No one remembers exactly why and when the circular form of time indication has become the basic one. But it’s hard to argue the fact that the vast majority of tower clocks or pocket watches successfully relied on two or three central hands for centuries. And yet, there will always be some watchmakers willing to experiment and to go an alternative path.

Table of contents

The first known examples of retrograde indication date back to XVII century, and since then the variety of designs and aesthetic solutions continues to grow. Hands or any other type of indicators can move in a semicircle or along a straight line, move in the aperture or even change their own dimensions along the way. The only basic principle remains unchanged: breaking away from the eternal circle, they are forced to first reach the end of the scale, and then return back to zero. And from technical point of view, in most cases the mechanism acts very similar.  Whatever the indicator, the key role in the operation of its mechanism is played by the so-called snail cam – a spiral-shaped detail, standing against the moving lever. With each step the lever goes farther and farther from the center of the snail. Meanwhile, the corresponding spring is pushing it backwards, and when the cycle ends at a sharp narrowing, it returns the lever to the lower point, meaning the indicator is again at zero. The object of measurement can vary: you can easily find a watch with retrograde hours, minutes, seconds, date, day of the week and so on. And again, the aesthetic choice of complication design is a matter of personal taste. 

Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Hémisphère Rétrograde

In addition to the dressy silhouette and the presence of two crowns, the winner of last year's Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève stands out from the crowd with an unusual pair of day and night indicators located in the small second and the second time zone sub-dial, respectively. The retrograde date indicator is designed in a form of one of the central hands with a half moon-shaped tip. 

Voutilainen 217QRS  

This retrograde date will surely make you smile. Kari Voutilainen paid special attention to the transition from the 31st to the 1st, forcing the hand to return smoothly. Bear in mind the signature dial decorated with three different guilloche motifs, an in-house caliber with a manual winding, a large balance and two escapement wheels – and you'll get almost a perfect watch. 

Cyrus Klepcys Vertical Tourbillon

A tourbillon in a wristwatch can only be horizontal? Specialists from Klepcys think otherwise. For placing such an exotic device in the center of a dial, they had to use a non-standard time indication, and the retrograde pointers turned out to be very useful. The hours are displayed from the bottom up, and the minutes are displayed from the top to the bottom. 

Breguet Marine Équation Marchante 5887 

The large 44mm model confirms its flagship status not only with the presence of an perpetual calendar, the equation of time and a 60-seconds tourbillon, but also with a very sophisticated design. Almost every detail of the dial, including the central retrograde date hand with the anchor rat the top, is slightly off-centered. But they all balance each other perfectly. 

DeWitt Academia Skeleton

Exquisitely decorated skeletonized caliber DW1105S is equipped with a tourbillon, as well as power reserve and the winding level indicators. And yet a unique double retrograde seconds easily get all the attention. The hand counts first 30 seconds from left to right, then increases in length, moves to the upper scale, goes back from 30 to 60 and then again gets to zero. 

IWC Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph

How not to break the symmetry, placing an additional function one half of the dial? Use the brand logo as a visual counterweight, in this case, to the retrograde date. And better keep the hand and the scale as compact as possible, while accenting the other stuff, like white enamel dial, the tourbillon and the fly-back chronograph.