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The interesting story of Daylight Saving Time

On the last Sunday of March and of October, Europeans change the time on their clocks and watches — from “winter time” (Standard Time) to “summer time” (Daylight Saving Time) or vice versa. Why are these concepts not literally correct? And what does the switch between summer time and winter time have to do with Swiss dairy cows? You can find the answers, as well as further information, here.

It’s actually only a difference of a single hour. Nonetheless, the obligation in Europe to change the time at the end of March and the end of October generates lots of discussion. Strictly speaking, the terms “summer time” and “winter time” are not correct, because technically we speak of “Daylight Saving Time” or “Standard Time.”

Summer time? Winter time? Standard time? Don’t let these terms confuse you.

A look at their history will help us get a better understanding of the currently valid regulations for time switching. Summer time, which is valid for seven months of the year, is a deviation from the standard time zones that were defined for the first time in 1884. Ever since then, these time zones have formed the basis of smooth long-distance transportation in many countries. After the introduction of time zones, local time was no longer a basic reality that depended on the position of the sun. Instead, it became a practical convention — one that could, of course, be temporarily altered. In countries where the length of the daylight period changes drastically depending on the season, people were convinced that moving their clocks ahead during the summer months could help them save energy.

The universal idea behind summer time is that if people wake up earlier they can make better use of daylight. In the beginning, summer time not only saved candle wax, coal, and petroleum but also increased people’s productivity. But is that really so? Experts have been arguing about that ever since Daylight Saving Time was introduced — at least for certain periods of time — in 1916. In the course of history, Daylight Saving Time was abolished several times but always reintroduced.

The oil crisis of the 1970s finally ensured the lasting comeback of summer time. But energy policy is not the only reason why the regulation concerning summer time is still valid today. Although it was originally meant to help people in times of scarce resources, it can also enhance the quality of life. “Summer time” sounds like a promise, but it’s a promise fulfilled. On the practical level, it enables us to spend long sunlit evenings sitting in a beer garden or walking along the beach. Opponents of summer time complain that these pleasures tend to increase energy consumption rather than reducing it.

Mühle Glashütte watch
The Mühle Glashütte watch from the Seebataillon GMT collection helps travelers keep track of the time both at their home base and at their destination.
Jaeger LeCoultre watch
The Reverso Classic Large Duoface is distinguished by its “duoface concept,” in which a single movement operates two back-to-back dials.

Time cannot be turned forward or back, but clocks and watches certainly can.

Some chronobiologists warn us that changing the time shown by our timepieces causes “confusion” in the energy balance of the human body. They are convinced that moving back and forth between different time systems disturbs our biorhythm. Their opponents argue that human biorhythms don’t proceed according to a regular schedule anyhow. For a while, the Swiss were also concerned about biorhythm — not of their citizens but rather of their cows. In order to optimize the milk production of Swiss cows, the country temporarily stopped switching back and forth between summer and winter time. However, their concern about the cows was soon exceeded by their worry that in a synchronized Europe Switzerland could become isolated because of its different timekeeping. As a result, they reintroduced the switch between summer and winter time. Because of course it’s not possible to turn time forward or backward, the Swiss still correctly refer to the switch as “clock adjustment.”

In Germany as well, there was some confusion in the late 1940s. Back then, there were different time regulations for East and West Germany. Additional confusion was generated by a temporarily introduced “midsummer time” that was two hours ahead of normal time. The Summer Time Regulation has once again been in force in Germany since 1980. And since 2002 it has been binding on all of the member states of the European Union.

Country Graphic Time Change

Manual time adjustment: Don’t turn the hands backwards.

Nowadays, many electronic watches and clocks automatically adjust themselves to the time change. However, mechanical timepieces must be adjusted by hand. For watch and clock enthusiasts, this is not a tedious chore — it’s a recurring ritual that gives them pleasure. Actively setting the time by hand and thus attuning themselves to the new half-year becomes an experience that appeals to the senses. Are you reluctant to part from summer time entirely in spite of the switch to winter time?

Close-up world-time watch
A total of 37 time zones can be easily read on this world-time watch — including those that deviate less than one hour from neighboring time zones. They inform the wearer of the current time in more than 30 places all over the globe — with displays for day and night time.

For you, we’ve put together a group of timepieces that indicate both summer and winter time — or the true local time.


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