Náš magazín bohužel není k dispozici ve Vámi vybraném jazyku.
10/10/2022
 5 minutes

Unconventional Ways to Display the Time

By René Herold
OFP-201-Uhren-mit-ungewoehnlicher-Zeitanzeige-01_1-2

Unconventional Ways to Display the Time – Chrono24

When you think of a wristwatch, a certain image probably comes to mind: a more or less round dial with 12 hour markers around the edge of the dial and hands for hours, minutes, and seconds in the middle.  

In this article, we want to look at some watches that depart from this design. You’re sure to be surprised by these innovative ways of displaying the time.  

One-Hand Watches – Back to the Basics  

Watches with just one hand have been making a big comeback since the 1990s, thanks to brands like Botta, Neuhaus, and Meistersinger. Just like the sundials used in antiquity, these watches only show the hours. The scale is naturally less precise than you’re probably used to. Most one-hand watches show the time in five-minute intervals. However, there are also models that only have indices for full hours, and even some that do away with a scale entirely.  

There’s a certain calm to be gleaned from the slow but steady movement of the hour hand and the fact that you’ll read the time as “shortly before 10” rather than “9:58.” Many people find the idea appealing, especially in the face of our often strictly scheduled lives. 

Meistersinger Metris – one hand is enough
Meistersinger Metris – one hand is enough

One-hand watches are nothing new. In fact, displaying the time with a single hand was the norm until the early 18th century. Clock towers, grandfather clocks, and pocket watches all showed only the hours. This was in part because it wasn’t necessary to know the time accurate to minutes. Of course, it was also because the technology simply wasn’t advanced enough yet and deviations were much too big for accurately displaying minutes. This didn’t change until industrialization began, when one-hand watches were increasingly replaced by the three-hand watches we know so well. 

So one-hand watches aren’t a hip new invention of our age – they’re watches that come with a long history and tradition.  

Watches with a Regulator Display – Out of the Lab, On to Your Wrist 

Just like one-hand watches, watches with a regulator display might look a bit strange at first. They also have just one central hand, a minute hand. The hours and seconds are displayed on subdials. 

Historically, regulators were very accurate watches that watchmakers used as a reference for setting other watches. The technical term for this is réglage (French for regulation), which is where the watches get their name. Since the 1960s, regulators have also been present in scientific laboratories that require precise timekeeping. The watches show hours, minutes, and seconds separately, in order to make the display as clear as possible. The design then found its way bit by bit into the world of wristwatches.  

Numerous manufacturers produce watches with regulator displays, in a variety of forms. An example of a regulator at an affordable price point is the Hamilton Jazzmaster Regulator Automatic. This 42-mm stainless steel model is a classically elegant dress watch with asymmetrical subdials for hours and seconds. The hour subdial sits at 10 o’clock, and the small seconds is at 5. 

Patek Philippe 5235/50R – a top-of-the-line regulator
Patek Philippe 5235/50R – a top-of-the-line regulator

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find watches like the Patek Philippe 5235/50R from the Complications collection. This rose gold timepiece boasts a regulator display and an annual calendar, made possible by the in-house caliber 31-260 REG QA. The dial design prioritizes symmetry, with the subdials for hours and seconds at 6 and 12 o’clock respectively. The date window is also located at 6 o’clock. The day of the week and month sit at 10 and 2 o’clock. The classic aesthetic of the watch is rounded out by needle-shaped hands and a railroad minute track. 

Digital Displays – Not Just for Quartz Watches 

When you hear “digital display” you probably think of the quartz watches of the 1970s and 80s. And while you’re not wrong, there are also a number of mechanical watches with digital displays. Digital doesn’t always imply LCD, like those we know from Casio and Seiko. In this case, it means using a predefined number of numerals to display certain information, like the time. 

The most well-known mechanical watch with a digital display is probably the Zeitwerk made by A. Lange & Söhne. Two large windows at 3 and 9 o’clock display the hour and minutes with Arabic numerals. The in-house caliber L043.1 has a jumping numeral mechanism, meaning that the display jumps to the next numeral just like an LCD does. However, the small seconds at 6 o’clock keeps things traditional, with a hand that glides smoothly around the subdial. 

