The Magic Behind The Apple Watch

As Tim Cook stood on stage this week and announced that the new Apple Watch would be able to make and receive phone calls, you could hear the excitement in his voice. The Apple CEO smiled as he told the crowd, “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was 5 years old, the day is finally here.”

Tim Cook was referring to the famous Dick Tracy 2-Way Wrist Radio, an idea that only existed in the imagination when it first appeared in a 1946 comic strip.

dick tracy watch


“Time continued to pass – the oldest trick in the world, and maybe the only one that really is magic.” – Stephen King

From shadows on a sundial to sand flowing through an hourglass, people have long been fascinated by devices that measure time.

In the mid-1800s, French magician and clockmaker Robert-Houdin combined illusion and time when creating his ornate mystery clocks. Robert-Houdin used a variety of clever techniques to hide the gears and other workings of the clocks. Although the hands of the clock appeared to float on glass, they somehow managed to move and keep perfect time. While the glass made the illusion seem more innocent and fair, it was its transparency that actually aided in the deception. Robert-Houdin’s mystery clocks remain amazing works of engineering, even when compared to today’s technology.

Houdin Mystery Clock

While writing this article, Michael Mode had a conversation about mystery clocks with Gabe Fajuri from Potter & Potter Auctions.  Fajuri had this to say on the subject:

“Considered by many to be a ‘holy grail’ object, Robert-Houdin’s mystery clocks are a combination of elements anyone who collects can appreciate and understand. You need not be a magician to appreciate them. The clocks are beautiful, fascinating, magical, and rare. Our auction house receives calls about them regularly, and for good reason. I only wish we had enough supply to meet the demand. Not many collectibles in the magic field are as cross collectible as Robert-Houdin’s clocks.” 

robert houdin mystery clock face

Robert-Houdin was a clockmaker who became interested in magic after a bookshop accidentally sent him home with magic books instead of the clockmaking books he had purchased.  The literary mix-up started Robert-Houdin in magic and he went on to become a pioneer in the field, eventually becoming known as the Father of Modern Magic.

In 1890, a young magician and escape artist named Ehrich Weiss read a book on Robert-Houdin. Weiss wanted to be like the famous illusionist, so he added an “i” to the end of his idol’s name.  It was that day that Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini.

memoirs of robert houdin


Robert-Houdin may have created magical timepieces nearly 200 years ago but today the wizards at Apple are the ones who have us marveling at their latest invention. How will the Apple Watch change our lives? Time will tell.


“What good were the rules of time when the rules of magic contradicted them.”

– Orson Scott Card

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