Watchmakers are inventing sophisticated new complications to tell time

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 April, 2015, 11:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 3:07pm

Every now and then, watch brands find ways to reinvent the art of telling time. Watches have morphed into fun self-expression, luxurious accessories and even a fascinating source of entertainment. To make this possible, watchmakers have turned to developing complex, mind-boggling automatons. Enter Jaquet-Droz, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari. Some mechanisms enable games, such as those by Christophe Claret and Perrelet, while some brands focus on poignancy, reminding us to take a break from our frantic way of life to savour the moment. 

This was exactly Hermes' proposition when it came out with the Arceau Time Suspended, or the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, in 2012. As its name suggests, a moment can be suspended for as long as you like. Pressing a button brings the hour and minute hands to a halt at about 12 o'clock and wipes out the date from the dial. While time is suspended, rest assured that the movement ticks on so that when you press the button once more, the actual time is shown again. 

Behind this inventive piece is a mechanism augmented to the calibre H1912, developed exclusively for Hermes. The running time and suspended time phases are driven by two synchronised column wheels: one driving the hours and the other the minutes. This 360-degree retrograde hour and minute mechanism makes time disappear without stopping the movement. This year, Hermes unveiled a more delicate version of the piece with a 38mm diameter, with the option for diamonds.

Watchmaker Richard Mille makes its own interpretation of suspended time with the RM 63-01 Dizzy Hands.  This watch makes a bold statement. Its case is assembled using 16 spline screws in grade 5 titanium and abrasion-resistant steel washers. It is the first time the brand has used curves in its round cases.

When the centre of the crown is pressed, the sapphire glass dial slowly and deliberately rotates anti-clockwise as the hour hand moves normally but at different speeds, suspending time for as long as you want. As you press the crown again,  the sapphire disc and hand return to their normal positions. This is enabled by the calibre CRMA3, which is encased in a three-part round case built from 18ct  red gold and titanium. 

If there was a watchmaker who has tried perhaps almost everything, it's Hublot.  

In 2010, Hublot pulled together 30 of its staff for a team to develop the brand's most complicated pieces under a collection aptly called Masterpieces. In 2011, Masterpieces welcomed its second piece in the spectacular form of the MP-02 Key of Time, which allows you to indicate time the way you want it. 

While it doesn't entirely suspend time, it slows it down when you need more time to do your multitude of tasks. 

The piece has a three-position crown that enables you to modulate the speed at which the hours and minutes pass. You can slow down the speed of the watch hands, dividing time by four, where 20 actual minutes are stretched to one hour. If you want real time,  you can opt for the normal hand speed. Should you want time to pass faster, you can accelerate the hand speed, multiplying time by four, whereby a conventional quarter of an hour is represented as one hour. 

Three indicators on the dial show the speed of time to avoid any confusion. A mechanical memory is built into the movement.