I enjoy writing about the history of watchmaking. Watches are quite the impressive engineering feat when you stop to think about it.
Watches are seen by many as relics of a bygone era when people didn’t have phones and had to communicate via carrier pigeon. Sure, nowadays everyone and their dog has the time on their cellphones, but that doesn’t mean watches are obsolete. Many people think that watches are simple objects.
They aren’t. Back then, watches didn’t even run on batteries. It was complex enough to have the gears turning and springs doing their thing just to tell the time. However, some watchmakers decided that was too easy, and they added their own unique spins to their creations. Here are ten watches that are technologically marvelous, and none of them require a battery.
10. Arnold & Son HM Double Hemisphere Perpetual Moon
Watchmakers don’t like to be simple when it comes to names, as you’ll find out when you read this list. Arnold & Son released the HM Double Hemisphere Perpetual Moon last year, and as you may have guessed, this watch has some lunar influences.
It features a moon phase complication, which means that aside from just telling you how long you have to wait before you can go home, it also tells you the phase of the moon. Unlike other watches that feature the phase of the moon, the Perpetual Moon doubles down by showing the lunar phases for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, hence the two golden disks that represent the moon. When you turn the watch over, there’s a third moon to be found, this time displaying the eight stages of the moon’s revolution around Earth.
The moon phase mechanism is accurate to one day in 122 years, meaning you’d have to die first before it gets its timing wrong. Even then, it would be easy to correct the mechanism thanks to a corrector. Not that you’d be alive to use it.
9. Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon
Patek Philippe is part of the supposed Holy Trinity of watchmakers, alongside fellow Swiss brands Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. While Patek is not often the first brand people think of when thinking of innovative engineering, they’ve quietly created an impressive timepiece.
In 2013, Patek unveiled the Sky Moon Tourbillon, which is claimed to be their most complicated wristwatch ever. It features 13 different complications, such as a perpetual calendar (a type of calendar that can tell you the day, date, month, and occasionally even the year, all without having to be adjusted once set). It also features a minute repeater, which means it can play different tones and chimes, making it possible to know the time just by listening to it.
That’s just on the front, though. If you turn the watch over, you’d see the northern sky, and the movement of the moon and even the stars. This whole thing is encased in an ornately designed case of white gold, and it’s carved by hand.
8. Breguet Classique Chronometrie 7727
Magnetism is usually bad for watches. It can make them run fast and affect movement accuracy, so it is recommended that you keep your watch away from magnets. Different steps can be taken to avoid magnetism, such as surrounding the movement with a soft iron clasp to prevent the formation of magnetic fields. Swiss watchmaker Breguet decided that they weren’t going to let anything as simple as a force of nature mess with their craft.
By using silicon in the movement of the 7727, Breguet was able to negate the adverse effects magnetism would have on their watch. Then they upped the ante by actually putting a magnet inside the watch, just because they felt like it. Finally, the movement achieved a speed of 10 Hz, or 72,000 oscillations per hour, and to show it off, there’s a sub-dial on the watch featuring a hand that just sort of spins around really fast.
7. Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon
The Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is a mouthful to say, and it will cost you a pretty penny. It costs $280,000, but it looks far from it. It’s a surprisingly understated watch for the cost, but don’t let that fool you; this bad boy still packs quite a punch.
The watch clearly strays away from the standard look. Instead of the traditional three hand setup, the Grand Deck has a jumping hour complication (a digital display for the hours), and the minute hand is anchored at the top of the dial, and it is pulled across the dial by nanowires called Dyneema fibre, and they’re stronger than steel. The motion of the hand is meant to resemble the boom of a ship, and the rest of the watch is also heavily inspired by sailing.
The watch also has a tourbillon, which is a spinning cage that holds the escapement and the balance wheel. The spinning is meant to counter the adverse effects that gravity may have on a watch’s movement, but they’re very hard to make, and it takes a very skilled watchmaker to handle one.
6. A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Decimal Strike
Some watchmakers like to stick to analog displays for their watches. That’s cool and dandy, but to be innovative, you have to push the envelope. German watchmaker A. Lange & Sohne did just that with the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike.
The time is displayed with three disks, each with numbers printed on them. Every minute, ten minutes, and hour, the disks rotate, allowing the numbers to seemingly jump to display the correct time. The engineering required for such a feat is immensely complicated, and when a watch is complicated, it’s really complicated.
