“At the 4th cue, it will be… such time! When I was young, my mother kept asking me to use the speaking clock, as if she had only that to do”, recalls laughing with AFP Claire Salpetrier, 51, English teacher in Magnanville.

“I was surprised it still existed, it was something we knew when we were kids, when we didn’t have cell phones yet. It was super useful when we had to take the train or the plane,” says Antonio Garcia, 51, director of a clinic in Meulan-en-Yvelines. “I remember the beep beep beep.”

Born in 1933, the “Talking Clock” is an invention of Ernest Esclangon, astronomer and director of the Paris Observatory.

Accessible throughout the country via 3699, this nearly century-old service was provided by Orange, heir to the incumbent telecommunications operator. In 1991, a dedicated infrastructure was built, in partnership with the Observatory, to ensure the dissemination of legal time in France with a time precision of around 10 milliseconds.

– “Like the film camera” –

“It was really a child’s thing, a teenager’s thing, what we needed when we had a power cut and we had to put everything back on time. I am sad and nostalgic when I learn of its shutdown; it’s like the film camera versus the digital camera”, testifies Charlotte Vanpeen, 43, in charge of media relations.

“Children today benefit from all the technologies and do not know everything we have known. The good things are lost,” she laments.

The shutdown of this historic service is the consequence of the “scheduled end of life” of the equipment essential to its operation, and above all of “the regular and significant drop” in the number of calls to 3699, billed at 1.50 euros plus the price of a call for its last hours of existence.

“We were at several million calls per year in 1991. There was a utility that was quite strong at the time, but little by little, we saw an erosion” to no longer reach “a few tens of thousands of ‘calls in 2021,’ explains Catherine Breton, marketing director at Orange, to AFP.

Smartphones, computers, tablets, connected objects… With the digitization of devices and the multiplication of sources that can give the time, “the need for the Speaking Clock service has diminished over time”, adds- she.

Fourth generation model, the latest version of the “Talking Clock” took its source from the “coordinated universal time” of the Paris Observatory, generated from a set of atomic clocks from the SYRTE laboratory, at the shelter in a secure and permanently air-conditioned room.

“It does something to me,” confides modestly Michel Abgrall, CNRS research engineer at LNE-SYRTE, in charge of monitoring the famous mechanism at the Paris Observatory for several years.

“It’s still a service that has been in operation for almost 90 years, it’s part of the national heritage. It bothers me that it stops when it’s me who takes care of it”, adds he, laughing, before reassuring those obsessed with the exact time: the general public can always find the official time… on the website of the Paris Observatory.