We often think that digital watches are a modern thing. Well, they are not.
We are not accustomed to thinking that our grandfathers could have been daring and extravagant and innovative. Yet, they were. They were the ones giving us things like the radio, cars, planes.
And digital watches as well.
This is a lovely Cortebert jump hour watch.
And as you can readily see, it is digital (well, mostly: the second hand is analogic).
Our grandfathers loved modernity as we do, I can assure you – so they created these interesting, and complicated, watches to differentiate them from the usual ones working through an analogic display.
Specifically, this solution, with rotating discs placed under the dial, was used later in the day/date displays that we readily use today.
The way of displaying information has nothing to do with the mechanics of a watch. Indeed, modern digital displays are quite easy on the eye to convey the information in a simple manner without us having to decode it from the position of the hands.
But at the same time, apart from exceptions like this one above, digital displays do not go well into the luxury style. It is very difficult to provide a sense of quality and luxury through a digital display, and the best-known specimens that have been made – while daring and provocative – did not fully achieve this goal.
The next evolution: quartz-based watches
While the mechanical jumping hour watches were nifty, they had this problem. Which was not really resolved with the next generation of watches using a digital way of showing the hours: LED watches.
The Hamilton Pulsar was an amazing phenomenon in its time – it was launched in 1969. Still, we can safely assert that it has not aged gracefully, especially if we compare it with another watch that was presented to the market just a few years after:
Also remember that both watches had around the same price at their launch.
So, to end my rant, analog watches still represent the quintessential watch, and a watch is much more than a device to keep track of time. A watch defines the style of its wearer, and becomes one of the few ornaments a man is allowed to wear.
Choosing a digital device still broadcasts an image to the others, but it is way different than the one of a – let’s say – Patek Philippe Nautilus like the one above. I am not saying that it is better or worse: just different. And this fact justifies the continued existence of our old friends, the analog-display watches.
Analog watches did not go extinct in the end of the 1800s, when digital jumping hours watches came out.
They did not get extinct in the 1970s, when LED digital watches came out.
And for sure, they did not get extinct in the 2010s, when smartwatches came out.
Even this Apple Watch agrees: there is something reassuring in that old face that we are accustomed to seeing, don’t you think?
You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.