Aside from the pseudo-digital display, the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike also features a chiming mechanism that sounds the time at 10-minute intervals, just in case you’re dead set on having people notice what’s on your wrist.
5. FP Journe Vagabondage III Jumping Seconds
The Zeitwerk Decimal Strike is incredibly complex, there’s no doubt about it. However, FP Journe decided they weren’t going to let some Germans beat them. Enter the Vagabondage III Jumping Seconds. While most watches display seconds with the use of the second hand, someone at FP Journe decided that the whole “second hand” shtick was for amateurs.
The Vagabondage III seriously ups the ante by having the seconds displayed digitally. Two disks rotate to display the seconds, and these are powered by a constant-force mechanism that releases energy every second to keep the display running. It’s hard enough to produce a jumping hours complication, but a jumping seconds complication is so needlessly excessive that it’s almost laughable.
4. Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie
Watchmakers really like their large numbers, which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that the Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie requires more than 935 parts to be assembled. To put that into perspective, 935 is only 65 numbers away from 1,000, which is the first truly big number that people know.
Greubel Forsey filed two patents while making this watch, so it’s sort of a big deal. All that effort went into making a watch with a 72-hour power reserve, multiple striking mechanisms, and a mode indicator. The mode indicator lets you know which mode the watch is in (surprise, surprise). There’s the Grande Sonnerie mode, which strikes hours and quarters, Petite Sonnerie mode where the watch strikes every hour, and Silent, which is pretty self-explanatory.
In a continuation of the brand’s infatuation with large numbers, only 5 to 8 of these watches will be made every year.
3. MB&F HM6
The MB&F HM6 looks like a spaceship, mainly due to the fact that it draws inspiration from a spaceship in a Japanese anime. That is not a joke.
This is one of the only watches in the world that has a turbine in it because most watchmakers don’t want their customers flying off into the stratosphere. The two turbines on the watch help regulate the winding system. Meanwhile, time is read on two rotating balls at the bottom half of the watch’s “face.”
Some versions of the watch feature a skeletonized dial, which means you can see all the gears turning and working. However, all versions have a tourbillon smack in the center of the watch, and if that wasn’t overcompensating enough, the tourbillon also has a retractable shield, just in case you wanted to be modest while wearing a 50mm watch on your wrist. To top it all off, there are 10 different domed sapphire crystals used in this watch.
Less than 100 of these watches were made so that only a few people will get to look like supervillains with these strapped to their wrists.
2. Franck Muller Secret Hours
When you wear a watch, people will no doubt ask you about the time. It happens. If you find these people annoying to no end, then the Franck Muller Secret Hours is for you.
The Secret Hours is instantly recognizable by its unique case shape and crazy numbers on the dial. With such a loud, attention-grabbing watch, it’s easy to feel as if the name “Secret Hours” is a misnomer. It most certainly is not.
The watch will only display the time with the use of a presser. Activate it, and the hands move forward to reveal how much further your lunch break is. Let go of the presser, and the hands return to their position at 12. Make no mistake about it, this is an engineering marvel. The amount of energy and power needed to constantly move the hands is crazy. Even crazier is that the watch still keeps track of time even while the hands are stationary. This watch is for those who love mechanical engineering or even those who just like to be jerks to people asking for the time.
1. Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planetarium
If you look at this watch, you’ll notice the absolute lack of hands on the dial. Instead, this watch decided to be a full-blown planetarium, with 6 rotating orbs meant to symbolize the first 6 planets of our solar system.
That may not seem like a big deal, but the orbs make their revolutions in real-time. This means that the Mercury stone will move around the dial once every 88 days. The Earth stone will make a complete revolution once a year. If you have absolutely nothing to do for a very long time, just watch the dial. In 29 years, the Saturn orb will have made one revolution.
There’s also another feature hidden in this absurdly accurate watch. You can designate a date, and on that date, the Earth stone will align with a star on the crystal, which is a nice poetic touch.
Only 20—30 watches are produced each year, and if you have a spare 245,000 dollars lying around, you can have the universe on your wrist
© 2017 Reuben Jacobs
Walter Shillington from Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada on June 29, 2017: