Anyone new to the world of watches, or anyone who is just now digging deeper into the specifics of this world, may come across the term ‘hacking seconds’ and wonder what it is. This term is commonly used in the watch world but is not often explained. If you are wondering what hacking seconds is, the answer may be more straightforward than you expect.

Hacking seconds is a feature that allows the seconds hand on a watch to be stopped by pulling the crown of the watch into the time-setting position. Stopping the seconds hand when setting the time allows the watch to be set far more accurately than otherwise.

There are several terms that are specific to watches that are not used in other circles, and it is vital to understand what they mean if you are to delve deeper into the mechanics of watches and the details of owning and using fine watches. Let’s explore what hacking seconds is, how it came about, and how the functionality affects the movement of a watch.

What Is Hacking Seconds?

Hacking seconds is not as serious or rebellious as it sounds. The process is relatively simple, and this functionality, or something similar, has become common on almost all watches.

Hacking seconds is the process of stopping the seconds hand on a watch to very accurately set the time to correspond with an accurate time source.

This process can be as simple as accurately setting the seconds hand on a watch, but it can also describe processes that go slightly more in-depth.

Hacking seconds is the practice of setting the time on a watch as accurately as possible and can be conducted in a way that tests the overall accuracy and timekeeping ability of the timepiece.

Every watch has a mechanism for setting the time. Watches that have a second hacking feature are usually far easier to set accurately, and they are more useable for watch users who have a high regard or high need for time accuracy.

Hacking seconds is usually done by pulling the crown on a watch out to the time setting position, which engages a brake or stops mechanism within the watch that stops the seconds hand from moving.

This enables the user to stop the seconds hand at the exact right point to set the time accurately to the second or less, rather than only setting the time accurately to the minute or hour.

This mechanism is a function built into the mechanism of the watch movement. The seconds hand is stopped by a lever or a brake, or the hands of the watch are temporarily disengaged from the movement to stop them from ticking.

There are various mechanisms that allow for seconds hacking in modern watches, and different watchmakers have different mechanisms for the functionality, but they all serve the same purpose and have the same result.

How Do You Hack Seconds On A Watch?

Now that we have established the definition of hacking seconds on a watch, you may wonder how to hack seconds on your watch.

The process of hacking seconds is very straightforward on almost all watches that possess this functionality.

Most seconds hacking mechanisms are activated by pulling the crown of the watch out until it clicks to the setting that allows the user to set the watch’s time. Watches with a waterproof case may require the crown to be unscrewed before it can be pulled out to the correct position.

If your watch has seconds hacking functionality, you will know when the crown is in the correct position to use the mechanism when the seconds hand stops moving.

To achieve the most accurate time, it is the best practice to stop the seconds hand the moment it ticks onto the stroke of 12. This makes it far easier to set the time accurately from a time source.

However, you can stop the seconds hand at any point in its rotation.

It is recommended to practice stopping the seconds hand and re-engaging it a few times before you set the time on the watch. The hacking seconds mechanism feels different in every watch, and it can be tricky to get the hang of it.

Practicing the process a few times before setting the time correctly is the best to get a feel for your watch and learn how to set it as accurately as possible.  

Can All Watches Hack Seconds?

Hacking seconds may seem like a standard feature, but the reality is that this feature is relatively new in the world of watchmaking, and it is not a feature that is common to all watches.

Not all watches are designed with hacking seconds functionality. The ability to stop the seconds hand for more accurate time setting must be built into the watch movement mechanism.

If this functionality is not built into the watch, the movement will not allow the seconds hand on the watch to stop.

Watches that do not have hacking seconds functionality are significantly more challenging to set accurately, and they require much more patience, skill, and effort to set as accurately as possible

Setting a watch without hacking seconds functionality very accurately; it only requires more effort.

Watches that can hack seconds are usually more desirable and have a better overall movement design. These watches are becoming more prevalent among watchmakers, as the functionality is desirable for clients and end users.

Adding a mechanism for hacking seconds into a watch movement indeed introduces several more points of potential failure, but if the watch is designed and built well, this functionality is not likely to cause any negative experiences with the watch.

Is Hacking Seconds Important?

Hacking seconds is a relatively common mechanism in modern watches, but it is not recent in all timepiece models. This leads some to wonder if hacking seconds functionality is important or if you do not need a watch with this feature.

The reality is that hacking seconds is a nice-to-have feature that makes it easier to set a watch more accurately, but it is not a feature that defines the functionality, useability, or value of a watch.

It is possible to set a watch accurately without hacking seconds. If ultimate accuracy is not particularly important to you, hacking seconds is not a critical feature of a watch.

