KEEPING AN EYE ON TIME
Powerful players in the watch world
James Bond has worn some lovely watches on screen over the years, from Sean Connery’s Rolexes through to Daniel Craig’s Omegas. Possibly the least handsome of all was the digital watch worn by Roger Moore in Live and Let Die. The Hamilton Pulsar P2 had a blank screen, and when you pressed a button, red digital figures would appear telling you the hours and minutes. In 1973 this was cutting-edge tech, but by the time I saw the film – some time in the early 1980s – technology had moved on and Bond’s watch already looked like a relic. Still, it got high marks for innovation as it was, as I then thought, the first digital watch ever made.
But while battery-powered digital watches were new in the 1970s, mechanical versions had already been around for a century. Making a mechanical mechanism to power digits that change every minute, every 10 minutes or every hour presents an extra technical challenge over regular watches, because the energy from the mainspring has to be stored and released in short bursts, rather than ticking away constantly.
In the late 19th century, the Swiss watch firm IWC bought the patent for an early digital mechanism from a watchmaker called Joseph Pallweber. For a couple of years in the 1880s, IWC then sold a series of digital pocket watches. They were briefly popular before fashion took buyers in another direction and the digital watches were no longer produced. The handsome design and low-volume production makes those original pocket watches very collectable now, and IWC has released a tribute as part of the company’s 150th birthday celebrations.
While the modern watch has transferred, naturally, from pocket to wrist, the dial is pretty faithful to the original and the movement is hand-wound via the large onion crown. The design may be old, but unlike the 1970s digital, the style is timeless. The perfect thing, if Bond ever felt like going digital again.
The IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition ‘150 Years’ has a 45mm red gold case and a hand-wound, in-house movement that powers the display of digital hour and minute indications and a running small seconds subdial. Limited to 250 pieces.
The Chronoliner, which Breitling calls “the flight captain’s chronograph”, has been around since 2015, but the watch pictured here is a brand-new special edition, which will be available in a limited run of 250 pieces. It features an automatic movement with multiple time zones and an hour hand that can be adjusted in one-hour increments without altering the minutes. The Breitling in-house calibre has a quarter-second chronograph and is housed within a 46mm 18k red-gold case.
British brand Vertex has a cult following on the vintage market, as one of the companies chosen in the 1940s to produce a large consignment of British military watches. Vertex went out of business in the 1970s, a victim of battery power’s onslaught. But now mechanical watches are back for good, the brand has been revived by founder’s grandson Don Cochrane. The first new watch offers retro military style powered by a hand-wound Swiss movement. It is water-resistant to 100 metres.