Novel, Odd, Bizarre, or Exotic Ways of Displaying Time or Other Information

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
Watchmakers occasionally came up with unconventional ways of displaying the time, the date, or other information. Examples of this exotica include dead-beat seconds, digital displays, jump hours, foudroyantes, retrograde displays, etc. This quest for novelty was entirely limited to European watchmakers as far as I know, except for digital seconds displays (sometimes called "secometers") in American gentlemen-size (e.g., 12-size) pocket watches of the 1920s-1930s, such as this 14k Hamilton 904 in my collection.

IMG_1807.JPG

I am hoping that many of you who have pocket watches with unconventional displays will post messages and photos of them.

I'll start what I hope will become an interest and amusing thread with my two-tone 18k Verger Freres Bras en l'air (Arms in the Air) pocket watch, which only shows the time when you press a button on the rim, which raises the arms of the exotic Chinese Magician to point to the hour and the minutes. In addition, both displays are retrograde, meaning that when the hands would go past the top-end of their scales, they jump back to the bottom of them.

DSC04273.JPG DSC04274.JPG DSC04280.JPG DSC04275.JPG DSC04276.JPG DSC04277.JPG DSC04278.JPG

I suppose that this watch would now be considered socially unacceptable because of the stereotypical "Oriental". My apologies in advance if showing it offends anyone. What should offend everyone is the idiocy of the Bras en l'air feature, which makes telling and setting the time inconvenient. Though completely impractical, the watch is pretty. Since I collect Verger-cased watches, I had to get it. Verger didn't make the movement. It was only a case-makers. I don't know who made the movement, which has two Geneva seals. For an earlier thread on this watch, see https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/bras-en-lair-pocket-watches.160819/.

I have a few more equally eccentric watches to show, but I am not going to show any of them until one of you posts an example of your own.
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
Pretty watch, Rodney. I've always liked that Ball model.

Another oddity in my collection is this two-tone 18k Gubelin PL Chronoscope (aka Heures Sautantes) made by Robert Cart. A rotating central disc in the dial has an arrow that points to the minutes. There is a digital jump hour window at the point of the arrow.. It's far more practical then bras en l'air designs, but not as practical as a normal dial and hands. To illustrate how time is shown on this watch, the three photos below show the progression from 3:00 to 3:30 to 4:00..

DSC07064.JPG DSC07065.JPG DSC07067.JPG

Apart from the dial and time display, there's nothing especially unusual about this watch.

DSC07069.JPG DSC07062.JPG DSC07056.JPG DSC07057.JPG DSC07058.JPG DSC07059.JPG

Chronoscopes appear to have come in at least a few different designs. My watch is a Type I. Type IIs differed in that the rotating disc was under the dial, but visible through a ring-like cut-out. This rotating disc had short pointer that points to the minutes marked on the minute track.

Cart sold them under his own name but many if not most were sold by better known brands, principally Breguet and V&C.

V&C made them something of a specialty, even making chronoscope watches. See Chronoscope Vacheron & Constantin, Genève, No. 797989, case No. 662172, Ref. 43040. Made in the 1990s. Very fine and unusual, jumping hour, self-winding, 18K yellow gold wristwatch with an 18K yellow gold Vacheron Constantin buckle. Accompanied by its original Vacheron leather pouch and international warranty. | Important Collectors' Wristwatches, Pocket Watches & Clocks | New York, 5th March 2009 .
 

Incroyable

NAWCC Member
Jun 26, 2022
361
182
43
Country
Vacheron lists the "Bras en L'Air" in their old archive along with another design using the same mechanism that has an eagle spreading its wings to indicate the time.

These can be seen in what's probably the definitive text on Vacheron: "The World of Vacheron Constantin Geneve".

As an aside, Chinoiserie was a very popular motif in high end Art Deco jewelry and objects of vertu in that period so the Chinese magician was probably designed with that in mind. You see a lot of Chinese inspired pieces by Cartier that used jade hardstones and the like.

I've also seen numerous early 19th century French cylinder watches that utilized jump hours and digital displays.
 
Last edited:

Incroyable

NAWCC Member
Jun 26, 2022
361
182
43
Country
Another interesting curiosity are the 1920s ultra-thin dress watches, often in platinum, that spell out the name of the owner where the numerals would usually be.

Sometimes there's a matching gold chain that also spell out the names.

