Time Perspective - The log and the speck

April 2013

Planck the satellite (not the physicist, he died in 1947), has just sent us a photograph of our universe that turns the clock back 13.8 billion years, 380,000 years after the Big Bang, a speck on this scale.

On the same day, Louis Moinet (the brand, not the watchmaker—he died in 1853), revealed the first genuine chronograph, dating back to 1816, 50 years earlier than we previously thought. A log on our human scale.

So 13.8 billion years and a few specks after the Big Bang, man succeeded in measuring one sixtieth of a second for the first time. He couldn’t have used this to measure the birth of the universe, though: the Big Bang stopped inflating 10-43 seconds after it occurred, matter got one over on anti-matter (which we know is there in excess but we still don’t know what it is made of or what form it takes) 10-19 seconds later and after only one second of its existence the universe was already an immense soup of elementary particles. “A few billionths of a billionth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang (we do not yet know the exact figure), the universe expands from the size of a pin head to its current size. Words do not suffice to describe the event, because the expansion was the equivalent of a multiplication of distances by 1025 , or ‘1’ followed by 25 zeros...”, explains Jean-Loup Puget, the person responsible for one of Planck’s instruments. The most exasperating thing in this entire story is that our human nature will always prevent us from perceiving such dimensions in a simple way, as microscopic as they are for our senses in terms of time and too powerful in terms of space for us to disintegrate and return to the stellar dust that we are. And neither the 30 Hz (216,000 vibrations/hour) of the pioneering Louis Moinet, nor the 1,000 Hz vibrating beam and its 2,000th of a second in TAG Heuer’s Mikrogirder will be able to help us here.

The birth of the universe, photographed by Planck and the first chronograph by Louis Moinet
The birth of the universe, photographed by Planck and the first chronograph by Louis Moinet

Why are we telling this story?

It’s quite simply to put things into perspective on the eve of the proud assembly of all the world’s watchmakers. Our efforts, however courageous, fearless and inspired they may be, will only ever allow us to win a few meagre fractions of a second, which we will never be able to grasp. That is no reason for defeatism, but it is a reason for an often arrogant industry to be a bit more humble.

Source: Europa Star April-May 2013 magazine issue