This article on the best perpetual calendar watches 2015 look at these challenging timepieces, which require a lot of movement development. A lot of information has to be displayed, and at certain moments, a lot of energy has to be available to change several indications at once. For example, at midnight on 31st December, day, date, month and year all have to change. One wheel in the watch has to rotate very slowly – once every four years – to keep track of leap years. Watchmakers probably consider adding another few wheels to take account for the omission of three leap days every 400 years (the next leap year in which there will be no 29th February will occur in 2100) but up until now, they either make this a correction that can be performed by the user, or recommend that it be made by the manufacturer.
It’s interesting to see the different ways in which brands display the information on the dial, carefully avoiding an overcluttered or mechanical look. British watchmaker George Daniels once said, when talking about watch design, “It starts with the dial, and it must not end up looking like a gas meter”, referring to crowded subdials that can often be a characteristic of calendars and chronographs. Here are the 2014 perpetual calendar watches, in order of ascending price.
1. Montblanc Meistertück Heritage Perpetual Calendar
This was one of the surprises at SIHH, because Montblanc have introduced a true perpetual calendar – keeping track of leap years – at the price of about €10,000 ($12,800). Which is still a lot of money, but as you scroll down and view the other watches in this article, you’ll see that this is a remarkable price point. The cheapest perpetual calendar in the world. The dial is minimalist and well-organized, with day, date, month and leap year indications on the three subdials, and moon phase at 6 o’clock. At 39 mm diameter, it is a discreet case, not quite a dress watch at 10.27 mm thickness but very slim and attractive, with the polished steel case mounted on a black alligator strap. The narrow bezel gives the dial a spacious, uncluttered look, highlighting the gold-plated hands and hour indices. Date functions are adjusted using recessed pushers on the side of the case. The automatic movement, visible through the sapphire caseback, has a 42-hour power reserve. Montblanc names it the calibre MB 29.15, and it is outsourced, a Sellita SW300 (based on the ETA 2892-A2), with a Dubois Depraz perpetual calendar module. Steel version about €10,000. A pink gold version of the watch costs about €16,900 ($21,000).
2. Glashütte Original Senator Perpetual Calendar
This is actually a 2013 release, but I’m including it because it represents another fine example of an entry-level watch for perpetual calendars, with an in-house movement. All the information is shown on the dial, in a well-balanced, easy-to-read format, with centre-sweep seconds, minutes and hours, the brand’s signature big date display, day and date, moon phase, and a leap year indicator below the logo at 12 clock which turns red in a leap year. The in-house movement is the Calibre 100-02, in part visible through the sapphire caseback. It is an automatic movement providing a power reserve of 55 hours. The case is 42 mm in diameter and 13.6 mm thick. It is made in steel, yellow gold or red gold, with various dial colour options. Starting price for this watch, Reference 100-02-25-05-05, is about €16,600.
3. Blancpain Villeret Perpetual Calendar
A masterpiece of clarity, the dial shows all time and calendar information, with two subdials having a dual function, the top for months and leap year, the bottom for continuous seconds and moon phase. The simplicity of the watch’s appearance is preserved by means of under-lug correctors, four small buttons that are used to adjust date and moon phase indications. A white grand feu enamel dial provide perfect contrast with the hour markers and other indcations. Hands are in blued steel. The watch is in 18 carat red gold, with a chocolate brown alligator strap or a mille mailles mesh bracelet. A limited edition in platinum is also available.
The watch is 42 mm in diameter, and 7.25 mm thick. The Calibre 5939A self-winding movement has 379 components, with a power reserve of 8 days. The presentation wooden box has a winder so that the watch continues to operate even when not worn. The brand suggests that the box can also be used as a cigar humidor by removing the interiors. Price: approx €34,300 ($44,500).
4. IWC Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month
For IWC Schaffhausen, this year is dedicated principally to the Aquatimer collection of diving watches, following the company’s system of totally renewing one of its product families every year. The Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month, reference 3794, is a large watch at 49 mm diameter, 19 mm thick, the second-largest in IWC’s history (the largest was the Big Pilot’s Watch, made in 1940 for the German Air Force, 55 mm in diameter for maximum visibility, with a large crown that could be adjusted wearing gloves. Just 1,000 were made, and it’s now a rare, coveted favourite for IWC collectors). It is an unusual combination of materials and functions, with a case in rubber-coated titanium with parts in 18-carat red gold, including the bezel. The latter rotates as is usual for diving watches, and this watch, like the other 2014 Aquatimer models, features the clever system in which rotating the outer bezel moves the inner bezel, for improved legibility combined with the manoeuvering practicality of the outer bezel. Water resistance is rated at 100 metres.
