October 21, 2015
by Ariel Adams
Earlier in 2015, I had the opportunity to visit the watch manufacture of DeWitt in Geneva. The DeWitt brand has had its ups and downs over the years along with the global economy, but has recently really sorted out its organizational issues and is more than back on track to creating some of the most interesting and exclusive timepieces around – such as this quite rare DeWitt Academia Out Of Time collection. What makes DeWitt watches interesting and exclusive in my opinion? Well, in addition to producing a whole universe of very unique in-house made movements with some complications you won’t see anywhere else, DeWitt often employs designs and styles quite removed from the rest of the watch industry. With that said, DeWitt is still thoroughly a Swiss-born-and-bred watch company living in harmony with other unique niche luxury brands.
Someday, I’ll write more about Mr. Jerome DeWitt, the polite and shy lover of all things mechanical who is both an ancestor of Napoleon Bonaparte and probably a genius of sorts – as well as Ms. DeWitt, the fiery engine behind the operation who speaks with New York-style intention, and old-world landed aristocracy expectation.
For now, I’d simply like to describe the DeWitt Academia Out Of Time watch and what makes this an interesting timepiece. I sort of feel bad for those people who cannot see this watch in person. You literally cannot understand what the dial looks like in action without seeing it operate. The main dial has two subdials with the left being a “flying time” indicator and the right being a “beat second” indicator. What is that all about? Well, the beat seconds hand is just a dead seconds hand. DeWitt is really into dead seconds complications (consider for example the cool DeWitt Academia Grand Tourbillon that we go hands-on with here). Those are when an otherwise sweeping seconds hand on a mechanical movement “ticks” similar to how seconds hands operate on quartz watches. For watch lovers, the irony is wonderful (in addition to the history of the functionality).
What is very cool about the beat seconds hand is that it exists over a skeletonized view of the movement which allows you to see how this mechanism works. In fact, this is the first time I can think of that I’ve seen a dead seconds hand executed (with the view). I believe DeWitt designed the DeWitt Academia Out Of Time this way for two reasons. One is to offer a view of the particular contraption which allows the dead seconds hand to operate, and second is as a subtle reminder that “this is, indeed, not a quartz timepiece.”
To the left of the beat second hand is something else interesting. This is the “flying time” dial and it is really a sort of foudroyante hand. Some watches that have hands that make a full revolution each second, and we refer to those as “flying hands.” The reason is that they appear to move so quickly, watchmakers say they are “flying.” Rather than a traditional hand, DeWitt developed two overlapping discs. The discs have small holes, and when the upper disc moves, it creates a unique animation on the dial.
Jerome DeWitt explained that the purpose of the DeWitt Academia Out Of Time watch was to demonstrate the visual contrast between two different indicators that nevertheless operate each second. There is also the contrast between the slow and the fast. It is a poetic concept, and I have to admit that if I wore the DeWitt Academia Out Of Time on my wrist, I would probably be spending a lot of time idly staring at it.
Otherwise, the dial merely indicates the time, and much of the upper part of the face looks relatively stark compared to the bottom of the dial. It is also unique how DeWitt borders each of the two subdials separately. It makes for a dial which looks both asymmetrical and symmetrical at the same time – which is something I don’t recall ever saying before.
Perhaps my favorite version of the DeWitt Academia Out Of Time watch is the model with the royal blue dial. Boy, does that one look cool. The odd movements on the dial mixed with the distinctive case and loud dial make for a decidedly “courtly” wrist statement. Anything but conservative, I just find it cool in a sort of excessive “see what fun toys I can afford” way.