Creativity in watchmaking is key, with the business side of things sometimes taking a back seat. At least that’s what we like to think every now and then. Regardless, there are some watchmakers out there, often independent ones, willing to push the envelope of how time is perceived and observed. Some of these literally put a face on time or pull off incredibly complex mechanisms just to entertain us. Here are some of the best recently introduced watches that get rid of traditional hands and offer an amazing array of unconventional displays.
Konstantin Chaykin Minotaur Special Chinese New Year 2021
Russian independent watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin is renowned for making incredibly complex and intriguing watches. Whether it’s something like the Cinema watch, playing an actual “movie” of a man riding a horse, or the Genus Temporis, where hours and minutes are indicated by the same hand, there’s always something special going on.
Chaykin’s latest creation is the Minotaur Special Chinese New Year 2021, a new chapter in the successful and downright fun Wristmons collections that include the Joker watch, the Mouse King watch, and many others by now. The Minotaur builds on the Greek legend of King Minos and his betrayal of Poseidon, god of the sea. The watch uses two discs, mimicking a pair of eyes, to indicate hours and minutes. This is paired with a day indication displayed through the bull’s nostrils. The rest of the watch is riddled with details to make it look like an actual bull, like the brown dial or the horned lugs at 12 o’clock. All great fun!
Quick facts: 42mm diameter x 13mm height – iron bronze case with “minotaur” relief lettering on the bezel – horned lugs at 12 o’clock – dial constructed to look like a bull’s head – hour and minute “eyes” – double disc day display in bull’s nose – calibre K.08-1 – Vaucher VMF 5002 base movement with in-house module – hours, minutes, day of the week – 50h power reserve – limited edition of 8 pieces – EUR 18,500
Urwerk UR-100V Blue Planet
In the realm of unconventional displays, you cannot ignore Urwerk. This independent watchmaking company has been credited with creating ingenious ways to play with the depiction of time. The brand’s super complex watches are some of the most avant-garde available. Time is usually indicated with some sort of satellite system, but also through rollers or retrograde pointers and rotating hour cubes.
The Urwerk UR-100V Blue Planet is one of the latest models to emerge from Urwerk’s atelier and follows down that same path. A full blue PVD-coated steel case with domed sapphire crystal plays host to the calibre UR12.02. This movement uses wandering satellites and retrograde minutes to display the time while also showing the Earth’s rotational and orbital distance in 20-minute scales.
Quick facts: 41mm x 49.7mm dimensions with 14mm height – blue PVD-coated steel case – domed sapphire crystal – wandering satellites, retrograde minutes, Earth’s orbital distance and rotational distance displays – calibre UR12.02 – automatic base movement governed by windfänger turbine and planetary gearing – 48h power reserve – CHF 48,000 excl. taxes
Andersen Geneve Jumping Hour
The Andersen Geneve Jumping Hour is one of the more recent creations by renowned independent watchmaker Svend Andersen. Mr Andersen has a storied career spanning four decades working under his name, and before that, working at Patek Philippe. During his career, he has created some of the most special watches imaginable, including a Secular Calendar watch, Louis Cottier-inspired world timers, and this: the Jumping Hour.
While deceptively simple to look at, and yes, it does feature a traditional hand in a manner, the Jumping Hour is quite a complex piece. The movement is a Frédéric Piguet 11.50 base, with an in-house jumping hour module on top. Unquestionably the most striking element of the watch is the dial. The incredible “magic lozenge” guilloché pattern uses three different machines to cut into the dial. In the top half, there’s an aperture to show the jumping hour complication, and in the bottom half, a sub-dial for the minutes.
