Appreciation of "jumping hour" watches that display time as linear

On the Watchismo blog, Mitch celebrates the launch of the Urwerk King Cobra CC1, a remake of the original "jumping hour" watch, explaining why he's so fascinated with these remarkable, largely extinct timepieces.

Time is usually - nearly always - displayed by a circular indication: one dial and two (or three) with the time displayed around a perpetual circle. However, this 360° representation of time goes against everything we learnt as we grew up drawing a straight line on a blank page and marking it Past, Present and Future. Why do we think of time as travelling in a straight line yet display it rotating around a circle? The answer is straightforward: mechanisms that continually rotate are much simpler to produce than those that trace a straight line then return to zero. In fact, the latter is so difficult that, until now, nobody has ever managed to develop a production wristwatch with true retrograde linear displays.
Urwerk King Cobra CC1 Reintrepretation of 1958 Patek Philippe Cobra Prototype Linear Retrograde Cylinder Jumping Hour Watch

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  1. I don’t even want to know what it might cost. But… cool, neato, boss, rad, bitchin… I loves it.

  2. “Jumping hour”? That sounds like a lot of fun and quite a bit healthier than plain old “happy hour”.

  3. Clocks are circular because sundials are circular. The hands go clockwise because the shadow on a sundial goes clockwise.

    A linear clock is unnatural!

  4. Actually in terms of efficient and natural, either a circular system with a window which showed the instant time or something like the old flip over clock radios.

    They wouldn’t look elegant, but would be 100% analog and functional. Much like their modern digital equivalents.

  5. Round dials visualize the numerical hour, minute and second data much the way pie charts do.

  6. It’s quite nice, but with a production run of only 25 per design variation, I’d guess the price tag would make my arm go numb. Still, it’s an impressive piece of engineering.

  7. Simpler but very cool jump hour watches from the 1960s and 1970s–big, clunky, metal and awesome–can be found easily on eBay.

    For example:
    http://cgi.ebay.com/VINTAGE-Lucerne-WIND-UP-Digital-Jump-Hour-SWISS-Watch_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQ_trkparmsZ65Q3a12Q7c66Q3a2Q7c39Q3a1Q7c72Q3a1326Q7c293Q3a1Q7c294Q3a50QQ_trksidZp3286Q2ec0Q2em14QQhashZitem518ade5807QQitemZ350222178311QQptZWristwatchesQQsalenotsupported

    I had a small collection of vintage jump hour watches, and none cost me over $25. Of course, many stopped working, but still, if you think this is neat, check those out.

  8. Days are cyclical… at the end of one day you are at the beginning of the next… circles seem to me as natural for marking off time as the cycle of day and night.

  9. but… i dont think of time as linear – at least not my mental image of it… my “mental calendar” is more of a circle/spiral(what i visualize when figuring out a date, “this happened X years ago, etc) … it’s always been that way for me.

    on the other hand, maybe this is more natural for some. i’ve recently been surprised to learn that many people i work with cant read analog clocks at all(and probably wouldn’t recognize a sundial as a “clock”)

  10. Mechanisms “that trace a straight line then return to zero.” Are not so difficult to produce. This watch just uses two cylinders with a helix painted around them. The cylinders turn just like any minute and hour hand, it is only the cross-section in the viewport that seems to move in a line.

    Still a neat watch though.

  11. #16

    The ‘magical alternate’ universe in which entire galaxies are spiraform, bodies orbit other bodies in imperfect, decaying circles and all natural measures of time (heartbeats, passage of day and night, phases of the moon, seasons of the year, precession of the earth) are cyclical. You know: ours.

  12. we grew up drawing a straight line on a blank page and marking it Past, Present and Future.

    The Aymara people think of the past as ‘in front’, and the future ‘behind’.

    Why do we think of time as travelling in a straight line yet display it rotating around a circle?

    Are we really displaying time on a watch, or the rotation of the earth? I guess the invention of the minute hand is the root of all this confusion.

  13. “Are we really displaying time on a watch, or the rotation of the earth? I guess the invention of the minute hand is the root of all this confusion.”

    The Earth people have clocks that complete revolutions in half the time as their solar day, or about 366/730th their planet’s rotation.

  14. This seems a good time to interject with my nutter ideas that abstract algebra should be taught to grade schoolers. Not only would this give a better basis for later mathematical concepts, but it could, as this post makes clear, be introduced along with the teaching of clock reading. Modulo groups are a fundamental concept and are not more complicated than a clock, so why is it that we often need to wait till college to introduce students to these “advanced” ideas?

  15. However, this 360° representation of time goes against everything we learnt as we grew up drawing a straight line on a blank page and marking it Past, Present and Future. Why do we think of time as travelling in a straight line yet display it rotating around a circle?

    I get that the author wants to discuss these odd timepieces in order to drive discussion about how we visualize and conceptualize time, but this is a pretty inaccurate place to start.

    Watches and clocks don’t measure the passage of time along time’s arrow from past to future (with the current time on a linear scale.) Rather, they measure a /period/ of time, which is always, by definition, repeating.

    Different thing, conceptually, and something that has little to do with linear progression of time.

    For any periodic measurement of time where you want to show the steps along that repeating cycle, a 360 degree face is a natural fit. It doesn’t have to be the best or only way to show the period, but it is convenient and somewhat intrinsic.

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