ANALYSIS - Watches with Spectacular Displays

November 2015

An increasing number of watchmakers are designing watches without hands. The WAG watchmaking association has selected some of the best examples for its ‘Spectacular Displays’ exhibition.

How do you define a ‘spectacular display’? By our definition, it displays the hours or minutes, and sometimes the seconds, without using the rather conventional traditional hands. Up to 1883 all time display was ‘trailing’, because it was far easier to manage a constant and quasi-linear deployment of energy. That year marked an epoch in watchmaking history: the hour became ‘jumping’. The first patent for a digital display [Editor’s note: a display that shows the time in figures] with jumping hours was registered by Josef Pallweber of Austria, whose movements were subsequently used by IWC. In the 20th century new alloys brought with them greater precision and lightness, and that included the balance spring.

Today, energy management is still something that gives watchmakers a headache. They generally play around with the same basic principles: a barrel for the energy source, a gear train for transmission, an escapement and balance wheel for regulation, plus a tick and a tock. Since the turn of the 21st century, however, spectacular displays have taken off into another dimension. We have a number of ingenious designers, and innovative and creative independent brands, which have made the most of current technological advances. These are some of the mechanical models with the most spectacular displays. ¨They reflect the extraordinary creativity of the watchmakers, whose timepieces have to be equipped with special movements, each individually designed to incorporate the desired display. Producing these movements generally requires a breathtaking degree of watchmaking know-how.

ANALYSIS - Watches with Spectacular Displays

ANALYSIS - Watches with Spectacular Displays

Let’s start with the digital display watches: F.P. Journe’s Vagabondage I displays its digital jumping hours in an aperture that wanders around the edge of the dial, pointing to the minutes. The mainspring barrel of F.P. Journe’s Vagabondage II, meanwhile, was specially designed along with the constant force device to harness energy perfectly to trigger the jumping hours and minutes. Such watchmaking prowess is exceptionally rare. Here are two models where use of the word ‘spectacular’ is fully justified. The 4N  MVT01, with its 10 astonishingly precise revolving discs; DeWitt and its Academia Mathematical, in which the hours and minutes come to life, emerging from a cascade of figures.

Some watchmakers, however, have opted for a dual digital and analogue display [Editor’s note: where the time is indicated by hands] in some of their models. These include Romain Jerome’s Spacecraft, which provides a jumping hours indicator with retrograde action and an analogue minutes display, and Vincent Calabrese who reverses this setup in his Sun-Tral, placing the digital hour in the centre with minutes around the outside of the dial. Azimuth opts in its hand-wound Spaceshift Predator for a dual display: jumping hours are indicated on a satellite disc through an aperture on the minutes hand. De Grisogono’s Meccanico DG displays a second time zone on its digital mechanical version via a ballet of 23 cams that activate micro-segments. The De Bethune Dreamwatch 5 also uses a dual display in an aerodynamic case. Nord Zeitmaschine has designed the fastest minutes hand in the world, with a three-tier system to tell the time, while the QuickIndicator displays the hours digitally.

Cyrus Watches’s three-dimensional retrograde analogue display in its Klepsys model is highly original and genuinely easy to read, as is Andersen Genève’s Montre à Tact Rousseau, which uses a dual hour/ minute display, one on the dial and the other on the case at 6 o’clock. And we cannot leave out Audemars Piguet’s celebrated Starwheel, which displays the time by means of three sapphire discs that show the hour and minutes simultaneously. The hours are printed on rotating discs attached to ‘star wheels’ which pivot around a central ring. Thomas Prescher, in his MAD, plays with transparency and space: in addition to a digital display mounted on rollers, the watch also contains a dual-axis tourbillon. The LaFerrari by Hublot with its four cylinders – two for the hour display, one for the 50-day power reserve and one for the seconds – cannot help but attract superlatives. Its motor harnesses the power of eleven barrels to drive a vertical flying tourbillon. Hautlence innovates with its HL2.2 model. The Rebellion T1000 Gotham Watch also features a rollerbased time display, a voluminous complication that contributes to its generous size. The hour display of Christophe Claret’s DualTow is inspired by caterpillar tracks. Its two parallel notched rubber belts are driven by two cylinders located on each side of the watch.

And here, in conclusion, is a look at the more whimsical displays. There is the Upside Down by Ludovic Ballouard, all of whose numerals are inverted, except for the current hour; the Inti by Frederic Jouvenot with sun rays to indicate the hour of the day or night. In the poetic Papillon by Andreas Strehler, hours and minutes appear on two independent discs, each of which has its own barrel. Last but not least, the Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock, which won the Ladies’ High-Mech Watch Prize at this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, with a new and spectacular time display. Hours are read at the winding crown at three o’clock by means of a mother-of-pearl band that rotates counter-clockwise, whilst the minutes are indicated by the fanning tail feathers of a carved peacock, sitting in the bottom left corner. Each of the peacock’s four tail feathers moves simultaneously but at different speeds.


ANALYSIS - Watches with Spectacular Displays

The WAG was created in 2014 in Geneva by Philippe Sitbon and Sophy Rindler, to encapsulate the principle that watchmaking is the ‘12th Art’. Master watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht agreed to lend his patronage, thus taking the association to another level. The trio was subsequently joined by watchmaker Denis Asch, who added his cutting-edge technological abilities to the mix, with the aim of making the WAG a standard- bearer for the 12th Art. Together, they set out precise criteria to define what they believed constituted watchmaking excellence, and consequently the essence of the Art of Watchmaking. The first of these criteria is a spectacular display, some examples of which are presented in this article.