Best of The Hour Lounge: Vacheron & Constantin's Alternative Display Watches

Jun 30, 2021,23:51 PM

The Best of The Hour Lounge

Vacheron & Constantin's Alternative Display Watches

Heures Sautantes


Vacheron & Constantin's first jumping hour watch, or heures sautantes , was recorded in the production records for 1820.


18k pink gold watch with jumping hours aperture at 12 o'clock, silver guilloché dial, small seconds at 6 o'clock, eccentric minute circle.


18k pink gold pocket watch with jumping hour aperture at 12 o'clock and three sub-dials for minutes, seconds and date.  Silver guilloché dial.

Also 1827, this 18k yellow gold pocket watch featured jumping hours and quarter-repeater.


The Art Deco movement of the 1920s and 30s saw a tremendous increase in jumping hour watches and other "digital" indications.  Vacheron & Constantin produced both pocket and wrist watch variations with jumping hours and wandering minutes.  Pocket watches were also produced with date indications.


Vacheron & Constantin 18k yellow and white gold case.  Silvered dial with small hours and minutes, calendar apertures at 3 and 9 o'clock, seconds and phases of the moon at 6 o'clock.


18k yellow and white gold case.  Silvered dial with small hours and minutes, full calendar aperture, seconds at 6 o'clock.  The inline day/date/month was also known as "Americaine" .


In addition to traditional round shapes, Vacheron & Constantin moved further into the spirit of the times with square and "rounded" square cases for pocket and wrist watches.  The pocket watches in this shape were referred to as Smoking or Tuxedo watches.


This unique piece made use of a movement from the Swiss manufacture Niton S.A.

Bras en l'Air

Classified as a double-retrograde with one hand showing the hours and the other showing the minutes.  This style provided many opportunities for creative displays.


By the 1940s, the Art Deco craze had passed and alternative time displays lost popularity until the 1990s.


Launched in 1994 on the 400th anniversary of the death of Gerardus Mercator, this new model from Vacheron Constantin once again made use of the double-retrograde, but this time with a different twist.  In a tribute to the Dutch cartographer and geographer, the hands resembled the arms of a divider.

1994 - 1997

"Two versions were then available: in polychrome cloisonné enamel or gold.  The enamel models, housed in 36mm yellow gold cases, were made in 50 pieces: 38 with the Africa/Europe/Asia dial and 12 with the Americas dial.  These exceptionally refined dials owe their satin and glossy finishes to the superb quality of their enamelling done by Belgian artists Jean and Lucie Genbrugge.

The dials of the Mercators are enamelled using the champlevé method, meaning the 18k gold dial is first hollowed out in the shape of the continents and other geographical features as well as the two sectors for hours and minutes.  The resulting recesses are then filled with multiple layers of opaque enamel to form a suitable background.  Each layer needs to be carefully fired at a temperature of 700˚ to 800˚C.  The operation needs to be repeated for each and every application of enamel, returning to the kiln a good thirty times or more, at various temperatures and for varying lengths of time depending on the colour and the quantity of enamel applied.  Finally, the workpiece is coated with transparent flux and fired one last time at about 900˚C before smoothing and final polishing.

The appropriate details are then penned on each globe with the aid of a binocular microscope.  Following this, a layer of protective fondant is applied to enhance and protect the finished work.  Finally, the dials are extensively buffed until each is as flat and glossy as possible.

Each individual dial takes over twelve days to produce, meaning an average of just two dials can be made each month without taking into account the possible breaking as enamel is extremely brittle and unpredictable, requiring prudent and gradual cooling down to room temperature to avoid potentially destructive internal tensions that can cause the dial to shatter."
Alex Ghotbi

Other models with solid yellow or white gold dials and cased in yellow gold or platinum were offered, also featuring the same map representations.

Special editions for certain markets were also supplied.




