Why haven't atomic watches 'taken over'?

Without knowing almost anything about atomic/radio-controlled watches, 2-1/2 years ago I bought one, a Casio, their particular designation being wave ceptor. Just within this last week the battery became weak and the band broke, oddly enough. I went on amazon last night and bought the exact same Casio WVA-104H again (a new band and battery would equal the cost of the new watch, $32, which, thankfully, will also come with an unscratched crystal).

Even 2-1/2 years ago, these watches had already been on the market quite some time. Why haven’t they made all other watches obsolete by now?

Despite the user-manual’s recommendation to set the watch at a west-facing window sill overnight to facilitate reception of its time signal from Fort Collins, CO, after a few months I became neglectful and simply started wearing the watch all the time, as is my custom. The watch never failed to get its overnight time signal, even with my arm under bed covers. I live in Pennsylvania, nowhere near Colorado.

The user-manual cautions “keep the watch still” during the 2-3 minutes it is receiving its time signal. Most mornings I am up and moving around at 5am, the hour it receives the last of it’s four overnight time signals, with the watch on my wrist. But, it always gets its 5 am time signal. (There is a button to display, in the watch’s digital field, when it successfully ‘got’ its last time signal.)

In 2-1/2 years I never adjusted the time for any reason, including the evening of its purchase. The time was not correct when I unpacked it, and though there is a method for manual time adjustment, before I could go through its steps the watch received its first time signal. The analog hands, eerily, advanced to the precise correct second. It does the same every Daylight Savings Time/Standard Time change.

I have never adjusted the time in any way, yet on any occasion I have checked its timekeeping with a known correct source, such as a corrected computer clock or a radio or TV hourly or half-hourly signal, the watch is always dead-on. If I have the watch’s hourly beep/chirp switched on, that beep sounds concurrently with whatever known-correct indicator I utilize.

In looking at the Web, I seem to notice: there is Casio, and maybe two or three other brands offering atomic watches. Given their great leap forward in accuracy, low cost, and trouble-free nature, can anyone offer any insight on why they have not entirely taken over the market, but seem to remain a ‘niche’ product. Is there something I am missing?

Because there is no need.

Regular electronic oscillator watches are accurate enough, cheaper, and more reliable. Why would people pay for more accuracy than they have any need for?

Obviously, they don’t. Which is why the stores sell lots of regular watches, and only a few atomic ones.

As someone who has worn radio-synchronized watches for more than a decade (I’m the type who tends to cut things too fine; I’d miss my morning bus often if my watch were even say 20 seconds off) I have sometimes also wondered.

My speculation:

  • really accurate time is a boon to people who use public transport - for people who drive, not so much. If they’d need to check on their watch there’s always the radio news on their way to work, and the time in their PC’s taskbar
  • most crucially, the modest demand for atomic watches limits the range of models available, so there isn’t the large range of styles to choose from
  • atomic watches are available in the cheap range nowadays, but no in the dirt cheap range.
  • and they don’t have novelty value anymore.
  • radio-controlled watches aren’t any manufacturer’s unique selling proposition, so no manufacturer has a particular incentive to stress this part of his range.

Another problem is distance. I’m living in Saudi right now and a watch like that probably wouldn’t work. The same problem for Asia and maybe Europe.


Probably the easiest way to synchronize time anywhere in the world is the GPS signal. Anything with a GPS receiver in it can, potentially, use it to set its clock. As GPS receivers get cheaper and cheaper, they’ll probably get integrated into more and more systems, especially as more systems become network-aware (‘ubiquitous computing’). So I think that eventually your wristwatch will be ‘atomic’, but that’ll just be a side-effect of how the wristwatch knows where it is at the moment.


I agree that GPS would be a super accurate source but wouldn’t the signal strength be a bit low for reliability? I’d think you really would have to put your watch on the window sill if you used GPS.



[li]Increased power consumption[/li][li]Space for receiver module[/li][li]Limited coverage from WWV[/li][li]Increased component costs[/li][/ul]
It isn’t really an atomic watch, it’s a radio-controlled watch.

For time fanatics, there may be a true atomic watch available in the future. Scientists and engineers have been working on the miniaturization of atomic frequency standards for many years.

As the proud owner of a Casio Wave ceptor for the last year or so (I love it - but then my kids say I’m sad :smiley: ) I think **tschild ** has the right answers. I would add that, along with the lack of choice of styles, they are mostly larger than quartz watches for the equivalent price.

I want the watch to be set to where I want it set, and to stay in sync with the rest of the places that are important to me.

