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"Bras en l'air" Pocket Watches

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
Pasadena, CA
At the June 2, 2019 Jones Horan auction, I bought a keyless 18k Verger Freres Bras en l'air pocket watch, something I'd long wanted to add to my collection of elegant gentleman's watches. For those of you unfamiliar with Bras en l'air watches, they have retrograde sector dials for hours and minutes. To tell the time, one depresses a button on the rim. This raises the arms of the figure that dominates the dial so that they point to the current time. Bras en l'air means arms in the air.

Verger did not invent this type of watch. I have seen much older key-wound examples. Bras en l'air wristwatches are still being made.

Bras en l'air watches seem never to have been discussed on this message board. I would appreciate any views on these points:
  1. Who originated this type of watch or clock, and when?
  2. How do the arm-raising mechanics work?
  3. Are these watches materially more complicated than time-only watches (which I doubt)?
  4. The figure on my watch is supposed to be a mandarin. Do you agree?
  5. Are such stereotypical figures on bras en l'air watches racially insensitive or offensive?
  6. What other figures have you seen on bras en l'air watches?
  7. Who made the movement in my Verger?
  8. When was my watch made?
It is easy to find examples of bras en l'air watches and clocks by doing a Google image search. For other examples, see (a) rope-skipping figure on verge
Image gallery: watch-case / bras-en-l'air watch, (b) three Gubelin wristwatches, one with Michelangelo's Creation of Adam figures, one with the Colossus of Rhodes, and one with da Vinci's L'Uomo Vitruviano GÜBELIN. A VERY RARE LIMITED EDITION PLATINUM, (c) V&C with diamond covered sailing ship http://people.timezone.com/msandler/Antiquorum/Mar24/caravelle_g.jpg, (d) clock in NAWCC Museum National Watch & Clock Museum on Twitter; (e) one-armed, no-figure Van Cleef & Arpel wristwatch Van Cleef & Arpels Iconic Timepieces: Midnight Heure D'ici & Heure d'Ailleurs Watch | Web Release

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Staff member
NAWCC Member
Jan 12, 2017
New York State
Very nice!
Can you post a video of it in action.


Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
Pasadena, CA
Rob, I don't know how to post a video, but here is a Jones Horan video of very similar Verger it auctioned off for $16,000 on October 5, 2013.

That watch has Haas Neveux movement, which I believe was made by Les Fils de Louis-Ellisee Piguet or based on an ebauche made by it.

tick talk

Registered User
Sep 16, 2008
A real beauty Ethan, congratulations. Having done some research on the V&C versions, here is what I can contribute.
a) Antiquorum published a photo of the arm-raising mechanism in their Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin sale, lot 92. The mechanism was manufactured by V&C themselves and is illustrated in their archives from 1929 described as "mechanisme de bras V&C".
b) 1790 is the earliest date in Antiquorum's database, from Veigneur of Geneva, featuring a Greek warrior holding two swords. Jacquet & Chapuis featured a Bras-en-l'Air watch by Vaucher of Geneva, under the title "Novelty Watches of the XIX century", plate 108, Technique and History of the Swiss Watch.
c) I believe the figure is Chinese Magician, as distinct from Chinese Mandarin with peaked hat.
d) production was probably late 1920s, going by the VF case number. No records to confirm of course.
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