There is a clock ticking in your home, keeping track of the minutes and hours of your day. And it has not just one but two types of time-keeping mechanisms: the second hand and the hour hand.
Your clock might be analog or digital. But what do these terms mean?
In this post we will examine how clocks have evolved throughout history, as well as how to properly identify whether you are looking at an analog or digital clock, and why that distinction matters more than ever before.
To begin, let’s examine what an analog clock looks like. The hour hand that measures your daily time is attached to the lower end of a vertical metal bar. This bar, which we have named the “hour hand”, moves around the dial according to a timepiece’s system of measurement. The second hand (or minute hand), which measures the seconds between each 18.6-second “hour” marked on the dial face, stops precisely at the hour position where it begins its marking movement back and forth across the 24-hour scale: at zero (12:00) or two o’clock (12:02).
These two hands, the minute and the hour, are crucial to telling time on an analog clock. The 12-hour scale allows our bodies to naturally adjust to the day and night cycle that is inherent in our environment. The tick-tock of the second hand that moves across a dial indicates how much time has passed since we looked at a clock.
The word “clock” derives from the Latin word for “bell,” and was used by monastic communities to keep track of prayer times in centuries past. Though all clocks are designed to measure time, they all operate in different ways.
Analog and digital clocks differ by the method of measurement: the length of time it takes for an hour hand to make one revolution around the dial face versus how many times a second hand can tick-tock in 60 seconds. (These calculations are determined by dividing one number into another, and then multiplying that resulting number by 60—see below). An analog clock uses a gear system involving weights and levers to maintain its accurate time-measurement. A digital clock records time using the cycles of an internal computer chip, which is also called a quartz crystal: an oscillator that vibrates at more than 32,000 cycles per second (Hz).
What kind of clock does not tick?
Analog clocks, whether digital or analog-only watches (like the original Seiko Astron) or electromechanical household clocks from the 19th and early-20th centuries.
Digital, “metro,” or quartz watches have no hands at all. Instead they use computer chips to keep track of seconds and minutes. Digital watches often have different faces with numbers for hours, minutes, and seconds instead of a hands for hours. Some digital watches use LCD displays to show you the time. Images of digital clocks are often found in networked environments, where they show time in the same format as computer screens in general-purpose computers.
Just what is a digital watch?
A digital watch has one or more thin disks, called “digits” on a single face (rather than the usual two hands for hours and minutes), where minutes and seconds are represented by different characters. The digits may also have marks at certain points to indicate the exact second of the day.
Those thin disks (or “digits”) may consist of plastic or metal, which rotate in the watch’s movement upon turning the wrist. Digital watches require tiny electric motors to rotate these disks by hand.
What is an analog watch?
The word “analog” means “pertaining to time”. Unlike a digital watch, an analog watch does not have its hands represented by electronic circuits rather than metal or plastic disks. The minute and hour hands are typically made of metal, etched or stamped using a mechanical method, such as with a punch or stamping machine. The minute hand is usually shorter than the hour hand (at least in watches which have seconds displayed), so that it can fit within the face of the dial. Analog clocks regularly require movement from mainspring to keep the hands moving smoothly.
Analog clocks can also be battery-powered. This type of watch uses a battery that supplies power to a motor that rotates the hands’s dials. When the battery dies, you can change it by replacing the entire movement of the watch.
What is an atomic clock?
An atomic clock is one of the most accurate timepieces on earth. An atomic clock uses a single method to measure time, which is based on measurement in radio waves coming from several hundred thousand atoms in a sample of radioactive material. The particles used as measurements are termed “cavities”, and these cavities are populated by atoms with certain properties in order to allow precise measurements of their energies and orbits (of how their electrons move around them).
Whether it is an analog or digital clock, or whether it has a single hand, or several hands that move along with the help of gears and springs, every clock operates by measuring time in very particular ways.
In order to be able to tell time on a clock with two hands that moves along a circular scale around the face of the dial, there are two ways to measure how long it takes for each hand to complete one rotation around the dial: 1) divide one number by another larger number and 2) multiply a larger number through another smaller number.  
An example: if we divide 3 into 12 we get .25 (1/4). This number is multiplied by 60 to get a value of 60. This means that one “hour” has a value of 1/4 of the rotation of the dial.
A digital watch measures time using an internal computer chip, usually called a quartz crystal (the term comes from the Greek word for “quartz”). A quartz crystal generates a precise 32,768 vibrations per second (an exact multiple of one oscillation per second is useful for measuring time). In order to keep time, this oscillator needs to be connected to an electronic circuit that controls all functions of the watch. The circuit turns these vibrations into electrical pulses, which are regulated with pulses going through a quartz oscillator at regular intervals and can then be adjusted accordingly.
Do all wall clocks tick?
No. In many cases wall clocks do not actively tick. Those that are powered by electricity may have a motor unit that moves the hands slowly to avoid disturbing the silence during the night, so it might seem like they are ticking when in fact there is no mechanical connection between the hands and any source of power. The opposite is usually true as well; most mechanical wall clocks “tick”, but in some cases no sound is produced at all. This is because the driving springs are removed, producing silence instead of a tick-tock sound.
Do all clock ticks sound alike?
No, they don’t. The sound produced by a clock is different from what we are used to hearing. Namely, the difference between the ticking of an analog clock and that of a digital watch, which uses the quartz crystal oscillator method. A quartz watch “ticks” quickly but quietly, producing a soft and pleasant sound. Analog clocks’ ticking is usually louder than that of a digital clock. Although some may be subdued enough to disturb neither you nor your cubicle-mates, some others have a more insistent sound that gets on your nerves after a while.
The idea behind creating these sounds is to make timekeeping not only easier but more appealing to human ears.
What does the tick-tock noise mean?
It doesn’t mean anything. The mechanical movement of a clock’s hands is what makes this repetitive sound, a kind of mechanical signature that is unique to every clock. An analog watch’s or even a digital one’s “tick-tock” is nothing more than its method of telling time. That is why the nature and speed of these movements vary greatly from one clock to another.
Do all clocks tick alike?
No, they do not. From the very first simple spring powered clocks built by human hands many centuries ago, countless variations have been invented in order to meet consumers’ demands for clocks which were easier to read and even more accurate than before.
Clocks that don’t tick book
Recent studies have shown that people who live in quiet and tick-free environs tend to get easily distracted or become sleepy due to a lack of constant stimulation. Ticking clocks are important for keeping our minds on the task at hand. An environment where there are no sounds can be rather uncomfortable, especially when we’re working on something that requires close attention and focus.
The ticking sound of a clock helps us maintain that focus, even if we don’t consciously register it. It’s an annoying sound alerting us to keep track of time passing and preventing us from wandering off into another dimension: while you are not aware of it, the ticking sound keeps your brain on the alert as you work. The constant sound of a mechanical clock works very similarly to having your mother call your name repeatedly to make sure you’re paying attention.
In other words, clocks that don’t tick may be a bad idea and the ticking noise may actually do us good.
Although it might seem to be a very simple and straightforward question, the answer is actually quite complicated because there are different types of timekeeping systems. Another way of looking at it would be to say that the type of clock you have does not tell you much about what time it actually is. An analog clock that ticks hourly, for example, can continue telling the precise time even though the actual hour changes from minute to minute. On the other hand, a digital watch cannot do this because it displays a “logic” number indicating the exact moment in hours, minutes and seconds.
Another feature which helps describe whether something is an analog or digital watch would be if the hands move mechanically or electronically (either by battery power or by electricity).