A.Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk – probably the most well-known mechanical wristwatch with a digital display
A.Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk – probably the most well-known mechanical wristwatch with a digital display

The Zeitwerk was inspired by the famous “Five Minute Clock” at the Semperoper opera house in Dresden. The clock was developed by Friedrich Gutkaes in 1841 and shows the time in five-minute intervals.  

The Omega De Ville Prestige Jumping Hour is another mechanical watch with a digital display – at least to a degree. This Tonneau-shaped watch has a window at 12 o’clock that shows the hour. As indicated by its name, the hour display sports jumping numerals. The minutes, in contrast, are shown with a central hand. This also gives the watch a bit of a regulator look.  

Other Innovative Ways to Display the Time 

All the dial designs we’ve mentioned so far have long histories. But there are also some new and innovative ways of displaying the time out there. One of the trailblazers in this area is the Swiss manufacturer Urwerk

Urwerk’s watches are reminiscent of sci-fi gadgets, thanks in large part to their futuristic satellite displays. The displays work as follows: The watches have a semicircular minute scale with indices for all 60 minutes in an hour. Instead of traditional hands, the manufacturer uses what they call satellite arms. A watch will have three or four of these arms, depending on the model. Each hour, one arm will be responsible for pointing to the minute on the scale. Once it’s fulfilled its duty, the next arm will take over. 

The hour is displayed using the watch’s namesake satellites, which sit on the satellite arms and take the form of moving disks or cubes. Each satellite has three or four numerals on it. After a satellite arm sweeps across the entire minute scale, the number on the satellite will change to reflect the change in the hour. The idea is actually quite simple, even if it takes a minute to grasp. 

Futuristic design – the Urwerk UR202's satellite display
Futuristic design – the Urwerk UR202’s satellite display

Another manufacturer producing innovative dials is HYT. The brand fits their watches with meca-fluidic technology, which displays the hour using a colored liquid pumped through a thin pipe. The two pumps are visible through the skeletonized dial and are reminiscent of cylinders in an engine block. The minutes, however, are displayed using a traditional center hand. 

Conspectus 

That’s the end of our journey through the world of unconventional displays. As you’ve seen, not every watch needs to use the traditional three central hands. Regulators, one-hand watches, watches with satellites, and fluid displays are all fascinating alternatives to the status quo. I hope we’ve been able to inspire you to think outside the box with your next watch purchase. 


About the Author

René Herold

My name is René Herold, and I first discovered Chrono24 in a job listing. Admittedly, I didn't really care about watches before coming to Chrono24. However, after a few …

Read more

Latest Articles

The Cheapest Breitling Watches
02/22/2024
Watch Models
 4 minutes

A Hunt for the Best Breitling Watches Under $5,000

By Donato Emilio Andrioli
2-1-Top-3
01/17/2024
Watch Models
 6 minutes

Five Watches With Explorer Dials That Aren’t a Rolex

By Sebastian Swart
ONP-783-2-1
01/16/2024
Watch Models
 5 minutes

Watches with a pink dial – titillating or tacky?

By Pascal Gehrlein

Featured

5 Affordable Rolex Watches: Style and Quality at the Best Price
Rolex
 5 minutes

5 Affordable Rolex Watches: Style and Quality at the Best Price

By Chrono24
ONP-1084-Pascals-Perfect-Watch-Kollection-24k-2-1
Watch Guides
 6 minutes

The Best for $24,000 in 2024: Pascal’s Perfect Watch Collection

By Pascal Gehrlein
Omega-2-1
Top 10 Watches
 5 minutes

Top 10: the Best Watch Brands of All Time

By Donato Emilio Andrioli
Omega-2-1
Top 10 Watches
 5 minutes

Top 10: the Best Watch Brands of All Time

By Donato Emilio Andrioli