As certain makers like to remind us, a mechanical watch is a little piece of eternity on the wrist. And sometimes this fragment of eternity is exactly that, capturing the quirks of the Gregorian calendar — without ajdustment until 2100, divisible by four but, as a secular year that is not divisible by 400, a non-leap year, one of the aforementioned quirks — in one of horology’s grails: the perpetual calendar. In the complications hall of fame, this mechanical marvel sits alongside the minute repeater and the tourbillon for its ability to indicate the day, date, month and leap year while automatically adjusting for the different number of days per month over a four-year cycle. Most perpetual calendars also come with a moon-phase display; some might add further detail to the dial with a second time zone or an equation of time, an indication of the difference between true solar time and mean solar time.
Upping the game
Which brings us to SIHH 2019, where the perpetual calendar is very much in evidence. This contrasts with recent editions, when exhibitors chose to tone down their offering with technically simpler and, a fortiori, more affordable complications, resulting in a slew of annual calendars, for the more meticulous among us, dual time zones for the traveller, and chronographs for sports fans. Not forgetting the tourbillon, less the exception than the rule among brands eager to mark their territory. But all that has changed. Brands have raised their game and come to SIHH 2019 with collections that are, on the whole, technically more complex. This mechanical upgrade leaves the door wide open for the perpetual calendar, which features at the vast majority of the traditional Maisons.
One characteristic of the perpetual calendar is its tendency to “occupy” the dial with its many subdials and apertures, with the advantage that these multiple indications quickly lend the perpetual calendar watch a sough-after “technical” appearance… though not without the touch of romanticism that comes with a moon-phase display. Rather than overload an already busy dial with additional information, and compromise legibility, the perpetual calendar is typically a complication that suffices unto itself and one whose harmonious design, done properly, is worthy of admiration. And so it makes sense that perpetual calendars were everywhere to be seen at SIHH, now that markets appear to be newly receptive to this type of sophistication.
Perpetuals in profusion
Among the models on show were reissues such as the Langematik Perpetual which A. Lange & Söhne is offering in honey gold, and IWC’s Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire, driven by an in-house manufactured movement. Confirming the trend, Baume & Mercier, positioned as the gateway to luxury, has added a perpetual calendar module to the Baumatic movement that was one of the talking points of last year’s SIHH. The complexity of the perpetual calendar mechanism hasn’t deterred certain makers from proposing extra-thin versions. Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas Perpetual Calendar ultra-thin contains the 276 components of Calibre 1120 QP in a space 4.05-mm high. Parmigiani’s Toric Quantième Perpétuel Rétrograde Slate is a lesson in design, as is Bovet’s Récital 21. As for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel, it plays in a different league, frequented by only the most serious collectors. Even the newly launched Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet collection has its Perpetual Calendar. See you in 2100!