At this year’s SIHH, perpetual calendars were the talk of the town. Dubai Watch Week asks why and picks out the cream of the new crop
Sometimes, you can be forgiven for wondering if the watch houses are all in on it together. It’s not uncommon to get to the end of one of the big Swiss watch fairs and recognise that one material, colour or complication has dominated – how does this happen?
One explanation is that brands are responding to wider trends, some of which take a year or two to wet through to the industry core – blue, for example, is now an industry norm, but it’s taken at least half a decade to get here.
Another is that in fine watchmaking circles, high-end complications remain calling cards for an elite cohort of brands that have sufficient command of horology to produce one. There are just enough of those to make it inevitable that top complications will arrive in batches some years.
But still, it’s still remarkable that this year’s SIHH for example, the minority were those brands who didn’t put out a perpetual calendar. Ultimate calendar watches were everywhere.
A perpetual calendar is still a compelling object. The mechanical complexity of a movement with hundreds of tiny components assembled by hand that can show the date in full without needing adjustment, even in a leap year, is an esoteric pleasure. Most, although not all, relay the day, date, month, phases of the moon and leap year on a single dial.
There are issues with perpetual calendars though, namely that as well as being complicated to make, they can also be awkward to own. Pick one up after it’s been sidelined for a while, and cranking it forward so it’s up to date again is a fiddle. It usually involves a small, easily lost tool and time spent nervously pushing the watch’s correctors – small pushers secreted into the case – until you’ve advanced the mechanism sufficiently to propel it to the current time and date.
The watch industry’s finest know this. Among the latest generation of perpetual timekeepers unveiled at SIHH there are some significant practical updates. Here’s a shortlist of the new entries, including some that do, as well as some that don’t but are too pretty not to mention.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Enamel
The immediately striking thing about Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new Master Ultra Thin trilogy is the piercing blue of the enamel-painted guilloché dials. The Le Sentier maison is pushing home the point that it has its own métiers d’art division and can summon such cultured dials in-house. But as this perpetual calendar model’s dial indicates, the beauty is as much in what lies beneath. The white gold case houses a new calibre, the 70-hour automatic Calibre 868A/2, engineered to show the phases of the moon in the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously. Only 100 will be made.
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar
Few designs met with so strong a reaction at SIHH this year as Audemars Piguet’s all-new Code 11.59 collection. Among the 13 new references released is this perpetual calendar with a blue aventurine ‘star-lit sky’ dial. While the outer elements, from the unconventional octagonal inner case to the amorphous double-domed crystal, are fresh out of the box, the calibre inside it actually isn’t. Calibre 5134 is an Audemars Piguet stalwart, a 374-component beauty that shows the weeks of the year as well as the day, date, month, moon phase and leap year. Here that’s indicated by a central hand pointing to a blue lacquered inner bezel.
Montblanc Heritage Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100
All-new collections aren’t typical of SIHH, where high-end, low-volume brands congregate to showcase fine watchmaking skills, rather than churn out cash cows. Montblanc’s new Heritage collection hardly merits the latter description, although the line covers a broad spectrum, from the ‘accessible’ to the rather more limited. Only 100 of this red gold perpetual calendar model will be made, but good news is that the movement technology will see the light of day again in a non-limited, cheaper steel version. It’s been engineered – by a company within the Richemont Group – using only wheels so that it can be adjusted forwards or backwards via the crown, a useful development. On top of that, a lock prevents adjustment between 8pm and 12am, which would otherwise damage it. User-friendly perpetual calendars may yet be the future.
Baume et Mercier Clifton Baumatic Perpetual Calendar
Speaking of practical, Baume et Mercier’s Baumatic, introduced last year, is one of a new generation of calibres designed for the modern world. The base calibre has a five-day power reserve and promises chronometer performance throughout those five days (typically, watches lose accuracy as the power runs down), as well as heightened anti-magnetic performance, and, according to the brand, service intervals of five years. Worthy, commercially pragmatic, if unspectacular developments. But this year, Baume et Mercier has bolted a perpetual calendar module to the Baumatic, adding the poetic elegance of a full calendar that doesn’t need adjusting until March 1, 2100 to its more utilitarian technologies.
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon
Germany’s most reliably excellent watch brand it may or may not be, but either way, Lange’s consistently strong SIHH outings in recent years continue to elevate its status among watch aficionados. One of the watches contributing to that reputation is the Datograph, a superbly balanced flyback chronograph with an outsize date. In 2016, Lange introduced a spectacular version of it with a perpetual calendar and a tourbillon with stop seconds. Stop seconds, which enables precise time setting, is an unusual tourbillon characteristic – most tourbillons can only be stopped by a watchmaker. Lange limited production of that watch to 100 pieces in platinum with a black dial – a queue has no doubt already formed for this year’s version, another 100-piece execution, this time with a white gold case and a salmon dial made of solid pink gold.