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What determines the direction of the clockwise movement?



  Sundial on the campus of the US Naval Hospital in San Diego
Edward Gohlich / Library of Congress

Answer: Sundials

The hands of the clocks and clocks turn face down from the upper right quarter of the clock bottom right, bottom left and then up again until they arrive in the upper right quadrant ̵

1; a familiar movement, which we simply refer to as clockwise.

But why turn from right to left? Watches could just as well have been designed to turn in the opposite direction. To understand the direction of clockwise rotation, we must turn to the predecessor of the clock and where the first dials and clock hands were constructed. Before the clocks, people used the sun to set time, often in the form of a sundial.

The first clocks with hands were built in the northern hemisphere, and a horizontal sundial in the northern hemisphere has a shadow that turns from the top right to the bottom left and back up; early watchmakers simply imitate this familiar movement. Modern clock hands simply follow the same path as the shadows cast by the sundials that preceded them.

Oddly enough, there are some early exceptions. South-facing vertical sundials have a shadow that moves counterclockwise, and some early clocks have been designed to follow the shadow path they create. There are only a few examples of these older counterclockwise watches, but a remarkably well-preserved specimen can be seen in Munster Munster. The astronomical clock of Munster not only indicates the time with an hour hand, which follows the actual course of the sun, but also has small hands that track the positions of the planets, and even a moon phase display.


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