In depth: the technology of time-keeping

Your PC can be infinitely modified and enhanced to become a window into time. is a great website to bookmark. Its graphical representation of time zones is superb, as is Timezonecheck. One of the best utilities to synchronise your PC with atomic time is the downloadable Chronograph.

Also available for time enthusiasts is Atomic Time Synchronizer, Atomic Clock Sync, and Absolute Time Corrector. And for a bit of fun, visit death meter which uses your birth date to calculate how long you have left to live.

Swatch attempts to unify time

How about abandoning minutes and seconds altogether? Swatch the Swiss watchmaker wanted to find a way of unifying the world's time. Time zones can be cumbersome, so Swatch invented Beats in 1998. The idea was to divide the mean solar day into 1,000 identical parts or 'beats' that would adopt BMT or Biel Mean Time (as Swatch's headquarters were in Biel, Switzerland).

A range of watches was released that displayed UTC time and the time in beats, but the system never caught on with the general public. You can experiment yourself with a Mac desktop widget and read more about this innovative time platform on the Swatch website.

Hacking atomic clocks has also become the pastime for a group of self-styled time fanatics that have dubbed themselves Time Nuts. As the market has become awash with a greater array of precision timepieces they have been able to experiment with atomic clocks themselves. If you fancy getting your hands dirty, a wide range of digital timepieces can now be bought on eBay, including fully functional atomic clocks.

Carrying along the time with you also has a long history. The Hamilton Watch Company produced the first electric watch in 1957. Three years later Hamilton had perfected its Accutron that used nickel alloy that vibrated when a current was applied to it. Not to be outdone, in 1967, a group of Swiss clockmakers that had grouped together to form CEH (Centre Electronique Horloger), a research lab, perfected the first wristwatch with a quartz movement.

Seiko cracks wristwatch

The Swiss abandoned their research and moved back into traditional timepieces leaving the door open for another player. That turned out to be Seiko, who in 1969 unveiled the Astron, the world's first quartz wristwatch. And 1972 saw the first digital display on the Pulsar, but LED displays were soon outmoded with Seiko once again pioneering the LCD display that has become the mainstay of watch design.

Tracking the time to within thousands of a second has become commonplace. Wristwatches, PDAs and mobile phones can all keep very accurate time, but scientists continue to strive for ever more accurate timepieces based on increasingly exotic substances and technologies.

With the International Space Station due to perform time tracking experiments when it becomes fully operational, we could see a new era of timekeeping evolve with more elements on the periodic table being harnessed to make sure we never again lose a second out of any day.