Guides Watches

Watches with the Most Innovative and Unusual Time Displays

The Trilobe Une Folle Journee

In any mechanical watch the movement is in motion. If you remove the hands you still require some other component that will move or rotate as a result of the motion works. The watches in focus here have harnessed this motion in order to display time in a variety of different ways. Some like the A.Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk, make reading time easier. Others arguably make it harder, yet are visually more impressive time displays than hands pointing at a set of numbered markers.

MB&F M.A.D Editions MAD1

MB&F MAD Editions MAD1 Red

Max Busser, the founder of MB&F is one of the most highly regarded watchmakers of his generation. His watches range from the sublime to the ridiculous and MB&F are responsible for crafting some of the most technically complicated watches you’ve ever seen. These ‘machines’ as MB&F call them aren’t cheap. They produce around 350 watches a year with the many sporting 6 figure price tags.

Max has always wanted his watches to be enjoyed by all, but the nature of their craftsmanship and engineering means large production numbers aren’t possible. Therefore, in 2021 MB&F launched the M.A.D Editions MAD1 with a sub £3,000 price tag. The purpose of the MAD1 was to bring the craziness of MB&F to the watch world at an affordable price point.

The original MAD1 had a blue dial and was gifted to frends of MB&F as a thank you. The inability to buy one of these caused such a storm that Max and team decided to release red and subsequent green dial versions for sale via a lottery system.

MB&F MAD Editions MAD1 Green

Take a look at the dial of the MAD1 and you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t figure out how to tell time at all. In the usual place of hands you only see a battle axe rotor which looks like it would be more at home in a Kill Bill movie. In Max’s usual non conforming style he’s taken a standard off the shelf Miyota movement, inverted it so it’s upside down, and then connected a high speed axe shaped rotor to charge the mainspring.

So, how do you tell the time? Not by looking at the dial. Look around the outer edge of the case and you will see two rotating rings that cover the circumference of the watch. The top ring shows numbers 1 – 12 to denote the hours, The bottom ring covers 0 – 60 to display time in minutes. The Miyota movement is connected to these two rings which rotate at the relevant speeds. Located on the side of the case is a small stainless steel marker which indicates the point from which you can read the time.

Having the time displayed through the side of the case rather than on the dial is unusual but not as bonkers as you might think. It means you can tell the time without having to turn your watch to see the dial. Glance at your watch whilst the dial is pointed away from you and you can still read the time.

A. Lange & Sӧhne Zeitwerk

A. Lange & Söhne Expand Zeitwerk

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk with minute repeater and iconic digital time display

The Zeitwerk can be best described as the digital watch with a mechanical movement. It takes the simplicity of a digital time display, showing the time as static numerals, and combines it with the sophistication and elegance of A. Lange & Sӧhne’s L043.6 manual wound movement. In this regard the Zeitwerk is the perfect marriage of automatic watch making and digital display.

In order to understand how the Zeitwork’s time telling capability functions it’s important to understand what a jumping numeral is. A jumping numeral is a disk that sits underneath the dial usually with a small window to display a number written on said disk. Once a specified length of time has passed the disk ‘jumps’ to show the next numeral. The most common application of the jumping numeral can be seen via a date window. Once the time hits midnight the date disk jumps almost instantaneously to display the date of the new day.

This jumping action differs from the constant rotation of a watch hand. Consider a minute hand on a standard mechanical watch. The minute hand is constantly moving as the gears of the movement rotate. The minute hand doesn’t ‘jump’ to the next minute every 60 secs, instead it moves at the speed of a full rotation every 60 mins.

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk 142.025 142.031 (2)

The Zeitwerk’s specialised movement contains not 1 but 3 jumping numeral displays. On the left hand side of the dial you can see the window for the hours and on the right, the window for the minutes. The minutes window contains two jumping hours, one which changes every minute and the other which changes every 10 minutes.

At the traditional 6 o’clock position you have a small seconds sub dial. At the precise moment when the second hand hits the 60 mark the jumping numerals spring into action and the relevant displays jump to show the new time. Check your watch just before the hour and you can be treated to all 3 jumping numerals moving simultaneously.

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Starwheel

Audemars Piguet Code 11 59 Starwheel

The Starwheel is a relatively unknown and rarely used compilation. Mainly for the fact that it doesn’t actually improve the legibility of time keeping. Other brands have utilised the Starwheel or ‘wandering hours’ complication in the past but in 2022 Audemars Piguet revitalised it with the Code 11.59.

The Starwheel was first used by AP back in 1991 and as a compilation it is considered a piece of high horology but with little practical function. It’s really just watchmakers showing off. Its original inception was back in the 1600’s when Pope Alexander VII requested a clock that didn’t make a ticking sound.

With the Starwheel you have 3 rotating disks in the centre of the dial with seemingly random numbers. The 3 disks rotate as one single component and then each disk also rotates individually. The central rotor, on which all 3 disks are mounted, rotates every 3 hours. Each independent disk then completes a quarter turn every hour. Watching the dial in motion it looks balletic the way the disks rotate seemingly moving around each other. As a visual piece of entertainment the Code 11.59 is Oscar worthy.

Urwerk UR-100 Lightspeed
Urwerk UR-100 Lightspeed

Urwerk UR 100 Lightspeed

Once you get to grips with the Starwheel’s operation, reading the time display is actually relatively straightforward. At the top of the dial you have a minutes scale. In the centre you have the 3 black opaline disks with numbers. These numbers are your hours. The number that is currently at the top of the dial, pointing to the minutes scale, is the current hour. The image above shows the current time of 6:14. The Code 11.59 Starwheel is an advancement on the Audemars Piguet Starwheels of the 1990’s. The latest edition now comes complete with an additional central seconds hand, something that was missing from the originals.

