The concept of a mechanical digital watch is an interesting one. While it is a broad category with no specifics, people usually categorise these watches as timepieces that uses discs with imprinted digits (instead of the conventional analog display) to tell time.
Digital watches, predominantly, are often synonymous with battery operated timepieces that displays time using a LCD screen. The likes of Casio G-Shocks and Timex Ironman are watches that immediately comes to mind. But while it serves its purpose, they are definitely watches that does not inhibits many horological merits.
Then, we have the other end of the spectrum – mechanical watches with a digital display. These watches are notably much more difficult to produce, especially with the myriad of gears and components to ensure that the complication functions. These watches are also usually fitted with a jumping hour mechanism, although most of the watches that employs this extends this feature for its minutes aperture as well.
In this week’s article, we will take a look at some of these mechanical watches that are fitted with a digital display. What are some of the pieces that have caught our attention? Let’s find out!
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III
The first watch that we have today is an interesting piece from F.P. Journe: Vagabondage III.
As its name suggests, the Vagabondage III is a timepiece that is unconventional in many different aspects. Besides its uncommon Tortue case, the watch’s time-telling capabilities is rather peculiar as well. The watch features a digital display for both the hour and seconds indicators, while opting for an analog display for the minutes.
Powered by the Calibre 1514, the manual-winding Vagabondage III has a power reserve of around 40 hours. The watch also features a remontoir – in order for its to store and release energy every second to allow the jumping seconds mechanism to operate. The finishing of the 18k gold movement is aesthetically stunning as well, with the employment of a myriad of haute horlogerie finishing techniques.
The Vagabondage III is available in two different variants: one in red gold, and the other in platinum. The watches are priced between CHF 54,000 (approximately S$74,466) and CHF 56,000 (approximately S$77.225), and they will be produced in a limited series of 68 and 69 pieces respectively.
IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition “150 Years”
The Pallweber pocket watches occupies an interesting position in the history of IWC. Launched in 1884, the pocket watch displays the time in a digitally with large numerals on rotating discs.
Last year, to commemorate the brand’s 150th anniversary, the Schaffhausen-based watch manufacturer decided to launch a series of limited edition timepieces to pay tribute to the Pallweber pocket watch. The watch is rather simplistic in design with just three elements: jumping hour display, jumping minute display, and an off-centre seconds sub-dial. It is serenaded with a deep glossy lacquered dial, in which the variant above (in stainless steel) is complemented with a dark blue one.
The 45mm timepiece is powered by the in-house manufactured Calibre 94200. The manual-winding movement beats at 28,800 vph, and it has a power reserve of around 60 hours. The watch is also available in 18k red gold and platinum, and prices for this exquisite timepiece begins at US$23,000 (approximately S$31,321) onwards.
MB&F is an independent watch manufacturer that is often known for its unconventional and eccentric take on both design and functions. It is therefore no surprise to us that Max Busser had decided to create a mechanical timepiece with a digital display, in the form of the Horological Machine 5 (HM5).
The HM5 is a timepiece that drew its inspiration from multiple sources, such as the Lamborghini Miura and Amida Digitrend watch. The highlight, undoubtedly, comes from the vertical digital time display. In order for the HM5 to display its time vertically, a wedged-shaped sapphire prism is used to refract the discs at the desired angle. It is also interesting to note that the discs is filled with SuperLuminova, and the functioning louvres on the case allow light to enter and charge the luminescence material.
Similar to its brethren, the HM5 is available in a myriad of variants. The base model – in zirconium – is priced at US$63,000 (approximately S$85,793) when it was first launched in 2012. The watch can be found in the secondary markets from time to time, and it is certainly an interesting option for someone who is looking for a conversational piece.
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date
The birth of the Zeitwerk is an interesting one, to say the least. Launched in 2009, the Zeitwerk was thrusted into the limelight in the midst of a financial crisis. But more importantly, the Zeitwerk deviates highly from the usual A. Lange & Söhne watches. This is a bold move, but one that paid dividends in retrospect.
Since its inception a decade back, the Zeitwerk has seen some interesting additions in the collection along the way. The Zeitwerk Date, released in SIHH 2019, is the latest to join the family. The 44.2mm timepiece now comes with a date display that is located at the peripheral of the dial, and it has also doubled its power reserve to 72 hours. The colour scheme – consisting of a slate grey dial with solid silver elements – is aesthetically pleasing. To top it off, the finishing is of the highest standards as usual.
Priced at €89,000 (approximately S$137,460), the Zeitwerk Date carries a premium of €17,500 (approximately S$27,029) over the standard Zeitwerk. Both are excellent pieces, and regardless of which option one goes for, it will still be a brilliant choice nonetheless.
Harry Winston Opus 3
The Opus collection is the brainchild of Max Busser, then CEO of Harry Winston. Launched in 2001, the Opus series aims to bring together some of the best independent watchmakers together to produce some of the world’s most mind-boggling timepieces that was known to Man.
Opus 3, produced in collaboration with Vianney Halter, is one of such remarkable timepieces. The incredible Opus 3 – which debuted in 2003 – is one of the most ambitious timepieces that the house had ever produced. So much so that it took almost 10 years to deliver the timepiece to its 55 proud owners.
The watch features 6 potholes, each with an aperture to display numerals. The time display is read horizontally, from the extreme left column to the extreme right column. The top row reads the hours, and the bottom one reads the minute. The centre role – which displays the date – is read vertically. The party pieces of the watch lies in the countdown timer, in which it will the centre-top counter will display the last 4 seconds (i.e. 56 seconds to 59 seconds) before the respective disc jumps to the next minute.
Originally priced at US$80,000 (approximately S$108,944), the legendary Opus 3 had certainly soared in value over the last few years in the secondary market. This is definitely a unicorn; a piece that most will probably never ever get to see in their lifetime.
De Bethune DBS Digital
We round up the article with another legendary independent watch manufacturer: De Bethune, with the DBS Digital.
The 45mm DBS Digital is an intriguing watch, to say the least. The white gold case features a rather interesting case design, in which the lugs at the top of the watch is replaced with a hinge. It is also noteworthy to point out that the crown is at the 12 o’clock position as well.
The pièce de résistance, however, lies in the dial. The watch features 5 different digital apertures; the watch’s functions include the usual hour and minute counter, as well as the perpetual calendar. This is the reason behind the minuscule apertures as well, as it is difficult to incorporate the different discs together within the 45mm timepiece. But it gets better from here. The watch also features the signature De Bethune 3D moonphase display, and the movement boasts an incredible 8 days power reserve.
The DBS Digital is a brilliant piece. It tries to be different, and yet it constantly amazes us with its capabilities and execution. The watch retails at S$158,700, and we do think that this is probably the pinnacle of mechanical watches that are fitted with a digital display.
To a layman, the term “digital display” will not evoke the image of watches that we have highlighted above. This is not wrong; after all, most of us are probably more familiar with the likes of G-Shocks and Apple Watches. Mechanical watches, let alone one with a digital display, are certainly things that many are not familiar with.
While these watches may not have much advantages in terms of functionality (maybe improved legibility for some of the pieces, like the Zeitwerk), but they certainly showcases the prowess of the engineers and designers behind the timepiece. It is no mean feat to produce such watches, as there are items such as the movement’s torque (to rotate the disc) and space constraints that requires serious considerations. In addition, more components are required as well – even more so if the watch includes fanciful complications like Opus 3, which features a countdown display for the last 4 seconds of every minute.
What are your thoughts on such watches? Is this something worth considering, or would pay for an analog timepiece with better complications at the same price point? Let us know in the comments section below.