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rebbel's avatar

When one dies, does ones wristwatch stops?

Asked by rebbel (24949points) October 8th, 2011

This evening again I saw the time of death of a victim in a police series being stated based on the time of the wristwatch that has stopped working apparently.
I see that a lot of times in series and films.
Is there a truth to this?
Do watches stop working when their wearers pass away?
And if the police come upon a stopped watch, how sure is it then that the deceased died at exactly that time could the watch not have stopped two hours or thirteen minutes after death had set in??

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14 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

When this particular trope began, it would be connected to a death that had involved a violent struggle in which the watch had been broken. Shards of glass that once covered the watch’s face would be lying on the floor. From that, it could be inferred that the death had occurred at or very near the time when the watch had stopped. Since detectives can rarely map out a crime in terms of seconds, the possibility that the watch stopped a few minutes prior to the death of its owner or even a few minutes after would not be particularly important.

Nowadays, however, it seems to be assumed that the watch’s owner falling to the ground after dying would be sufficient to make it stop working. Chalk it up to lazy writing, I guess.

flutherother's avatar

If they could invent a watch that was powered by the human pulse then it would be true.

abysmalbeauty's avatar

perhaps if the person had drowned

HungryGuy's avatar

Actually, there are watches that are powered by a person’s movement. However, these watches won’t stop at the moment of death. They’ll continue to run for a few days if set down and not moved.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

Only if it is some kind of strange watch that happens to work on the bioelectric currents that run through the human body? *Which would be a really neat watch to have!!!

@abysmalbeauty And the watch wasn’t water proof… if it was an Invicta, then it would keep right on going to 3000 ft.

anartist's avatar

A combination of the old “the clock stopped when the old man died” and the staple of forensic science dramas, the physical violence [being pushed off a 10-story building, etc] has made it a romantic cliche.
@HungryGuy that could confound some poor CSI!

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@anartist If the watch was manually winding that wouldn’t apply but depending on how long the body stayed there, although it might not reflect the exact time of death but those watches that need momentium and motion to wind might do that?

You have to shake them to wind them… If you’re dead, you ain’t shaking anything.

anartist's avatar

@GabrielsLamb the powering mechanism for any self-winding, battery powered or any other kind of watch or even its ability to move the hands would be destroyed by a fall like that. The watch might even be so obliterated that it told no time at all.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@anartist Did the question mention a “Fall” I can’t see it from here??? I didn’t realize that sorry. A fall would indeed more than likely break the internal mechanism.

But just dying… No, not unless the watch was manually winding by motion.

rebbel's avatar

I forgot to mention how the victim came to her end, indeed.
She was found in a quary, being struck to the head with another cliche, by the way a blunt object.
The other cases that I was talking about involved victims too that were shot or blunt objected…, not being hit by trucks or fallen off of buildings.

Jeruba's avatar

I used to have a pendant watch that I wore on a chain around my neck. I wound it every night. After a while it must have adapted to my rhythms because it ran only while I was wearing it and stopped when I took it off, even though it was not designed to do that.

That watch-stopped-showing-time-of-death thing in fiction was always dubious. As @SavoirFaire said, it made some sense when it was first used because the watch (or clock) was smashed and the moving hands stopped in the same action that killed the victim. But the detective always assumed that the watch was set to the correct time in the first place. Maybe it was—but that is an assumption. My bedside clocks are never set to the correct time. We’ve also seen plenty of variants where the killer moved the hands.

Also, the watch would stop when it ran down. Who knows when it was last wound? Besides, it would not show a.m. or p.m.

I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that a real detective would pay much attention to a clue like that. Too many variables.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Jeruba As always very, very wise observations.

desiree333's avatar

Isn’t it just caused when someones watch breaks during their death? For example, someone commits suicide from jumping off a building, the watch smashes on impact thus stating their time of death.

Jeruba's avatar

If the watch was set to correct time (and, with the electronic and battery-powered watches these days, if the damage doesn’t also destroy the display). But, as the OP pointed out it in his question, it’s the direct damage to the device that causes it to stop and not simply the death of the wearer.

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