Other examples of the wandering hours complication, such as the Urwerk Ur-100 collection, have added functionality. A number of the Ur-100 models utilise the rotation of the satellite hours to show astronomical indications. For example, the earth’s rotation and earth’s revolution around the sun. The latest Ur-100 Lightspeed shows indications for the time it takes for light to reach each of the planets in our solar system.

Ulysse Nardin Freak

Ulysse Nardin Freak One OPS

The Freak is described by Ulysse Nardin as a watch with no hands, no dial and no crown. Thankfully they’ve left behind the case, strap and movement so it’s just about recognisable as a watch. The purpose of the Freak is to put the movement centre stage. In this case the movement is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Not only is it powering the watch but you use the movement itself to tell time.

The essence of the Freak is similar to that of a tourbillon. A tourbillon is one of watch makings most coveted and eye catching complications. In a tourbillon the escapement, which regulates the time keeping of the watch, rotates. When Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon its purpose was to limit the effect gravity would have on the movement. If the escapement was always rotating gravity wouldn’t be impacting it in the same direction and your watch would be more accurate.

So why are we talking about a tourbillon when the Freak isn’t a tourbillon watch? It’s because it operates in much the same way. The big difference is that Ulysse Nardin set the whole movement to rotate, not just the escapement. This type of movement complication is known as a carousel. Unlike a tourbillon which uses a single power train to drive the escapement and rotate it. A carousel utilises two power trains, one for the operation of the escapement and the second to drive the rotation.

Ulysse Nardin Freak One

With no crown the Ulysse Nardin Freak One is wound using the caseback

The Freak is cleverly regulated to allow the entire movement to complete a single 360 degree rotation in 60 minutes. You’ll notice how the bridges which hold the movement together are shaped to a pointed arrow at one end so you can use it to read the minutes. As the movement rotates it is connected to a plate which it powers to rotate once every 12 hours. The plate, which sits underneath the movement, contains a marker so you can keep track of the hours.

Finally, you may notice that the Freak has no crown and no obvious way of setting the time. Given you have a watch movement which is constantly moving, a traditional crown was going to be a problem. Instead you set the time and wind the mainspring from the caseback. Flip the watch over and rotate the outer edge around the sapphire crystal to add power and set your desired time.

Trilobe Une Folle Journée

Trilobe Une Folle Journee

Trilobe is where French design meets Swiss watchmaking. One of the recognisable design patterns of Trilobe is the use of 3 off centre concentric circles on the dial and no watch hands. This design is used across a number of models in their line up. The most striking of the Trilobe collection is the open work Une Folle Journe.

In a similar vein to the M.A.D Editions MAD1 the Trilobe works on a basis of rotating rings. With a traditional watch the hour and minute markers are fixed and the hands move to tell the time. In the Une Folle Journe the hour, minute and second rings move and you read the time from a fixed point. This is signalled by a red marker at the usual 6 o’clock position. Where the MAD1 has two rotating rings the Une Folle Journée has 3. The largest is for hours, the middle for minutes and the smallest for seconds.

Trilobe Une Folle Journee

The Trilobe ring system is powered by a specialist X-Centric movement, a movement developed in conjunction with specialist watchmaker Le Cercle des Hologers. The movement supposedly took around 5 years to develop. The challenge with creating a calibre that powers 3 rotating rings is weight. The rings are heavier than watch hands and therefore require a fair amount of power to keep them moving. The use of a heavy micro rotor is designed to help keep the mainspring charged up with enough power.

The final piece de resistance for the Une Folle Journée is to elevate the rotating rings to a true 3 dimensional display. Stacking these rings on raised pillars gives the impression that the rings are floating making for a show stopping, if unconventional take on a time only watch.

Hublot MP-10 Tourbillon

Hublot MP-10 Tourbillon Weight Energy System Titanium

Trying to describe the look of the Hublot MP-10 to those who haven’t seen one can be quite tricky. As watch design goes the MP-10 is at the wacky end of the scale and it’s not just the time display that’s different. The movement uses a Weight Energy System in replace of a regular automatic rotor.

On either side of the watch sit two white gold weights which slide up and down the rods. The rods are protected with spring-like shock absorber’s and the movement in either direction of these weights is what drives power to the main spring. In effect the sliding weights work in the same way as an automatic winding rotor.

Hublot MP-10 Tourbillon

Hublot MP-10 Tourbillon showcasing the rotating barrel time display

With such a unique power source Hublot kept up the craziness with how the MP-10 displays time. Out go the usual hands and instead two rotating barrels sit pride of place in the centre of the dial. Rotating clockwise the top barrel indicates the hours and the bottom barrel the minutes. The time is read using the red triangular indicated on each barrel.

As if that weren’t enough the MP-10 also includes a tourbillon at the 6 o’clock position. The tourbillon completes a full rotation in 60 seconds and rather cleverly Hublot mounted a seconds marker disk on its outer edge. The tourbillon therefore acts as your seconds timer. With its rotating barrels and tourbillon seconds the Hublot MP-10 alongside the other watches on this list beat your traditional 3 hand register for innovative time displays.

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About the author

James Lamburn

James' love affair with watches started when his grandad left him a two tone Tissot. From that moment he was hooked and he’s been daydreaming about watches ever since. Over the years his passion for watches has expanded beyond collecting and dinner party conversation. James now operates as a freelance writer covering all things watches and horology.