Diving into the World of Jump-Hour Watches

A Giant Leap: Diving into the World of Jump-Hour Watches

Even though it’s still a few days away, Watchonista would like to wish you a Hoppy Easter with a roundup of one of our favorite complications.

By Rhonda Riche

If you follow enough watch enthusiast Instagram accounts, you will have noticed a super futuristic wrist rocket ship popping up on your feed this month. That’s because the Argon SpaceOne – a fun timepiece we first noticed last year at an off-site presentation at Watches and Wonders – was finally being delivered to its Kickstarter funders.

One of the most notable features of the SpaceOne is that it is a mechanical watch with a digital-style display. More than that, it’s a jump-hour watch, which got us thinking about our favorite interpretations of this complication.

So, since it’s a leap year and Easter is just around the corner (and because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can’t resist a pun), we thought we’d go down the rabbit hole researching this obscure complication and rounding up our five favorite jump-hour watches.

IWC: Tribute to Pallweber Edition “150 Years”

A jump-hour watch is a digital (because they employ digits rather than hands in the display) mechanical watch. Sometimes, they have a combination of hands and numbers. However, the defining feature of any jump-hour (or jumping-hour) watch is that it requires a specifically engineered module to make the mechanism controlling the hour indication jump-click into place at the start of every hour.

The first recorded jump-hour timepiece was made for King Louis Philippe I of France by French watchmaker Antoine Blondeau sometime in the first half of the 1800s. But the mechanism wasn’t patented until 1883 when the Austrian engineer Josef Pallweber registered a jump hour movement on a pocket watch.

Pallweber licensed his contraption to companies like IWC and Cortebert, which resulted in hundreds of these digital pocket watches being sold in the final years of the nineteenth century. The design was so ingenious, in fact, that the Pallweber name was reborn in 2017 when IWC launched the Tribute to Pallweber Edition “150 Years” collection.

It must also be noted that using the original’s three-disc display – with one disc for the hours, two for the minutes, and a little hand on the small seconds sub-dial – these minimalist wristwatches are technical masterpieces. As the minutes approach 60, power builds up to make the movement’s hour disc jump to the next. And when it stops, it must be positioned perfectly within the aperture.

Lastly, to ensure precision without draining too much energy, the IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition “150 Years” was powered by the IWC Calibre 94200, with a 60-hour power reserve.

Cartier: Tank à Guichet

Given the jump-hour’s practical display, this complication was particularly well suited to the streamlined, often simple aesthetic of the Art Deco period. Perhaps the ur-expression of a direct-read watch from the 1920s and ‘30s is Cartier’s Tank à Guichet.

Introduced in 1928, the Tank à Guichet was based on the case of Tank Louis but rendered wholly original by the fact that it’s all-case, no dial. The hour and minutes peek out through two pierced apertures.

This unique display is also a unicorn: No more than two dozen were ever made between 1928 and 1932. Cartier has rereleased versions of the Tank à Guichet over the years, most recently in 2005, and they do show up on the secondary market now and then.

Argon: SpaceOne

My first jump-hour watch was a brutalist monster made in the 1970s by a Canadian brand called Cardinal and powered by some sort of Soviet movement.

The “Me” decade was a heyday for digital watch displays on both mechanical and quartz-powered timepieces. Moreover, the direct read display lent itself nicely to the futuristic case shapes, textures, and materials that were so popular in the ‘70s.

If you want to dive deeper into this era of high-concept timepieces, we suggest following @jumphourking on Instagram. Here, collector Ruud van Rijn has curated images of all kinds of novelties from time-honored maisons, such as Omega, Nivada Grenchen, and Bulova, but also brands that have faded into obscurity, like Sorna, Maty, and Seculus.

Paris-based Argon is the brainchild of entrepreneur Guillaume Laidet and independent watchmaker Théo Auffret. Their first offering, the SpaceOne, falls firmly into this space oddity category design-wise. The collection is offered in starship-shaped cases made of retro-futuristic brushed or polished stainless steel, brushed blue or gray titanium, and black carbon.

For those looking to explore bold new worlds in collecting through jump-hours, SpaceOne also aims to bring high watchmaking within the reach of all watch enthusiasts.

Thus, to keep this complication down to earth price-wise (these watches start at €1,500), it incorporates a Swiss-made automatic movement from Soprod (which runs at 28,000vph and holds a power reserve of 38 hours) and a nine-part, jumping-hour module developed by Auffret.

Another interesting design element is that, unlike the left-to-right displays of many of its 1970s brothers and sisters, the hour on the SpaceOne is placed in the middle, which makes it easier to read once you get used to it.

Mr. Jones: The Promise of Happiness

What does the future hold for jump-hour watches? One of the most fascinating things about this genre is that the interface allows for an incredible amount of information in a very small space, thus allowing for creative dial designs. One of the most innovative makers of mechanical digital watches is London-based Mr. Jones.

Currently, the brand offers five jump hour styles, including the pinball-inspired Ricochet XL designed by artist Ryan Claytor that just launched on March 20. But I fell in love with the brand when I first saw The Promise of Happiness, a timepiece with as much imagery as a Rousseau painting but cleverly conveyed with a design printed on the crystal and the dial, resulting in an exquisite amount of depth and detail.

According to the brand’s founder and director, Crispin Jones: “As a design-led brand, we strive to make unusual watches that show the time in new or unusual ways. The majority of our watches, especially our jump hour models, incorporate the time-telling function within a wider scene or image.”

The Promise of Happiness, created by artist and illustrator Fanny Shorter, is a good example of just how far your imagination can go when a jump-hour is your canvas. “The watch face shows a tiger in the jungle, staring at the moon,” explained Jones. “The hour numeral is displayed on the face of the moon, while the minutes are integrated into the tiger’s stripes.”

Jones continued: “The jump-hour mechanism works well for this type of time display: there are just the minutes that are moving, so we can construct the rest of the scene in a static way and subtly integrate the moving elements.”

I borrowed The Promise of Happiness to experience just how magical wearing a jump-hour can be, and I can see how van Rijn’s obsession took hold (he’s currently working on a book about the history of the complication). It subtly tells the time, but I’ve also spent a lot of time patiently waiting to see that number in the moon jump. It’s okay because there is much to admire in the multi-leveled jungle landscape.

One last Easter Egg for would-be Jump Drive collectors. Both the Ricochet XL and The Promise of Happiness are powered by 20-jewel automatic mechanical movements, with The Promise of Happiness living up to its name, retailing for only $345. Meanwhile, the Ricochet XL is listed for $795.

And receive each week a custom selection of articles.