Complications: The Jumping Hour

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When thinking about the most desirable and useful complications, the jumping hour (also known as a jump hour) isn’t normally at the forefront of people’s minds. Whether this is due to it not adding any extra functionality or more owing to the relative scarcity of affordable mechanical jumping hour watches is difficult to say. But it is the complication that has always piqued my interest.

As a brief introduction, a jumping hour watch is one that does not feature a traditional hour hand that sweeps the dial once every 12 (or 24) hours, but instead has a disc viewed through an aperture on the dial that jumps to display the next hour precisely as the minute hand reaches 60 minutes. The correlation between the earth’s rotation during a day and an hour hand slowly arcing round the dial sits well with our common model of displaying time, but a jumping hour watch plays on the way mankind has broken up the day into discrete hour chunks. The inclusion of an hour hand in continuous motion gives an easy visual representation of the relative position between the previous hour and the next one, whereas the jump hour aperture gives an explicit bookend between the end of one hour and the start of another. The combination of digital and analog displays can take some getting used to.


 

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Many famous clockmakers were experimenting with “wandering hours” in the 18th century and Josef Pallweber later patented his design for a pocket watch with jumping hours and minutes in 1883. His design was licensed to IWC amongst others, but the boom for jumping hour watches didn’t really come about until the 1920s and coincided with the Art Deco movement. The complication fell out of fashion and remained so until the 1970s when the jumping hour made something of a comeback in both mechanical and quartz form. Many of the cheaper examples from this period are actually direct read watches comprising discs for hours, minutes and seconds that are all in constant motion but viewed through windows so that only the relevant part of each disc is shown.

The first jump hour wristwatch from Audemars Piguet.

Part of the complexity of creating a jump hour movement is the regulation of power that is transferred to the hour disc. Unlike a traditional time display which uses a constant force regardless of position of the minute or hour hands, the “snap” of a jumping hour only needs a delivery power for a short period each hour when the mechanism engages.

Josef Pallweber for IWC. (Photo credit: IWC Pocket Watch)

This sudden spike in required power potentially reduces the amplitude of the balance for the rest of the movement at this time, or increases it for the rest of the hour when no additional power is needed. A further potential problem to wearers is the precision with which the jump occurs; a slow or imprecise date change is forgivable to most people, but seeing the minute hand registering somewhere between 59 and 1 minutes during a jump would not be so easy to live with.

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Solving these kinds of problems is usually the playground of high-end watchmakers—who often revel in doing such things just to show they can—which goes some way to explaining the limited choice for jumping hour watches if your pockets aren’t all that deep. Some of my favorite high-end watches happen to be ones that are simultaneously among the hardest and easiest to read.


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For the more value conscious buyer there are still several jumping hour watches out there worth owning. For a number of years Christopher Ward offered a jumping hour watch as part of their C9 Harrison line, and the JJ01 jumping hour movement now appears inside the C1 Grand Malvern. The JJ01 movement was developed by Johannes Jahnke and originally used the ETA 2824-2 as a base.

The jumping hour module now sits on top of the Sellita SW200-1 movement and Christopher Ward’s jumping hour watches continue to use large hour apertures and clean, elegant designs and offer great value at $1,595. The downside is that the jumping hour module adds an extra 2.5mm to the height of the base movement meaning the whole watch clocks in at just over 13mm thick.

Meistersinger also use the same JJ01 movement in their Salthora line, and currently take a more casual design approach with the Meta Transparent. As skeleton dials go it’s pretty well done and an interesting thing to watch.  The transparent dial reveals the 12-pointed star that jumps 30 degrees moving the hour dial to the next number, and the actuating lever and position spring which engage as the watch ticks towards 60 minutes. The thickness is again 13mm, but a larger case of 43mm will help the watch to feel more in proportion. The price is around $3,675.

Also from Meistersinger, for a slightly different take on this concept there’s the Salthora Meta X, a diver-inspired Jump Hour unveiled at Baselworld earlier this year.

Another brand who have dabbled in the jumping hour game by using an ETA 2824-2 base with Dubois-Depraz module is Fortis. The F-43 jumping hour reverses the combination of fixed aperture and moving hour disc by keeping a fixed hour track positioned beneath a jumping dial and aperture, echoing Vacheron’s wandering hours clocks from 300 years earlier.

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The Oris Artelier Jumping Hour (read our review here) makes use of the Sellita SW300-1 as its base, which is a millimeter thinner than the SW200-1 or its ETA equivalent.

The Art Deco styling of the Artelier line works really well with the jump hour complication, and the 40.5mm diameter and 11.3mm thickness mean this is probably the easiest of the bunch to live with, though it comes at a higher price than the Christopher Ward and similar to that of the Meistersinger.

Whereas many complications can be done very well at nearly all price points, the jumping hour remains one that is under-represented in the sub-$5,000 range.  Some of the watches above show how well brands have been able to design an attractive and well thought out jumping hour watch. If the thickness was reduced by adding a jumping hour module to a thinner hand wound caliber, such as the ETA 2804 or Sellita SW215, then they could yet prove more popular yet again leading to greater choice in the market. I for one would welcome a comeback.

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Brad stumbled into the watch world in 2011 and has been falling down the rabbit hole ever since. Based in London, Brad's interests lie in anything that ticks, sweeps or hums and is slightly off the beaten track.
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