I wonder if these personalizations were offered as an option at the time much like how you can customize a luxury car today.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ethan Lipsig

PatH

NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Member
Dec 5, 2014
2,979
2,571
113
Texas
Country
Region
Not nearly as beautiful as Ethan and Rodney's watches, but dollar watches had unusual ways to show time, too.

DSC06406.JPG DSC06408.JPG
 

Incroyable

NAWCC Member
Jun 26, 2022
361
182
43
Country
Skinner also sold several interesting Haas Neveux and a Van Cleef from the estate of David G.Newsom. The last one is particularly attractive.

 

Incroyable

NAWCC Member
Jun 26, 2022
361
182
43
Country

Rodney Leon

NAWCC Member
Jun 29, 2020
196
490
63
73
Country
but dollar watches had unusual ways to show time, too.
I have never seen one like that, I guess it was called a one hand watch. I will keep an eye out for one, that's cool. Is it in working condition?
 

Jerry Treiman

NAWCC Member
Golden Circle
Aug 25, 2000
7,314
5,038
113
Los Angeles, CA
Country
Region
  • Like
Reactions: Incroyable

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
14,554
3,671
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi,
Or this one (15 seconds subdial)
Early rack levers like this, and also levers with 3 wheel trains, had 30 tooth escape wheels, which, if a seconds hand was fitted as here, forced the hand to rotate in only 15 seconds. It didn't seem to matter to owners, who seemed to appreciate just the presence of a seconds hand.

Before the introduction of balance springs in the 1670s, nearly all watches had only a single hand, and there were many experiments with dial layouts before the conventional standard dial was arrived at. Breguet's 'souscription' and 'montre à tact' watches were much later examples.

Regards,

Graham
 
  • Like
Reactions: Bernhard J.

PatH

NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Member
Dec 5, 2014
2,979
2,571
113
Texas
Country
Region
I have never seen one like that, I guess it was called a one hand watch. I will keep an eye out for one, that's cool. Is it in working condition?
It's not accessible right now, but as I recall it was working when I bought it.
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
Bernhard, how were hours indicated on the first watch you posted?. It looks like it has a retrograde hours dial. Is the hour hand missing?

Here's my 18k pair-cased Tobias rack-lever fusee, with a 15-second dial.

IMG_8958_edited.JPG IMG_9645_edited.JPG
 

Bernhard J.

NAWCC Member
Sponsor
Jan 10, 2022
1,032
1,085
113
Berlin, Germany
Country
Region
Bernhard, how were hours indicated on the first watch you posted?. It looks like it has a retrograde hours dial. Is the hour hand missing?
Ethan, there is no hours hand, just the minutes hand. The upper cutout in the dial has markes from VI over XII to VI again. The disc underneath rotates once in 24 hours and has a sun and a moon opposing each other. When the moon disappears beyond the VI on the right side, the sun appears at the VI on the left side and tells you that it is 6 am.

In the above photo the time is 4:38 pm (sun between IIII and V)
 

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
14,554
3,671
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
So you just need to know whether it's daytime or night-time; if you don't know that, you don't need a watch anyway . . .
 

Bernhard J.

NAWCC Member
Sponsor
Jan 10, 2022
1,032
1,085
113
Berlin, Germany
Country
Region
So you just need to know whether it's daytime or night-time; if you don't know that, you don't need a watch anyway . . .
Just once, for setting. After that this watch tells you anytime whether it is day or night (in case that you did not notice anyway)
 

Tom McIntyre

Technical Admin
Staff member
NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Ruby Member
Sponsor
Golden Circle
Aug 24, 2000
85,197
2,937
113
86
Boston
awco.org
Country
Region
This watch, which belonged to Paul Chamberlain, is discussed in another thread. Chamberlain thought it might be a unique example in a watch and rare in clocks with only two that he knew of. The indication in the arch is the time of sunrise and sunset. I have not been able to find out what happened to this watch with the dispersal of Chamberlain's major collection after his death.
1663688660171.png
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
Another unusual time display is jump-quarter-seconds, also called a diablotine because if the second-hand's extremely lively behavior. One finds this feature on some high-end chronographs. I have two in my collection:

18k Ami LeCoultre Rattrapante, Circa 1890.
DSC07160.JPG DSC07161.JPG DSC07164.JPG DSC07168.JPG DSC07171.JPG DSC07172.JPG

18k L. Huguenin Tandem-Wind Rattrapante, Circa 1880
IMG_2706.JPG IMG_2705.JPG IMG_2708.JPG IMG_3688.JPG
 

miguel angel cladera

Sponsor
Donor
Jul 29, 2019
476
953
93
51
Country
Some time ago I wrote with a friend (I did the documentation and editing) three articles on the different ways of presenting the time. I hope you like them and if you find any mistakes, please let me know.