Quick facts: 38mm diameter x 9.22mm height – red golf or platinum case – 21k BlueGold dial with guilloché engraving – in-house jumping hour module with Frédéric Piguet 11.50 base movement – 18k yellow rotor with guilloché engraving – limited to 40 pieces in platinum (rose gold is non-limited) – CHF 41,600
Genus GNS Dragon
The Genus GNS Dragon might be the most “out there” watch on this list, but it is just incredible to look at! Genus is a relatively new independent watchmaking brand erupting on the scene in 2019 with the Genus GNS 1. Already a hugely complex machine to start with, the Dragon ups the complexity even more. The Genus GNS watches use an intricate system to break up time in hours, tens of minutes, and single minutes. Hours are displayed with a peripheral rotating gear and revolving hour satellites, with a pointer at 9 o’clock. Tens of minutes are indicated with a centipede-like system snaking its way around in a figure-of-eight pattern. Finally, at 3 o’clock, there’s a revolving single minutes counter.
Instead of the centipede of the GNS 1 and GNS 1.2 TD, the GNS Dragon uses a meticulously handcrafted miniature dragon under a super-domed sapphire crystal. The incredibly detailed dragon is made of 11 segments, in full gold, with the head alone crafted with six small blocks of gold. Note the insane level of detail like the fine frills, the claws, and the individual scales on each segment.
Quick facts: 43mm x 18.8mm – 19k white gold case – ultra-domed sapphire crystal – 12 satellites/peripheral and axial rotating indexes for hours – 11 free-moving segments in gold depicting a miniature dragon for the tens of minutes – revolving single minute counter – calibre 160W-1.2, hand-wound – 390 components – 50h power reserve – CHF 150,000 excl. taxes
Vianney Halter Deep Space Resonance Prototype
Speaking of “out-there” watches, the Vianney Halter Deep Space Resonance Prototype references “out-there” in its very name. The Deep Space Tourbillon, which predates this Resonance Prototype, was already a very complex and impressive timepiece, but this one takes the cake.
The Deep Space Resonance Prototype relies on the principles of resonance, where two elements positioned close together copy one another’s vibrating frequency. The double-balance, triple-axis tourbillon escapement is fully visible under the sapphire dome. The double balance wheels synchronize, although not necessarily in the same rotational direction, depending on the position of the balance wheel before they start beating. Time is read in the top aperture (hours and quarters), with supplemental minutes in the bottom aperture. For a more detailed explanation, check our hands-on story.
Quick facts: 46mm diameter x 20mm height – titanium case with ultra-domed sapphire crystal – in-house, hand-wound movement – triple-axis tourbillon with twin-balance wheels – hours and quarters indication in top aperture – supplemental minutes in bottom aperture – 65h power reserve – CHF 860,000
Honourable mention: M.A.D. Edition 1
When it comes to unconventional displays, there’s one brand that cannot be ignored: MB&F. You might have expected it to be featured, and we’re not letting you down. But, we would like to focus our attention on the special M.A.D. Edition 1, created by Max Büsser to honour the partners and friends of the brand that have made it the success it is. We list it as an honourable mention because the watch is not available for purchase, as we explained in our first coverage.
So, why include it then? Simply because it is just a very cool watch, with an even cooler concept as to why it was created in the first place. Dedicated to the men and women who allow MB&F to make some of the most complex and intricate machines in the industry, the M.A.D. Edition 1 was intended as a big “Thank You”. In the process, as news broke of the project, it caused quite the storm on social media with people asking, no, begging Max and his team to put it into production. I, for one, am hoping this will happen at one point in time.
The M.A.D. Edition 1 is a true MB&F in style, although MUCH less expensive. It features a Miyota automatic movement, flipped upside down with the rotor in full view. An hour and minute cylinder, done in contrasting colours, is visible through a mineral crystal. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that this watch is currently NOT for sale. As much as we hope it will be, for now, we can’t do anything but cross our fingers and wait.
Quick facts: 42mm diameter – stainless steel case – domed sapphire crystal on top – cylindrical mineral crystal caseband – inverted Miyota 821A automatic movement – battle-axe styled rotor with Super-LumiNova – cylindrical hour and minute indications visible through caseband – 24h power reserve – not for sale