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Atomic Wrist Watches-Better Than Rolex?

Updated on April 10, 2011

What Is An Atomic Wrist Watch?

Atomic wrist watches, more accurately called radio controlled watches, are the most accurate wrist watches in the world. It is estimated that an atomic watch will lose less than one second, over the course of three million years.

By receiving a radio signal that contains the time and date code from one of the atomic clocks that keep the world's time, an atomic watch automatically calibrates itself to the exact time. They self-adjust for Daylight Saving Time, leap years, and even leap seconds.

How Atomic Watches Work

These wrist watches contain radio receivers that are tuned to a specific frequency. The frequency varies, depending on where you live. If you live in the U.S., for instance, the radio station carrying the time code frequency is WWVB. This is a radio transmitter dedicated to the time code from the atomic clock at Fort Collins, Colorado.

When you purchase an atomic wrist watch, the only thing you need to do is set your time zone. This simple process usually entails scrolling through a menu to select the area in which you live. Once you have done that, the watch will automatically update several times a day. These updates usually happen late at night because there is much less radio interference at this time. It may also be necessary to leave your watch near a window to maximize reception. A time, day and date update usually takes about five to seven minutes. It's important that you not move the watch, or push any buttons while it is receiving.

A Few World Frequencies

In Germany, DCF77 is the station dedicated to time code transmission. The transmitter is located in Mainflingen, near Frankfurt.

Once called "The Rugby Clock", MSF is the station to which atomic watches in the UK are tuned. Broadcast at 60 kHz, it is also received throughout parts of northern and western Europe.

Radio station JJY broadcasts the time code for Japan, via two transmitters, at two different frequencies. There is one near Fukushima, that transmits at 40 kHz, and another on Kyushu Island, transmitting at 60 kHz. The two different frequencies ensure that the transmitters will not interfere with each other.


Casio Atomic Wrist Watch
Casio Atomic Wrist Watch

Things To Know Before Buying An Atomic Wrist Watch

As long as you are within a 2000 mile radius of the transmitter to which your watch is tuned, you should receive regular updates. This covers just about all of the U.S., with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.

If you travel outside of this radius, your atomic watch will continue to function as (and with accuracy comparable to) a quartz watch. Once you are back within range, it will update at the normal times.

There are a few other factors that may affect your atomic wrist watch's ability to receive the signal. You may have difficulty if you are in a vehicle, in or around tall buildings, or in a mountainous area. Most manufacturers have accounted for this, by adding a "manual receive" feature. With this feature, you can manually activate the receiver when you in a more suitable area.

Why You Need One

OK, so you probably don't absolutely need one. But if you're shopping for someone who loves wrist watches (and there are a lot of us who do), this should top your list. A watch fancier may take a certain level of pride in knowing that there is no watch more accurate than theirs.

They are available in digital, chronograph, or a combination of both. There are sport models, casual, and business models. Most are water resistant to one degree or another. They can be found for prices starting at around thirty dollars, and ranging well into the hundreds, depending on the style and features you want. Regardless of how little or how much you spend, they all maintain the same unparalleled level of accuracy.

Who Makes Them?

There are a number of companies that make atomic watches, but Casio seems to dominate the U.S. market. Their Wave Ceptor line of atomic wrist watches runs the gamut in terms of styles, and range in price from around forty dollars, to over three hundred. For durability, Casio G-Shock watches are tough as nails. I tend to shop from the lower end of the price range, but both of my Wave Ceptors have absorbed a lot of abuse, with no sign of distress.

Rather Have A Rolex?

You could spend thousands of dollars on a Rolex (if my wife is reading this, I am partial to the Submariner), but even that time honored name can't keep better time than my forty dollar atomic wrist watch. These little gadgets are clearly the way to go, when you want to know what time it really is.


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  • profile image

    miyabi ross 6 years ago

    on our atomic clock, you just put the battery in and wait for a while and it will set itself. hope this will help you!

  • profile image

    Avatar Watch 7 years ago

    If someone you know loves watches, an atomic wrist watch makes the perfect gift for all occasions.

  • couponalbum profile image

    couponalbum 7 years ago from Sunnyvale, CA

    Great hub! Full of information! Joining your fanclub and would like to invite you to join mine..

  • Jacob Darkley profile image

    Jacob Darkley 7 years ago from California, USA

    Interesting--I didn't even know "leap seconds" existed..

  • Pam Roberson profile image

    Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

    LOL rmr!

    You're welcome, and I want you to know that I wouldn't have said anything at all if I didn't mean it.

  • rmr profile image

    rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks again, Pam. I'm no jackalope (or am I?), but I do what I can.

  • Pam Roberson profile image

    Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

    No I would absolutely not kill this. It's a great resource about atomic watches, and noone could have written it better. It's really great to know you buy them for a reasonable price.

  • rmr profile image

    rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks, Pam. I was getting a bit worried about this one. I almost considered killing it.

  • Pam Roberson profile image

    Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

    rmr, you've really done a fantastic job on this hub. It's written and organized incredibly well, and it looks like you spent a good bit of time putting it together. NICE!

    I never knew about atomic watches! How incredible. I must really be living in a cave and didn't know it till now. ;) Thanks for showing me the light and the real time. :)

  • rmr profile image

    rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks for the comment, Rik. It was kind of fun researching.

  • Rik Ravado profile image

    Rik Ravado 9 years ago from England

    Thanks for an informative Hub - interesting to know where all the transmitters are.

  • rmr profile image

    rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Hi Patty! Gravy is the most important meal of the day!

  • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

    Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

    Although I stopped wearing a watch (it was staring at me and I was too time conscious - time was haunting me), I would like to have one of these futuristic machines.

    Of course, I must account for that lost second in my recipes every million years. Some of these gravies are ever so precise, you know.


  • rmr profile image

    rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Thanks G-Ma. Some people are just not watch people. I also believe that the popularity of watches is declining, since everyone has a cell phone nowadays.

  • G-Ma Johnson profile image

    Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

    Great hub my dear...I don't wear a watch..and I don't know why??? but you have me thinking about it now..hummm....and they seem reasonable....Thanks...G-Ma Hugs :o)

  • rmr profile image

    rmr 9 years ago from Livonia, MI

    Rochelle, thanks for reading and commenting! I know all about your blondness (or lack thereof). I read your hubs all the time, and I'm glad you dropped by!

    Storytellers, you have found the achilles' heel of these watches. I don't think they have figured out how to fit a GPS into a wrist watch, yet. If you go to a different time zone, you have to change the zone selection in the watch. It may comfort him to know that it was dead-on accurate when he got home.

  • Storytellersrus profile image

    Barbara 9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

    My husband has one of these. But his super dooper watch messed him up last week when he forgot to put it ahead two hours while visiting Florida, and missed his flight home, haha. Guess no watch is invincible!

  • Rochelle Frank profile image

    Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

    Will they stop in the event of a woldwide atomic disaster? and if so, wouldn't be better just to have a regualr springwound watch? (Actually, I'm not that blonde.)

    Great hub idea-- i had seen the tabletop ones, but didn't know there were wrist versions.