However, if you want your watch to be set as accurately as possible, if you enjoy checking the accuracy of your watching, fine-tuning them, and keeping them running tightly, then hacking seconds functionality may feel more vital.

It is significantly easier to set a watch with hacking seconds functionality, and it is possible to achieve more accuracy with this functionality than otherwise.

Some watch users may have more use for this accuracy than others, especially those who use their watch to synchronize tasks, keep time with other people, or for professions where accuracy to less than a second is critical.

All of this means that the importance of hacking seconds is subjective. This functionality is far more important to some people than others. For those who need this functionality, a watch without it will not do, but hacking seconds is not a critical watch feature for someone who does not mind slight time inaccuracy.

The ability to hack seconds can make a watch more expensive because it adds an extra layer to the mechanism, which means that anyone looking for a watch on a budget may need to look at a watch without this functionality.

exact same time hacking seconds function non hacking watch

Why Is It Called Hacking Seconds?

Hacking seconds is a common term in the watch community, but the origin of the term is not fully known. There are several possible sources for this term’s origin, but the exact source is unknown.

Hacking seconds is believed to be an extension of the name given to nautical chronometer pocket watches that can stop the seconds hand for taking accurate sights while at sea.

These watches are called hack watches, and the action of stopping the seconds hand to set the time accurately is subsequently known as hacking seconds.

Other possible explanations for the term are less believable but cannot be dismissed. For example, we can examine the term to determine why seconds hacking has been given this name. The word ‘hacking’ is used when gaining special access to a system.

The mechanism in a watch that allows shacking seconds allows a break in the typical movement of the watch by engaging a secondary mechanism, gaining special control over the system within the watch.

This special access is directed specifically at the seconds hand in the movement.

By extrapolation, we determine that the term ‘hacking seconds’ refers to the special access granted by the secondary internal mechanism to control the exact stopping point of the seconds hand.

The term ‘hacking seconds,’ however it came to be, is a permanent feature of the watch community and has become the official name for this mechanism on listed features of watches.

How Did Hacking Seconds Functionality Come About?

Hacking seconds is a relatively common feature on modern watches, and it is something that many watch owners take for granted, but the feature was not always present in watches and has developed for a specific purpose.

The ability to stop the seconds hand on a watch was a request made by American soldiers in the Second World War. These soldiers were required to execute increasingly complex and critically timed maneuvers and tactics without the ability to communicate.

This required accurate timekeeping and the ability to set multiple watches to the same time within a second.

This request was given to the watchmakers that supplied the military with wristwatches, who developed the secondary mechanism within the movement to stop the seconds hand to meet the soldiers’ request.

This functionality became a standard in all mechanical military watches and remains a tradition among many watchmakers today.

The ability to stop the seconds hand on a watch resulted in far more accurate battle maneuvers, which was a great advantage to the soldiers with access to these timepieces.

Are Hacking Seconds And Back Hacking The Same?

The terms seconds hacking and back hacking are often used in the watch community interchangeably, but are these terms describing the same functionality? Are back hacking and seconds hacking the same thing?

Backing hacking and seconds hacking are not the same thing. These mechanisms are similar and can be used to perform the same function, but they are not the same mechanism within the movement of a watch.

We have established that hacking seconds is achieved by applying a brake or a stop lever to the balance wheel within a watch movement, but back hacking does not apply a brake in the same way.

A watch with a back hacking mechanism does not stop the seconds hand when the watch crown is pulled away from the watch case. Instead, the user must apply backward pressure to the crown, which manually slows and stops the seconds hand.

Back hacking is so-called because the user must manually rotate the crown backward, and the second hand can subsequently turn backward if too much pressure is applied.

This mechanism is used for the same purpose as hacking seconds, but it is a more manual mechanism and is more difficult to control.

Does Hacking Seconds Damage Watches?

Hacking seconds is relatively common in modern watches, but there is some concern among some watch owners that the mechanism used to hack seconds can damage the watch’s movement. Is this true?

The process of hacking seconds does not cause damage to the movement within a watch. This mechanism is built into the movement of the watch and is a feature by design.

The hacking seconds mechanism has protection built into it to prevent causing harm to the main movement mechanism of the watch and can be safely used without harming the timepiece.


Hacking seconds is a desirable feature on modern watches and can be the difference between a watch being very functional for some users and nothing more than a nice accessory.

This feature is critical to some watch owners and not necessary to others. The owner of the watch determines the worth of hacking seconds, but it is a nice feature to have if accurate time is something that you care about.


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