My eyesight is gradually deteriorating and so I am constantly aware of the utility of a big date watch. The normal date window is too small for easy legibility. The date ring of a normal watch has to provide space for 31 dates and so it is impossible to make them any larger. The position of the date window can be varied but it is usually near the edge of the dial. The design of standard movements by ETA, Sellita and so forth dates back to when watches were smaller than they are today, and so brands using these movements have to have date windows that are not optimally positioned, located a bit further in with respect to the edge of the dial. (A brief digression: I’ve always felt that if the numerals were tilted by 45 degrees – in other words, arranged so that each numeral was straight and level in a window at the 4.30 position – they could be made larger even on a normal date ring).
Big date design solutions
The big date provides a solution to the problem of an excessively small date. There are different methods of achieving this. The first is by having two discs, one for the tens, one for the units, either superimposed or adjacent. There can be two frames as in watches by A. Lange & Söhne, or a single large frame. Another system is used in the ETA 2826-2, based on two superimposed discs, one with 15 dates and a window revealing the other 16 dates below. A neat idea that I think was invented in about 2004. Yet other systems have an extra module placed above the standard movement.
There are not many big date watches in production. The design of this feature is not simple: sometimes the big date seems like an added extra and not an integrated part of the watch face.
Big date complication for a big date
Some companies seem to like releasing a big date watch for their own “big dates,” in other words, anniversaries. For example, this year, 2018, there are anniversary big dates by IWC (150th), Certina (130th), and Mido (100th).
The list below is in increasing price order. Most of these pieces are new for 2018, with the exception of the Zeppelin, RGM, Cartier and Bucherer watches.
1. Zeppelin Automatic Pulsometer with Big Date
Zeppelin’s Pulsometer combines a scale used with the seconds hand, probably the simplest method of taking a pulse. You have to wait for the second hand to reach the top of the dial, but you can take your own pulse as well, something that is difficult or impossible with a chronograph-type pulsometer. The automatic ETA 2826-2 movement has an interesting method of enlarging the date numerals: half the numerals are on the top disc, along with a window that reveals the second group of numerals. Zeppelin is a brand that is part of Point Tec, a company located at Ismaning, near Munich. The watch has a classical dial with Breguet-type hands. It is reference 7654-4 and it costs €749. Read more on the Point Tec website.
2. Certina DS Action Big Date Automatic
Certina is celebrating its 130th anniversary with the DS Action Big Date Automatic, in which the special seals on crown, crown stem and caseback help give it a water resistance of 200 metres. The 41mm stainless steel case has a solid caseback, and the watch is powered by the same self-winding ETA 2826 Swiss-made movement as used for the Zeppelin watch above. This piece is available in a number of different versions, at prices starting from €775. Further information from the Certina website.
3. Mido Baroncelli Big Date
Another anniversary watch, the Baroncelli Big Date has a 40 mm case that is slim at 10.38 mm, and so while it couldn’t be considered a dress watch, it slips easily under a shirt cuff, and the pink gold PVD coating makes it a smart and distinctive timepiece if you can live with the delicacy of PVD. It has a new-generation movement by ETA, the ETA C07.651, one of the so-called Calibre 80 movements, with 80 hours power reserve. It runs at 21,600 vibrations per hour (3 Hertz), has 25 jewels, and a degree of movement decoration, including Côtes de Genève on the oscillating weight. I can’t find any specific information on this movement, but I would guess that it is an updated version of the ETA 2826-2 as used in the Zeppelin Pulsometer above. If this is true, then the two separate windows are an aesthetic feature, with the numerals not being separate at all. The watch is available in several versions, with leather strap or stainless steel bracelet, at affordable prices, starting from €790. Read more on the Mido website.
4. Mido Commander Big Date
The Commander Big Date is an attractive, dressy watch with a big date shown in two adjacent windows with sandblasted metal frame. It has the same ETA C07.651 as used for the Mido Baroncelli Big Date. Apart from this feature, it is a classic three-hander, with a sunray dial and nicely-detailed design. I like the way that the hour batons are tucked into recesses in the inner bezel flange, and the partly recessed crown. It is 42 mm in diameter and just under 12 mm thick. The Mido Commander Big Date is available in four versions, prices from €960 to €1,090. Read more here.
5. RGM 350-TZBD Time Zone Big Date
The RGM 350-TZBD has an ETA 2892-A2 self-winding movement, with a module constructed by RGM for the time zone and big date displays. The time zone function is interesting to use and adjust. In the time-regulating position, if you turn the crown clockwise, all the hands move together in coordination. if you turn it anticlockwise, both minute hands continue to move together, while the hour hand of the second time zone display at 6 o’clock remains still. This enables you to set the difference between two time zones. Another setting of the crown enables you to change the date. This is an attractive, unusual watch, compact at just under 39 mm in diameter, with a neatly-arranged dial. It costs $3,700, approximately €3,200. Further information from the RGM website. Read more here.
6. Carl F. Bucherer Patravi EvoTec Bigdate
In this piece, the shape of the date window echoes that of the stainless steel case and the small seconds subdial, and its asymmetric positioning adds interest. Another unusual feature is the rubber bezel. The watch is powered by an automatic movement, the CFB A1003, housed in a case that is 38.5 x 39.25 in size, and just under 13 mm thick. The movement can be viewed through the caseback, and, like other Bucherer pieces, it is refreshingly modern in its design. The watch costs €6,700. Read more on the Bucherer website.