Factories and businesses want the time they wish displayed to be on the clock also. Stores like to have a five to ten minute lead on the actual time, so they can actually get people out at the real closing time. Some places also set the clocks slightly different to avoid stuff like school buses or other large places getting out. The company doesn’t want to tell every employee that they punch in and out 7 minutes to the hour. The time cards would be a nightmare.

Another angle: there are lots of folks out there who like to have an old-school watch that ticks. Does it matter that the Swiss watch on my wrist costs a few dozen times what that atomic watch does and the best it will ever do is keep time within +4/-2sec per day (spec for chronometer rating)?

This is another form of the same argument put forth by t-bonham: there’s no real need for that degree of accuracy. I am looking at my PC’s Internet-updated clock all day long, so my wristwatch is never more than a few seconds off.


Thanks for this. I own an old Rolex that I have been taking in to the dealer for years complaining that it didn’t keep good time. I had no idea the spec for a chronometer was that loose. I never expected the thing to keep time as well as a $50 Casio or the like but I expected better than what it actually does, especially with the “Superlative Chronometer. Officially Certified” bit on the dial.



German buses are that reliable? It’s true what they say, then… :wink:

My clock radio adjusts itself automatically to the atomic time signal, so I know I have one clock in the house that is dead on. That’s good enough for me, I check my watch against it from time to time and reset it if it’s more than half a minute or so out, maybe once a month or less.

Strangely, although the big digital clocks on British railway stations all seem to be synchronised* (and have a little red light that flashes on the second, implying some sort of signal being received) they seem to be consistently 2 or 3 seconds out from my clock radio, as measured by my watch which is exactly set to the clock radio and still accurate at the end of the day.

  • Although why they bother is a mystery, as the trains never are!

On the contrary. I don’t know of many mechanical devices that work within a timing tolerance of .005% (if I calculated that correctly) while being banged about any which way during the day. Pretty impressive that they achieve even that accuracy. Enjoy your watch for what it is: a fine machine.

I use my cell phone as my watch. I presume the time is as accurate as anything. I’ve also recently started using it as my alarm clock, too. I’m not the only one apparently. (2) (3) (4).

I’m someone who is supposed to have an accurate watch for work. But “accurate” in this case means within 30 seconds. My Citizen ecodrive does that just fine for months without needing to be reset. Joe Bloggs just doesn’t have any great use for an extremely accurate watch.

Because they have no soul

My $10 WalMart el cheapo quartz watch only needs correcting every couple of months, and I’m a stickler for accurate time (one of the few telephone numbers I know by heart is the NRC Time Signal). I have a radio-synchronized wall clock, but mainly for the “neat” factor. I might get a radio-synchronized wrist watch, but only for the same “neat” factor, as it’s not really needed for accuracy any more.

I know what you mean in your link and extended Quote in Post 16. I own a *Seiko 5 Automatic * bought new about 25 years ago. It was only $30 then, like the Casio atomic now. In just those ways your link mentions, it is my favorite watch.

I see on the Web they still produce a very large selection of them, all variations on that Seiko 5 design theme, which I like, but they’re about $90 now. The exact one I own is still sold. Such continuity appeals to me. It’s an inexpensive classic. I hope they always make them. The mechanical ingenuity of an Automatic watch is elegant.

I don’t agree, though, the atomic watch has no soul. It has one – it doesn’t interact with mine like an Automatic. The idea of achieving absolute accuracy by multiple daily radio corrections of an already super-accurate quartz movement is just as elegant as the Automatic winding its mainspring to optimum (not too tight, not too loose) tension using arm movements for energy.

Radio controlled watches and GPS are two things that daily remind me what a civilized era we live in.

The watch I’m currently wearing cost me five bucks. I’ve had it for about six years, and haven’t had to do any maintenance in that time other than setting it. Maybe a half-dozen times a year, I have occasion to change the hours (twice for Daylight Saving Time, and twice each for a couple of trips to other time zones), and maybe once a year, I re-set the minutes. I’ve never had to do any other maintenance on it (not even changing the battery), and it’s never been more than five minutes off (and even that, in the same direction that most of the clocks on campus are off, anyway). In short, I can get from it everything I need from a watch, and it costs a fraction of what a radio-synchronized watch costs.

Good thing we got Chronos to give us the final word on this thread!

Seriously, an atomic watch would be a huge extravagance for me. Why would I spend extra to be accurate to the second when a) I’m not that accurate myself and b) everyone around is not that accurate- I’d gain nothing by being more in tune with time. Besides, I have a habit of beating up watches, so it’s important to me that I have a watch that I don’t care about.