Swiss watchmaker IWC is celebrating its 150th anniversary and to mark the occasion, the company is releasing three limited-edition digital watches. That may not seem very exciting, but these are mechanical digital wristwatches with jumping numerals that are a modern take on the first commercially marketed digital watches that IWC produced beginning in 1884.

We like to think of the digital watch as the product of the late 20th century microelectronics revolution that entered the public consciousness around the time James Bond turned up wearing a Hamilton Pulsar in the film Live and Let Die in 1973. But they actually have a surprisingly long history with mechanical watches with digital readouts dating back to the 1830 when the French watchmaker Blondeau produced a one-off digital timepiece for the king of France.

In 1884, IWC Schaffhausen produced the first commercial digital pocket watch with its Pallweber line that was a popular novelty timepiece for a few years. Now at this year's Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, the company has unveiled its Tribute to Pallweber Edition "150 Years" (Ref. 5050) – an updated wristwatch version of the historic pocket watch.

The new Pallweber is available in a 45-mm platinum case with blue display discs and a blue second hand, 18-carat red gold with white display discs and a blue seconds hand, or stainless steel with white display discs and a rhodium-plated seconds hand. There is an anti-reflective sapphire crystals front and back and it's water resistant to three bar.

Inside is a new, manual-wound, 54-jewel, IWC-made, 94200 Calibre running at a frequency of 28800.0 vph (4.0 Hz) with a 60-hour power reserve despite the fact that the movement must power three separate discs to display the time. It does this by replacing the toothed cog used in the original Pallweber with a separate wheel train for the disc marking the single minutes, which has its own barrel.

Instead of moving all the discs at the same time, the mechanism only engages each in a series of timed jumps. Every 60 seconds, a release mechanism connects the single minute disc to the main wheel train, causing it to jump forward one minute. Every 10 minutes the 10-minute disc moves forward by one position, and every 60 minutes sets the hour disc ahead one. In this way, energy is used very efficiently, allowing for the 60-hour reserve.

Meanwhile, a mechanical linkage with the Maltese cross drive allows the watch to be easily set forwards and backwards using the crown, and there's a rather anticlimactic conventional hacking seconds display at the six o'clock position. As a tribute to the founder of IWC, the American F. A. Jones, the hour and minute displays are labeled in English and the watch is completed by a black alligator leather strap by Santoni.

The Pallweber is available in a limited run of 25 platinum units, 250 in red gold, and 500 in stainless steel with a starting price of US$36,600.

Source: IWC

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