7. Glashütte Original Sixties Panorama Date
Glashütte in Germany is a town with many watch brands, and at least three of these – Glashütte Original, A. Lange & Söhne, and Union Glashütte – make watches with the big date function. The Sixties Panorama Date has a dial design that recalls one version of the Spezimatic, a watch that the East German company VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB), to which Glashütte Original trace their origins, was making in the 1960s, distinctive for its spiky numerals. The brand makes the Sixties in many poppy colours; this version has a green dégradé dial with a printed dewdrop texture. The big date window has two tightly juxtaposed discs. The watch is in stainless steel, 42 mm in diameter, 12.4 mm thick. The in-house self-winding movement, 39-47, can be seen through the caseback with the brand’s characteristic features such as Glashütte stripes and swan-neck regulator for beat symmetry. The Glashütte Original Sixties Panorama Date is reference 2-39-47-04-02-04 and it costs €7,800. Read more here or visit the Glashütte Original website.
8. IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch Big Date Edition 150 Years
A big date on a pilot’s watch? Why not? After all, pilot’s watches are designed for maximum legibility in all conditions, and so a big date is more appropriate than the conventional small date. This watch has a hand-wound movement, calibre 59235, a development of calibre 59210, and the big date is shown by means of two coplanar discs, one inside the other. IWC have chosen to protect the movement against magnetic fields by using a soft iron inner case, which hides the movement, and so there is a solid caseback with just a small window for the 8-day power reserve. The watch is large at 46.2 mm diameter and 15.2 mm thickness, water resistance 6 bar. It is made in two limited editions, each 150 pieces, with blue or white dial. References IW510503 and IW510504, price €14,700. More on the IWC website.
9. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Grande Date
Like the IWC pilot’s watch above, the Fifty Fathoms Grande Date is a tool watch in which the big date is an unusual addition that in no way compromises style or functionality. As far as I can see, the big date mechanism is based on two superposed discs. At 45 mm diameter and 16.5 mm thickness, this is a large watch. It has a 300-metre water resistance. The titanium used for the case makes it lighter than it would be in steel, with a brushed, sporty appearance. The superb look of the piece is in part due too the lovely, slightly convex bezel in sapphire. It adds a vintage touch, matching the appearance of the numerals and hour markers. The in-house calibre 1315 has three mainspring barrels providing five days power reserve. The hairspring is in anti-magnetic silicium. There are two strap options, black fabric strap, or a black NATO strap. Price €16,370. Read more at the Blancpain website.
10. Cartier Tortue Large Date Small Seconds
This version of the Tortue by Cartier is supremely elegant, a combination of several distinctive features. The shape of the case was created by Louis Cartier back in 1912, and it frames a silver dial with guilloché decoration, Roman numerals and Breguet-type blued steel hands. The crown is set with a faceted cabochon. The big date at the top fits into the overall scheme, balanced by the small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. On the back, a sapphire display window reveals the lovely hand-wound movement, calibre 9602 MC, with bridges personalized with Cartier’s own pattern. This is the XL version of the Tortue, with case 38 x 48 mm, 14.5 mm thick, and the standard 3-bar water resistance. It has a black alligator leather strap with adjustable white gold folding buckle. The watch is reference 1556233, and in pink gold it costs €24,000, in white gold €25,700. More information from the Cartier website.
11. A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Outsize Date
The big date complication is an important part of A. Lange & Söhne’s design heritage and this watch demonstrates the attention to detail that is rarely seen in normal date windows, which often seem like an unwanted addition to the dial. In the Saxonia Outsize Date, the date numerals are large, and in the same graceful font used on the small seconds subdial. The two framed windows were apparently inspired by the antique digital clock that can be seen above the stage at Dresden Opera House, and one of Lange’s earliest watches, the Lange 1 presented in their first collection in 1994, had this design feature. The new Saxonia Outsize Date looks great, though the double-window format inevitably looks unbalanced for the dates from 1 to 9, when the first window has just the black background and no numeral. The watch has a case in white or pink gold, 38.5 mm in diameter. The pusher at 10 o’clock is used to adjust the date. The sapphire display caseback reveals the movement, with the brand’s customary exquisite finish and a power reserve of 72 hours. The watch costs €24,500. More information from the A. Lange & Söhne website.
12. Bovet Virtuoso VIII Big Date Tourbillon
This complication watch provides a combination of functions, nicely laid out on a dial that includes the figure-of-8 motif beloved by Chinese customers, because it is a lucky number in their culture. It is more about exquisite craftsmanship than precision timekeeping, with an incomplete chapter ring, but the seconds indicator on the tourbillon cage can be used to check precision. The 10-day power reserve is displayed on the top left subdial. The big date numerals have an interesting design, with a mechanism based on two compact superposed discs. It can be adjusted by pressing the blue cabochon on the crown. The case is slightly wedge-shaped, a feature that adds to the character of the timepiece. It is a limited edition, with just 80 hand-wound movements, which can be cased up in a number of versions differing in dial colour. Prices from 195,000 Swiss francs. Read more here, or see the Bovet website.