Some examples to illustrate the articles


quare_11.jpg


29118a42-cd94-4297-a42c-e0cbbc6ad486-600x400.png



SunandMoon_3-840x759.jpg


8d38c9c8-4eb8-4d3d-87de-d962d38c90c4.jpg


l20070-5vz5s-1-600x600.png


And the most modern and current ones... some of them really bizarre...


HUBLOT-MP-05-Laferrari_06-600x405.jpg


If you wish to read them, you can use the translation tool at the top of the article. Hope you like
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
I heartily urge you to read the three articles for which Miguel provided links in Post #23. They are excellent. I am not at all interested in modern wristwatches, but I some of them really push the edge of the envelope in complicating the simple and clear presentation of time that a normal dial and hand or hands do superbly well.
 

miguel angel cladera

Sponsor
Donor
Jul 29, 2019
476
953
93
51
Country
Hi Miguel,

Can you provide any details of this watch, please?

I have a very similar piece on the bench at the moment, it's an ultra-thin cylinder movement.

Regards,

Graham
Hi Miguel,

Can you provide any details of this watch, please?

I have a very similar piece on the bench at the moment, it's an ultra-thin cylinder movement.

Regards,

Graham
As far as I know it's a vacheron signed which I chose for its beauty to illustrate the first section on jumping hour.

609fe6bd-7d6f-4423-a2c6-275f7db1f986.jpg


69842433-9158-4207-99d9-4f362afdd11a.jpg


And another example by Blondeau circa 1830

5786A.jpg


5786E.jpg


5786F.jpg


And here are the sources of information

 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
As discussed in the articles to which Miguel provided links, IWC and Cortebert made Pallweber watches that showed the hour and minutes digitally. I once owned this silver IWC example. I sold it because the movement was cranky. Although IWC was and still is a respected maker, my sense is that its Pallwebers were more of a novelty item, and not a high-quality watch.

IMG_1947.JPG IMG_2035.JPG IMG_2317.JPG IMG_1950.JPG IMG_1951.JPG IMG_1952.JPG IMG_1955.JPG IMG_1954.JPG
 

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
14,554
3,671
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi Miguel,
As far as I know it's a vacheron signed which I chose for its beauty to illustrate the first section on jumping hour.
Thanks for the information, the one I'm working on isn't signed for Vacheron but for a London retailer, although the case has French hallmarks, and the layout of the movement is identical. The movement is extremely thin at just over 2.2mm thick, and the winding square is female, to save space.

DSC02158.JPG DSC02156.JPG

Regards,

Graham
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
Another watch that I used to own was a jump or wandering hour, retrograde minutes Modernista. Like my IWC Pallweber, but even more so, this watch was more a novelty than a serious watch. I've never seen a definitive account of how these watches were marketed, but they seem to have been a cigarette company promotion. I am guessing that you got one by sending in X cigarette carton ends and a few bucks. I got rid of this watch when I purged all lesser watcjes from my collection.

IMG_6891_edited.JPG IMG_6894.JPG IMG_6895.JPG IMG_6895-copy_edited.JPG IMG_6892_edited.JPG
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
My only remaining time, etc.-display oddity likely is my circa 1890s 18k Ch. Labourian PL retrograde perpetual calendar quarter-repeater. It probably was made by B. Haas Jeune. The retrograde display is of the days in the month. When the pointer reaches the last day of the month, the pointer snaps back to "1" at midnight. This watch definitely is a perpetual calendar in that the watch, when properly set (which is a chore) automatically adjusts for the days in the month and leap year. This watch is discussed at length in https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/two-special-quarter-repeaters.172274/#post-1398806.

