A digital watch displays the time using “digits” or numerically and so a mechanical digital watch uses a mechanical movement to power the digital display as opposed to whats commonly termed a digital watch which usually refers to the electronically powered type. You could say that the early mechanical digital watches are the ancestors of the modern digital watch. These type of displays have gained popularity in recent times but have been around since the 19th century.
The first known example of a mechanical digital watch, in this case a pocket watch was a one off by the French watchmaker Blondeau in 1830’s for the French King.
It used a type of mechanism called “Jump Hour”. A disc with the hour digits marked on it is viewed through an aperture, a spring driven finger causes the disk to “jump” to the next hour when the previous hour ends.
Mass produced “jump hour” (pocket) watches appeared in the 1890’s (below left), made by the French company Cortebert and designed by Joseph Pallweber. The 1920’s saw the introduction of the “jump hour”into the wristwatch, in effect the first digital wristwatch, (below right).
Cortebert Mechanical Digital or “Jump Hour” pocket watch, circa 1890s and wristwatch 1920’s.
Jump hour watches became very popular during the 1970s and modern day versions often take their design cues from that period, as can be seen by the models shown below by Nixon and Lipi which have that seventies retro-cool style, although strictly speaking these are electronic digital watches, not mechanical one, since they have quartz movements.
Modern jump hour watches by Nixon left and Lipi right.
Not all Jump hour watches are completely digital. Some are hybrids using both digital and analogue displays together, such as the Bell &Ross and Raymond Weil examples below. The hours are displayed digitally using a disc via the “jump hour” mechanism and minutes using a traditional dial.
Highend Mechanical Digital watches
There are various other types of mechanical digital watches on the market, some stunning examples exist, many of them very complicated and expensive. Here are some featured examples.
The Di Grisogono Meccanica DG
Its described as the most complicated mechanical digital watch in the world and consists of 651 pieces. Its apparently the first entirely mechanical watch with a digital display that shows a second time zone.
The mechanically driven digital display is operated by a series of cams and gears, the digital segments are formed from tubes, each segment rotating 90 degrees to indicate the time. This is a limited edition watch with just 177 of these being made to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Di Grisogono. Measures 56 x 48 mm
Di Grisogono Meccanica DG
You can read more about this amazing watch at the Di Grisogono website
This mechanical digital watch with its exposed gears displays the time using 3 discs with numerals on. It derives its name from the 4 numerals typically used to make up time, eg 12:10 It has a movement made from titanium, aluminium and carbon fiber which is surrounded by a choice of an 18k white gold or platinum case. It uses a manual wound movement with jumping hours and minutes and is designed by Francois Quentin who is well known for co-founding the avant-garde watch brand HAUTLENCE.