost certainly comfirmational bias.

Thanks for repeating and misspelling what I already said.

until their teats are no longer cold?

I’ve had people say this to me and it was supposedly some magnetic field. But when I take a magnet and put it right to the watch, the watch doens’t quit. You can leave the magnet up against the watch for days, and the watch always runs.

So I fail to see how if a person was putting out a magnetic field that it would solely effect the watch and nothing else

I cop to the misspelling. I don’t agree that I repeated what you opined. You offered it as only a possibility. I suggest it was almost certainly the case.

How about streetlights? :smiley:

Fair enough. I should have been clearer but I do think your post should have had more substance. FWIW, while I certainly leave in the possibility of a confirmation bias, I think I was probably doing some sort of repetitive motion that unseated the battery or disrupted the mech of the wind-up watch.

Good post. I agree with you. I never thought that you believed in voodoo. :stuck_out_tongue:

I get this kind of thing at work at least once per month. I want to grab them and shake them and say–“The watch stopped for some explainable reason. It wasn’t magic. You don’t have a magnetic field that caused it to stop.”

Sorry for the confusion.

Can someone explain to me how having every watch stop in 30 days is confirmation bias?

For me. normall a new watch is good for 11 months. Most of the time it just stops working.

It’s a confirmation bias for a few reasons:

  1. No one is taking detailed notes as to how charged the batteries are in the watch each time they get replaced and to see how long they last.

  2. No one is taking detailed notes as to how long the batteries are lasting at all, they’re only estimating how long they lasted months or years after the fact.

  3. They aren’t taking detailed notes for any occasion where the batteries/watch lasted longer than one month.

It’s all just pure recollection. The first time a watch might have died 6 weeks after ownship. Easily enough dismissed as dying only a month in. Then the next one or its batteries go out in two months but because eight weeks isn’t too far off from six, unless that person was keeping a detailed log of events, they’ll mentally file it away as “about the same amount of time the last one held out.” Each time it dies and they mentally file it away as such, they’re confirming what they suspected based on pretty much no hard and fast data, just some sort of gut feeling.

I break watches. They usually stop running entirely, and cannot be repaired with a battery change. Sometimes they slow before stopping, other times the second hand seems caught at 11 o’clock for a while before the watch expires.
I used to wonder if it was a body chemistry thing.
In my older age I’ve found out I’m exceptionally clumsy or not mindful of what I’m doing. I get stuff wet and smash my hands into things much more often than my husband, siblings or coworkers. I’ve always got random bruises. My rings especially show the wear and tear of someone who uses and abuses her hands.
I think that has much more to do with it than any particular chemistry or field thing.

For time keeping, I use my cell phone (also banged up) or a pocketwatch (I’m very very careful with them as they were my father’s and grandfather’s watches), or Timex children’s watches, which even survive weekly washing in the washing machine (they get filthy at work).

I cant stop streetlights, or change traffic signals, or affect anything other than a wrist watch worn consistantly, but they will die, in the case of analog battery operated watches or in the case of a very nice and expensive g-shock that was a present got it to run backwards after only wearing it 3 months. mrAru took it to a watch repair place that did g-shocks and wears it himself, and it has given 10 years of good service.

I take my watches off to shower or swim, and the only one that I have not screwed up are mechanical self winders or windup wrist watches [old school timex I got back in the 60s when i was a kid]

I also turn gold earrings of good quality black where the wires or posts go through my ears. Give me surgical steel or titanium any day.

The self winders became broken very regularly by people that were very active with their arms. Dad learned after a couple watches that self winders break if your a carpenter. Many people had this problem. To someone that doesn’t connect that they did something very physical a day earlier they won’t understand why the broke the watch. it doesn’t have to be a selfwinder either for one impact to kill a watch. A consequence of a watch on the wrist is they do get whacked on a door frame in passing sometimes and you don’t notice.