DSC06897.JPG DSC06899.JPG DSC06906.JPG
DSC06923.JPG 1663723568237.png DSC06909.JPG DSC06914.JPG DSC06920.JPG DSC06922.JPG
DSC06831.JPG DSC06877.JPG
 

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
14,554
3,671
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi,
The movement is extremely thin at just over 2.2mm thick,
I'm afraid I mis-typed here, the movement is actually 4.4mm thick, but the train wheels are only 0.2mm thick, so really fragile and flimsy.

Regards,

Graham
 

PatH

NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Member
Dec 5, 2014
2,979
2,571
113
Texas
Country
Region
Although few would call these Swatch watches beautiful, the watches and often the packaging could certainly be called imaginative. Swatch has had several watches through the years that display time/animations in unusual ways including these examples that were Collector's Club watches in the mid '90s.
  1. 1995 Point of Time designed by Karl Gerstner. The points on the circular discs show the hour and minute while the red dot shows seconds. (1)
  2. 1996 Looka and Smilla by Stefano Pirovano. Time is on the normal dial, but facial expressions (eyes and mouth) change throughout the day. (2-4)
  3. 1997 Gnomania. The peak of the gnome's hat and the kite tell the time. (5-6)

DSC05025.JPG DSC05150.JPG DSC05145.JPG DSC05152.JPG DSC04801.JPG DSC04798.JPG
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
I'll never have a watch as creative as Gnomania or any other of PatH's exotica, but I did find another pair that have unusual time displays, my pair of 18k seconde morte,, independent-second watches. Independent-second watches are the complicated predecessors of the modern chronograph. They have a seconds hand that can be stopped without stopping the time-train. If one notes down the starting time, one can calculate the time that has passed since then until the second hand is stopped. Inconvenient, but the best that watchmakers could come up with at the time.

Independent-second watches generally or perhaps always had a seconde morte feature, purportedly for more precision. This feature made the second hand jump second-to-second without the intervening fractional-second steps of most mechanical movements, i.e., just like the second hand moves in a typical quartz watch. It is this seconde morte feature that qualifies these watches for this thread. For more information about these watches, see, e.g., Watches with dead seconds and independent seconds - Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

Both my seconde morte, independent-second watches are tandem-winds.

Circa 1865 Louis Audemars 18k Open-Face with Helical Hairspring: This watch is discussed in https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/louis-audemars-chronograph.155816/ . If any of you can identify the coat-of-arms (or whatever it is) on the back cover, I'd be grateful.

DSC00463.JPG DSC00467.JPG DSC00468.JPG
DSC00469.JPG DSC00471.JPG DSC00471 - Copy.JPG Audemars.jpg

Circa 1865-1875 C.J. & A. Perrenoud et Cie. 18k Hunter: This watch is discussed in https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/c-j-a-...mort-or-is-it-really-a-louis-audemars.159299/, in which I mistakenly described it as a foudroyante.

DSC01637.JPG DSC01639.JPG DSC01641.JPG DSC01643.JPG DSC01644.JPG DSC01646.JPG DSC01651.JPG DSC01641.JPG DSC01643.JPG DSC01656.JPG
DSC01652.JPG
 

miguel angel cladera

Sponsor
Donor
Jul 29, 2019
476
953
93
51
Country
I'll never have a watch as creative as Gnomania or any other of PatH's exotica, but I did find another pair that have unusual time displays, my pair of 18k seconde morte,, independent-second watches. Independent-second watches are the complicated predecessors of the modern chronograph. They have a seconds hand that can be stopped without stopping the time-train. If one notes down the starting time, one can calculate the time that has passed since then until the second hand is stopped. Inconvenient, but the best that watchmakers could come up with at the time.

Independent-second watches generally or perhaps always had a seconde morte feature, purportedly for more precision. This feature made the second hand jump second-to-second without the intervening fractional-second steps of most mechanical movements, i.e., just like the second hand moves in a typical quartz watch. It is this seconde morte feature that qualifies these watches for this thread. For more information about these watches, see, e.g., Watches with dead seconds and independent seconds - Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

Both my seconde morte, independent-second watches are tandem-winds.

Circa 1865 Louis Audemars 18k Open-Face with Helical Hairspring: This watch is discussed in https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/louis-audemars-chronograph.155816/ . If any of you can identify the coat-of-arms (or whatever it is) on the back cover, I'd be grateful.