The movement is the in-house automatic 89801 calibre, the same as that presented in 2012 for the pilot’s watch model Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month. The date and month discs are in part revealed by perforated covers that provide a glimpse of the complete discs beneath: this design element comes from submarine filter systems. Leap years and continuous seconds are shown on the subdial at 6 o’clock. The energy needed to advance the display discs simulaneously at the month-change is accumulated during the month by a spring-loaded lever, a feature that helps increase the power reserve to 68 hours. The watch also functions as a stopwatch, with hours and minutes on the top subdial, seconds on the central sweep seconds hand with flyback function. It has a transparent sapphire caseback, and a black rubber strap with alligator leather inlay. A limited edition of 50 watches, available only from IWC boutiques. Price about €38,300 ($49,700).
5. Jaquet Droz Perpetual Calendar Eclipse Ivory Enamel
This is a 2013 watch, but I couldn’t resist including it here because Jaquet Droz has some wonderfully idiosyncratic dial designs and this is a fine example. The grand feu white enamel dial provides the backdrop for the hour and minute hands that are read on very small hour markers right at the edge of the dial, and the calendar functions, with two wavy retrograde hands for day and date, and a subdial for month and leap year on the top subdial. Moonphase is shown at 6 o’clock, with a circular hand that moves gradually to reveal the phase of the moon below. The self-winding mechanical movement has a power reserve of 68 hours. Red gold case, 43 mm in diameter, 13.2 mm thick. Price about €46,450 (CHF 56,200).
6. Ulysse Nardin Perpetual Manufacture
This is a sophisticated perpetual calendar with an in-house movement, the Calibre UN-32, that offers some interesting features. It takes into account the different months, and leap years, so that, like the other perpetual watches listed here, it will only need manual adjustment in 2100. Nonetheless the date can be easily adjusted both forwards and backwards using the crown, something that only a few watches will permit. In this piece, the function is particularly useful because the Ulysse Nardin Perpetual Manufacture has a GMT function, with a hand showing the time in a second time zone on a 24-hour scale. This can be adjusted backwards and forwards using the two pushers at 4 and 8 o’clock. If you want, you can use the 24-hour indicator to show the time in your home zone, adjusting the main indications to fit your travel. This may mean that you have to readjust the calendar when you get back.
All this complexity is distilled into a beautifully clear dial, with second time zone inside the bezel, a large date indicator at 1 o’clock, day and months in windows to the left and right of the central pivot, and years shown in a two-digit display at 6 o’clock. The hour and minute hands are skeletonized so that date, date and month indications are legible even when the hands are over them. There is a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock, with the words “Certified chronometer”, because it has been certified by COSC. It has an automatic winding movement, with 48 hours power reserve. The movement is visible through the sapphire caseback. This is a limited-edition watch, with 250 in rose gold and 250 in platinum. The serial number is shown on a plate on the case side at 9 o’clock. The case is 43 mm in diameter, with water resistance of 30 metres. Price approximately €50,000.
7. Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 5140P-013
Patek Philippe is celebrating its 170th anniversary this year, and the 5140P-013 is a perfect example of the Patek style, with a lot of information displayed on the three subdials, on an ebony-black suburst dial within a platinum case and bezel. The case is just 37.2 mm in diameter, and its slim 8.9 mm thickness is made possible by the ultra-thin movement 3.88 mm thick. The subdial at 9 o’clock shows days of the week, and 24-hour time; that at 3 o’clock shows months and years; and that at 6 o’clock shows date and moonphase. It’s interesting that Patek Philippe achieve all this with just 275 components. It is also available in rose gold, Ref. 5140R-011. Price approx €84,100 ($109,000).
8. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition à Quantième Perpétuel 8 Jours SQ
The watches in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master collection are all supremely good-looking, but this piece, reference ref. 50635SQ, is different in that the movement is skeletonized and hand-decorated, framed by a dial rim featuring blue enamel. The perpetual calendar is mechanically programmed to operate without correction until 2100, and adjustment is performed using a single date corrector. The hand-wound movement has 262 components, with an exceptional power reserve of 8 days. The dial provides all the calendar displays, including the year as a four-digit number, and moon phase. There is also a power reserve indicator, and a day-night display, with a red sector that shows the user when the watch shouldn’t be adjusted. The case in white gold is 42 mm in diameter, 11.6 mm thick. The watch is a limited edition of 200. Price approximately €98,7600 ($128,000).
9. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel
Another Jaeger-LeCoultre masterpiece, this watch, originally released in a platinum version in 2013, and now available in pink gold, displays the exceptional legibility typical of all watches in the Master series, with day, date, month and moonphase shown on three subdials, balanced by the flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock with the cylindrical balance-spring that is always a joy to watch. The year is shown in two small windows on the top subdial for the months. The Calibre 985 automatic movement has 431 components and provides a power reserve of 48 hours. The case is in pink gold, with sapphire caseback revealing the lovely oscillating weight that has a decorative medallion, reproducing a prize that Jaeger-LeCoultre won at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition. Price about €123,500 ($160,000).
