Jumping Hour Watches – An Unusual Complication
After collecting my first dozen better quality conventional watches with a variety of conventional complications, I must admit that I got a little bored looking at the latest watch releases, and my eye became drawn to unconventional watch designs or engineering, as well as vintage pieces. My Grand Seiko snowflake Spring Drive was my first step into these waters of the horologically unusual, followed by the truly unconventional Ressence Type 3 (how does one describe the Ressence?).
One off-the-beaten path design element that recently attracted my attention was the “jump hour” watch complication (referred to by some as “jumping” hour watches). To test out how I felt about it on my wrist, I just purchased an inexpensive Sicura gold-plated jump hour automatic watch from the early 70’s, defined today as vintage (which makes me vintage as well, I guess). So far, so good (more on the Sicura in the future).
Cutting to the chase, with this post I figured I’d introduce you to the relatively rare jump hour complication, hopefully inspiring an itch.
What is a Jump Hour Mechanical Watch?
A jump hour watch, also known technically by some as a digital watch, is a type of mechanical watch that indicates the hours through a window. Instead of a traditional hour hand that rotates around the dial, the hour numeral on a jump hour watch changes in a jumping motion to indicate the new hour, typically from a numbered wheel beneath the watch face.
Jump Hour History.
The jump hour mechanical watch was first developed in 1882 by Austrian engineer Josef Pallweber as an alternative to traditional analog watches. The first jumping hour watches were pocket watches, but the concept was not widely adopted by the public until the 1920s when the first commercially notable jump hour wristwatch was produced, the Jump Hour Royal from Audemars Piguet in 1921 (Audemars has come back to the jump hour design on numerous occasions since then). In the 1920s and ‘30s, jump hour watches became increasingly popular as they offered a new and modern way of displaying time, especially in the design of Art Deco-style watches. Many watchmakers, such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, produced highly sought-after jump hour watches during this period.
The popularity of jump hour watches declined after World War II as more traditional watches became popular again. However, they have experienced a revival in recent years as retro and vintage-inspired designs have become fashionable. Today, many watchmakers produce jump hour watches with modern, updated designs, while others continue to create vintage-style designs reminiscent of the original jump hour watches from the 1920s and ‘30s. Jump hour watches are available in a variety of styles, including dress watches, sports watches, and chronographs.
Notable “Modern Era” Jump Hour Watches.
Here are a few examples of notable jump hour watches, from across the design, function and aesthetic spectrum:
- CARTIER ROSE GOLD TANK A GUICHETS JUMP HOUR – Ref. 2817. For a classic art deco look, this manual wind from 1997 is one of my favorites. Brushed rose gold front with two windows, one for the hour and beneath it the minute window. If I can just sell enough BlumSafes to continue to sustain my watch habit, my wife says one of these might be in my future…
- The F.P. Journe Vagabondage Series – These exceptional timepieces, like most F.P. Journes, are known for their bold design and cutting-edge technology. Technically, this is not a jump hour but a “wandering window” design, though since the numbers move on a wheel as well, its a close cousin to a jump hour. The watch has a unique, asymmetrical case shape and is powered by an exceptional mechanical movement, making it a true standout in the world of horology.
- The Urwerk UR-202S: This watch, launched in 2007, was a unique take on the jump hour complication (it’s an Urwerk, after all — and the hours DO move, though not on a wheel). It uses “retrograde linear indication” to display the hours in a way that is both easy to read and highly innovative.
- No list that includes contemporary jump hour models cannot be complete without the beautifully engineered A Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk series of watches, first launched in 2009. This is another one that, with the sale of enough BlumSafes, is very likely in my future.
A more affordable series of jump hour watches emanates from the studio of that great watch designer, now deceased, Gerald Genta. We all know of Genta for his design of the supremely iconic Patek Phillipe Nautilus sports watch and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (can you get more iconic?). However, he also had a deep interest in jump hour watches, often with frivolous or whimsical design (like a series of Mickey Mouse-character jump hours, and his other bi-retro designs). His legacy in jump hours was taken over and kept alive, even with his passing, by Bulgari’s purchase of his studio and team in 2000. That company’s most recent jump hour watch is the Octo Bi-Retrograde, which was released in 2019. The Octo is a modern interpretation of earlier Genta jump hours, and features a number of design updates, including a new movement and the more refined case that has become Bulgari’s design cue the past couple of years, since the introduction of the ultra-slim Octos. For under $10,000 (new, if you hondle a bit, used on the internet), these designs are very appealing.
Further down the price ladder, but very appealing, are the Rsservoir and MeisterSinger jump hours.
Overall, jump hour watches continue to be highly regarded by watch enthusiasts due to their unique look and innovative mechanisms. The jump hour watch is a unique and stylish timepiece that is sure to turn heads and engage in conversation. If you are looking for a watch that is both elegant and functional, and with a lot of history, a jump hour watch is a great option that should be in your future.
Note: This piece has been written with the research help of ChatGPT, though I promise you I checked everything. It was a truly fascinating tool that was more accurate than I’d like to admit – I felt a bit like John Henry laying rail, up against the steam engine. I also tried Google Bard AI for this piece, but quickly discarded its work when it told me some outrageously and hysterically wrong things.