View attachment 727573 View attachment 727574 View attachment 727575
View attachment 727576 View attachment 727578 View attachment 727577 View attachment 727572

Circa 1865-1875 C.J. & A. Perrenoud et Cie. 18k Hunter: This watch is discussed in https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/c-j-a-...mort-or-is-it-really-a-louis-audemars.159299/, in which I mistakenly described it as a foudroyante.

View attachment 727579 View attachment 727580 View attachment 727581 View attachment 727582 View attachment 727583 View attachment 727584 View attachment 727585 View attachment 727581 View attachment 727582 View attachment 727587
View attachment 727586
Very nice watches. This complication has always seemed to me very interesting even as a predecessor of the chronograph... I wrote about too


A pocket watch by Abraham-Louis Breguet "secondes d'un coup"

Breguet_secons_dun_cop.jpg
 

Dr. Jon

Moderator
NAWCC Member
Dec 14, 2001
7,466
1,866
113
New Hampshire
Country
Region
The most interesting and unusual display of time is watch currently for sale, so I cannot post a link to it. It is called the Heures Florales watch . That is enough to find it with a search.
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
3,053
4,132
113
73
Pasadena, CA
Country
Region
Dr. Jon, the Heures Florales WW is pretty amazing. I hope I am not violating a taboo be posting this link to a YouTube video showing it. . It, of course, is almost useless as a practical watch. One reads the digital minutes through a windows on the side of the case. How one reads the hours is a mystery to me, but they must be shown by the mechanical flower buds that open and close.
 

SKennedy

Registered User
Jan 5, 2017
332
264
63
Country
As discussed in the articles to which Miguel provided links, IWC and Cortebert made Pallweber watches that showed the hour and minutes digitally. I once owned this silver IWC example. I sold it because the movement was cranky. Although IWC was and still is a respected maker, my sense is that its Pallwebers were more of a novelty item, and not a high-quality watch.
I'm very much not a fan of Pallwebers. The mechanism is really crude in the way power is supplied to the jump mechanism. Also, maybe the transfer from one number wheel to the next worked OK when they were new but after 100+ years and having been through the hands of numerous watch repairers they can be very troublesome to get reliable.
 

PatH

NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Member
Dec 5, 2014
2,979
2,571
113
Texas
Country
Region
Dr. Jon, the Heures Florales WW is pretty amazing. I hope I am not violating a taboo be posting this link to a YouTube video showing it. . It, of course, is almost useless as a practical watch. One reads the digital minutes through a windows on the side of the case. How one reads the hours is a mystery to me, but they must be shown by the mechanical flower buds that open and close.
Their watch with the bird, clouds and butterflies is more straightforward, and yet also wonderfully complex eye candy! Alas, I will stick with my Swatch and dollar watches.:)
 

Incroyable

NAWCC Member
Jun 26, 2022
361
182
43
Country
I'll never have a watch as creative as Gnomania or any other of PatH's exotica, but I did find another pair that have unusual time displays, my pair of 18k seconde morte,, independent-second watches. Independent-second watches are the complicated predecessors of the modern chronograph. They have a seconds hand that can be stopped without stopping the time-train. If one notes down the starting time, one can calculate the time that has passed since then until the second hand is stopped. Inconvenient, but the best that watchmakers could come up with at the time.

Independent-second watches generally or perhaps always had a seconde morte feature, purportedly for more precision. This feature made the second hand jump second-to-second without the intervening fractional-second steps of most mechanical movements, i.e., just like the second hand moves in a typical quartz watch. It is this seconde morte feature that qualifies these watches for this thread. For more information about these watches, see, e.g., Watches with dead seconds and independent seconds - Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

Both my seconde morte, independent-second watches are tandem-winds.

Circa 1865 Louis Audemars 18k Open-Face with Helical Hairspring: This watch is discussed in https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/louis-audemars-chronograph.155816/ . If any of you can identify the coat-of-arms (or whatever it is) on the back cover, I'd be grateful.

View attachment 727573 View attachment 727574
That crest looks like it might be medically related since there's a pair of caduceus at the top. The caduceus are the snake entwined staffs that have been adopted by the medical profession.

My impression is that's an American crest considering the eagle and also the general exuberance of it. Perhaps it was some sort of missionary medical organization given the tribal hut?

 

Forum statistics

Threads
177,601
Messages
1,556,524
Members
53,629
Latest member
nicobirdie
Encyclopedia Pages
909
Total wiki contributions
3,058
Last edit
Watch Inspectors by Kent