10. Breguet Classique Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon Ref. 3797
In a way, the tourbillon is the perfect complication to add to the perpetual calendar, with its incessant movement adding to the sense of mystery of the inexorably slow passage of time indicated by the months and years. This is a classical watch in time-honoured Breguet fashion, but there is a lot of innovation as well. The tourbillon is given a lot of space at the bottom of the dial, and so to fit everything else in, hours and minutes are shown with Breguet open-tipped blued steel hands on a sapphire chapter ring raised above the rest of the the dial. Right at the top, the retrograde date indicator has a hand below this ring. Days of the week are shown on the 9 o’clock subdial, months at 3 o’clock. A small leap year indicator is located inside the months subdial. Dial finish is immaculate, with four different types of guilloché.
When you turn the watch over, it’s like taking a dive into the past, with an engraved base plate featuring the Breguet signature.
The case is in 18-carat pink gold or platinum, with the fluted caseband that is another Breguet trademark. It is 41 mm in diameter, and 11.6 mm thick. It houses the Calibre 558QP2 manually-wound movement, with 50 hours power reserve.
Prices (approximate): pink gold, €125,000; platinum, €136,000.
11. Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire
This watch was a talking-piece at the SIHH show, January 2014. Its display of the calendar information resembling an amphitheatre, with concentric rings for day of the week, month and date, with time indications above and leap year shown on the back of the dial, is a superb piece of design. The symbolism and beauty are heightened even more by the flying tourbillon right at the centre of the calendar rings. Calendar indications are shown by blue brackets.
It’s an original method of displaying a lot of information in a compact way, and the movement driving it is equally innovative, based on a wheel with 31 teeth, three of which are retractable. As the system is based more on gear wheels than levers, power absorption is more constant at critical date-change moments, improving the accuracy of the watch. All calendar functions are set by the crown, except for day of the week, for which there is a pusher. The movement is Poinçon de Genève marked, self-winding, with a 50 hour power reserve.
The case is in platinum, 45 mm in diameter, 15.7 mm thick.
Price: € 150,000.
12. A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna
Easily one of the finest watches at SIHH 2014, this piece has a double identity, with time and perpetual calendar on the front, and a beautiful moon phase indicator on the back. All done with the classic A. Lange & Söhne understatement. On the dial, three circular, interlocking subdials show minutes (top), hours (bottom right) and seconds (bottom left). Seconds can be be stopped for precise setting. The date is shown in the brand’s usual large figures. The window at 8 o’clock shows the day of the week, that at 4 o’clock is for the months, while the leap year display is shown in a small circular window above the months window. The indications change simultaneously, achieved by a constant-force escapement. The massive 14-day power reserve provided by the twin mainspring barrels is shown in a window at 6 o’clock.
Turn the watch over, and you find the orbital moon-phase display, with the earth at the centre, the celestial disc around it, and the moon phase shown through a circular window. The earth rotates in 24 hours, and so at any time you can use the watch as a day/night indicator, because the balance, also visible through the sapphire caseback, is in the position of the sun. The celestial disc carrying the moon window rotates around the earth in just over 29.5 days, and the moon phase changes accordingly.
Not surprisingly, this is a large watch. The case is 45.5 mm in diameter, and 16.5 millimetres thick, available in pink gold or white gold. The movement, Calibre L096.1, has 787 parts and 80 jewels. Price: about €185,000 (pink gold) or €186,000 (white gold).
13. Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation
In their 10th anniversary year, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have presented the Quantième Perpétuel à Équation, GF07. In this piece, a perpetual calendar is combined with a 24-second tourbillon inclined at 25°. The indications, from top, are the 72-power reserve between 1 and 2 o’clock, and just below, two small windows to show whether the crown wheel is adjusting time or date functions. When adjusting the date, you just have to turn the crown wheel forward or back, and the watch changes all the information together, one day at a time. This feature makes the watch unique – very few perpetual calendar watches have date information that can be adjusted in this way. At about 7 o’clock, continuous seconds; at 5 o’clock, day, date and month;at 6 o’clock, leap year indicator; and at 7 o’clock right up against the bezel, a 24-hour time indicator. The equation of time information is shown graphically on the reverse of the dial, with two superimposed transparent discs, for solar and mean time respectively, revealing the equinoxes and solstices as well. The case is 43.5 mm in diameter, 16 mm thick, with anthracite colour dial. Price is about €555,000.
14. IWC Portuguese Perpetual Calendar Ref. 503202
This watch dates I think to 2012, but I wanted to include at least one IWC Portuguese. This is a version of the 5032, but with an attractive black dial and an interesting moon-phase at the top, in which the top black disc rotates, revealing the shape of the moon as seen in northern and southern hemispheres. There are three other subdials, the one at 9 o’clock for day and small seconds, at 3 o’clock date and power reserve, month at 6 ‘clock, and four-digit year in a small window. It is supplied with a century slide so that a watchmaker can adapt the watch for 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2400. The other two digits operate automatically. It is made in pink gold. I’m not sure whether it’s still available from IWC boutiques.