Watches with roller displays These watches know how to roll
Only a handful of watches use rollers to display the time. With the help of three models from Hysek, Rebellion and Cabestan, we explain why this is so.
The use of hands to display the time around a circular display on a watch was a logical consequence of the first wristwatches being derived from pocket watches, which were themselves derived from clocks. But the new age of watchmaking is all about breaking codes, the two obvious ones being changing the familiar circular format of a case and dial and the corresponding way in which the time is read. You can now buy watches in all sorts of shapes and sizes and with the time displayed by discs, ball bearings or even automata. The use of rollers allows an immediately readable digital display that can easily be understood by anyone who grew up with electronic alarm clocks on their bedside (and helps the rare few who have never mastered telling the time in the traditional way. But unlike the simple and compact electronics of such clocks, implementing this system in a watch that draws its energy solely from a tiny spring poses two main problems.
The first is a question of power. Moving relatively light hands around the dial from the centre is not only one of the most conventional forms of time display; it is also probably one of the most energy-efficient. Replacing those hands with rollers involves moving both a heavier weight and translating the energy transmission through 90 degrees. The second problem is that hands are perfect for nice, flat watches, whereas rollers require much more generous dimensions, meaning that the watches that use them inevitably end up as colossal machines that bear little resemblance to an everyday wristwatch.
The name of the astonishing timepiece presented at Baselworld this year by Hysek bears out this comparison. At 57mm high, by 44mm wide and nearly two centimetres (18mm) deep, this watch is hardly going to win any prizes in the ultra-thin stakes. But then that is not what this watch is about, because it packs into this space 1000-plus components and takes the idea of a grand complication to new extremes. The rollers do not simply rotate in continuous motion, they display the time in a retrograde fashion and do so in instantaneous jumps (which require the energy to be accumulated). And they do so over 24 hours, rather than 12 (which means that Hysek had to develop a special system to prevent the time jumping from 23.59 to the non-existent 24.00). And, not content with just displaying the time, three separate rollers are used to display the perpetual calendar function. Furthermore, an innovative moon phase display at the centre of the watch has the moon stationary, with a black star-studded dome of the night sky rotating above it and covering the moon to depict its various phases. The only displays that bear a vague resemblance to traditional timekeeping are the discs for the second time zone at 9 o’clock and the leap year at 3 o’clock.
In the latest watch from Rebellion (ignore the capitals and read it as a word, which approximates to “weapon”), the rollers determine the very shape of the watch case, which becomes a 40mm by 25mm sapphire crystal tube. The hours and minutes are displayed on rollers at either end of this tube, leaving the centre free to show off a remarkable achievement: an asymmetrical flying tourbillon. Its cage is anchored to either end of the tube, but the wheel at each end rotates at a different speed, one completing a revolution in one minute, the other in two minutes. This means that the tourbillon in the new Rebellion WEAP-ONE rotates asymmetrically, twisting and turn inside the tube. Despite its appearance, this unusual movement, developed in collaboration with Concepto and designed by Fabrice Gonet, is actually self-winding and offers a power reserve of 60 hours. And because the founder of Rebellion Timepieces and its sister motorsport team Rebellion Racing is totally crazy about cars, this unusually-shaped watch can be detached from its case and fitted to the dashboard of your favourite ride.
A number of watch brands still use the rather antiquated fusee and chain technology to ensure a transmission of constant force to the escapement (to offer better accuracy for the full duration of the watch’s power reserve), but most of them use a horizontal arrangement to keep the height of the watch to a minimum. Cabestan takes the opposite approach for its Vertical Winch models, where the fusee and chain is arranged vertically (like a winch, which is what “Cabestan” means in English). This arrangement defines the complete architecture of the watch, from its highly complicated case shape to the use of rollers to display the hours, minutes and seconds. It also better shows off the technical accomplishment of the modern chain system, with its minute links.
Power reserve record breakers
The Jacob & Co. Quenttin Tourbillon was the world’s first wristwatch to offer a power reserve of 31 days, thanks to seven coupled mainspring barrels that were aligned horizontally at the top of the movement. Hublot’s MP-05 LaFerrari model beat this record, offering 50 days of power reserve from 11 series-couple barrels, aligned vertically from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock. Because the power reserve for both of these models comes from a large cylinder shape that dominates the movement and most of the dial, roller displays were the obvious choice, in this case because their shape meant that they could fit into the remaining space, which is short on width and height, but with plenty of depth.
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