Hong Kong




Thailand, 20 pieces, with rose gold and platinum case

Over the 10 years of production, 638 pieces of all versions were made.  A few of those even strayed from the original map theme.  I find the Ferrari watch absolutely stunning!  Alas, a unique piece.

The movement powering the Mercator was the Calibre 1120 extra-flat automatic, modified for its double-retrograte function.  The compass arms progressively diverged along their separate arcs, one graduated for 12 hours and the other for 60 minutes, until they returned instantly to zero upon completion of a cycle, to begin again.

Heures Sautantes

Also launched in 1994, the Heures Sautantes paid homage to those similar watches of the 1930s.

The earlier watches made use of movements from the manufacture Robert Cart S.A. of Le Locle.


A disc rotates behind an aperture at 12 o'clock, jumping ahead on the hour, while a triangular marker wanders steadily forward around the periphery to mark the minutes.  These used the selfsame Calibre 1120 and the 36mm case was offered in yellow gold or platinum.  Over the four years of production, 323 pieces were produced with 131 in platinum.


The cushion-shaped Saltarello was introduced in 1997.  200 examples were produced in white gold, 200 in rose gold, and 100 in yellow gold.  In addition to the jumping hours display, a single retrograde hand marched across the dial to count the minutes, jumping back to zero at the conclusion of each hour.  Power was provided by the Calibre 1120, enhanced with a beautifully skeletonized and engraved rotor.


  • The History of Vacheron Constantin's Alternative Time Displays by Alex Ghobti, Vacheron Constantin Community & Social Media Manager, The Hour Lounge internet forum, 7 August 2008
  • Creative and Alternative Time Displays, Vacheron Constantin Exhibit, Geneva, February 2011
  • Robert Cart, the Watchmaker's Watchmaker by Tick Talk, The Hour Lounge internet forum, 31 December 2013
  • Montre Niton SA research courtesy of Sander Peeters

All images credited to Vacheron Constantin unless otherwise noted.

Best of The Hour Lounge will be taking a break for the summer months. See you again in September.   Tick Talk

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Comments: view entire thread


Thank you for this fascinating presentation dear Tick Talk...

 By: Sandgroper : July 1st, 2021-00:17
Vacheron Constantin at its best. Cheers, Francois

V&C at its best

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:38
before "in-house" became the thing, collaborating with the Swiss specialist makers like Niton, Cart and Cottier produced amazing results.

More to come this fall

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:38
so keep the popcorn ready ;-)

Excellent post .

 By: Watchonthewrist : July 1st, 2021-07:46
I really love these retrograde and jump hour displays a lot . Seeing your post makes me want to add a VC asap .

Share with us if you do!

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:40

I'd take either one

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:27
Like the Ferrari, Sputnik is most attractive for being a disrupter of the theme.

Sputnik is terrific!

 By: amanico : July 1st, 2021-20:58

are you holding out

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:56
for this model? ...  

have a good holiday.

 By: teacher Sun : July 1st, 2021-11:51

Thank-you Sun

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:32
looking for some place cool

This is one of the best posts from THL, IMHO

 By: respo : July 1st, 2021-13:01
And VC is still writing this story of alternative time displays! Best, respo

Much has been added

 By: Tick Talk : July 1st, 2021-14:30
since The Hour Lounge - worthy of an update to this thread in the future for sure.

Amazing Post. I remember many of these watches when The Hour Lounge was alive and kicking. I recall that the Mercator-Enzo Ferrari was...

 By: kpk : July 3rd, 2021-17:36
shown in confidence for THL members. I think this was a one-off for Jean Todt, then then Ferrari FI Team Principal. Will be interesting to see if ever his VC's come up for auction.


 By: nacelle : September 6th, 2021-03:34

Not only Mercator shared those iconic lugs with Ref 4735

 By: Tick Talk : September 7th, 2021-02:52
Two of seven Mercator prototypes came up for auction last year, offered by Jean Genbrugge. While I knew he and his wife Lucie produced the enamel dials, learning that he actually created the sextant design and manufactured a working prototype with a Calib...