Perpetual Calendar Watches: Authentic, Remarkably Crafty and Elegant Timekeepers
May 12, 20225 min read
The world of horology never stops to amaze, right? Once you think you’ve seen it all, there comes something new, refreshing, and even revolutionary. And, you fall in love with this mesmerizing craft even more.
We’ll dive into the magical world of perpetual calendar watches this time. It’s an ancient world that managed to survive until the present times. Moreover, it’s a world that’s left a lasting mark on the watchmaking industry during each phase of its development.
But, what is a perpetual calendar and what are perpetual watches, some might still wonder. So, let’s shed some light on the perpetual concept itself first.
The Background of Perpetual Calendars
Tracking time is an easy job. All you need to do is look at the watch and/or the calendar, and everything is pretty straightforward. True, if you’re an end-user.
However, creating a watch able to perform such a complex operation flawlessly is beyond advanced. Now we know why all additional functions on the watch, apart from tracking seconds, minutes, and hours we call complications. Among others, these include a date display, chronograph, moon phases, all the way to the most complex complication: the perpetual calendar.
So, what does perpetual mean here? To keep track of dates and times without manually making adjustments means that leap years need to be taken into account. As you know, these occur every four years. But, did you know that every 100 years, that extra day has to be left out? And added back again every 400 years?
A closeup view of a Perpetual Week subdial
The Perpetual Months subdial vividly displayed and easy to read at all times
Now the bigger picture indeed becomes clearer. It takes an ingenious mechanism to make it all happen within a single watch. Here’s where it all began.
The History of Perpetual Calendar Watches
The invention of the perpetual calendar complication dates back to 1762 and Thomas Mudge, a well-known watchmaker of the time. He used the complication inside a gold pocket watch, the exact one currently displayed at the British Museum. So you can grasp how advanced his invention was, knowing it took over a century and a half for the first-ever perpetual calendar wristwatch to appear.
The first Perpetual calendar by Thomas Mudge now at the British Museum, image credit : britishmuseum
That happened in 1925, thanks to Patek Philippe’s 60-year-long work on making it possible to use the perpetual calendar complication in a wristwatch and Thomas Emery’s commission for the first-ever wristwatch that featured the complication -the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar wristwatch. Given that the craftsmanship needed to make such an advanced complication was exquisite, the updates and innovations that followed also took substantial time, money, and effort.
The first Perpetual Calendar wristwatch from Patek Philippe, image credit : revolutionwatch
Yellow-gold hunter back and hand-engraved lugs, image credit : revolutionwatch
Thomas Emery housed the No. 97975 movement in the first Perpetual Calendar wristwatch, image credit : revolutionwatch
Up until the mid-20th century, all perpetual calendar watches were commissioned. The first serial production of the perpetual calendar wristwatch began in the 1940s, while the first automatic ones saw the light of day in the 1960s. So what’s the catch? Why did it take so long?
The answer is quite simple; they’re most complicated to make.
The Ingenious Craft Behind the Perpetual Calendar Watch Movement
Making even the simplest watch movements takes superb skill. The number of elements present in a simple mechanical watch is around 130. On the other hand, the perpetual calendar watch contains about 200 more elements.
In a nutshell, the grand lever conducts the operation. It makes sure each mechanical component works in sync, not skipping a beat during leap years, turns of the century, and the aforementioned 400-year cycle. Another challenge was fitting such a complex mechanism into a wristwatch case. Overcoming it and making the production of such a complex mechanism more affordable were the reasons behind such a long wait before the first serial production of the perpetual calendar wristwatches.
A semicircular central rotor, the centerforce behind the perpetual movement mechanism
The staggering craft behind the Perpetual movement mechanism
It’s safe to say that the craft needed to make a perpetual calendar watch is the watchmaking paramount. Providing they keep moving, these marvels of watchmaking will display the exact time until, well, the end of time as we know it.
Every perpetual calendar watch is a horological work of art. Still, several watches stand out even in such a distinguished group, either due to historical reasons, particular features,, or unique aesthetics.
IWC Antoine de Saint Exupéry IW503801, both a mechanical and an aesthetic marvel
These are at the top of the list of the most notable representatives:
Patek Philippe Reference 1526.
That pioneer perpetual calendar wristwatch serially produced came out in 1941. The 210 pieces made are a landmark of Patek Philippe’s perpetual calendar watch production and an eternal milestone for this famous company.
At only 34mm in diameter, it features a simplistic dial for usual perpetual calendar watch standards. As a result, this marvelous watch is a fantastic example of timeless elegance design combined with groundbreaking mechanics.
Patek Philippe perpetual calendar wristwatch 1526, image credit : christies
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
When a watchmaking company makes a name for itself by solely producing a single line of watches, that has to have a grander meaning. And it does. Anyone who has ever seen a Royal Oak watch can vouch for that.
The perpetual calendar versions of the series, featuring a 41mm case, a unique octagonal bezel, and a tapisserie dial in various colors, are the pinnacle of Audemars Piguet’s 150-year-long watchmaking production. The unique aesthetic is additionally reinforced by four subdials elegantly housed on the dial without overcrowding it.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar 41 mm in titanium, image credit : watchesbysjx
IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar - Antoine de Saint Exupéry IW503801
IWC Big Pilot’s Perpetual Calendar Watch perfectly in line with a casual jeans style with the help of MiLTAT Blue Distressed Denim Strap
Although timeless by nature and function, the perpetual calendar watches also change over time. This IWC perpetual calendar watch is a perfect representative of contemporary perpetual calendar watches.
IWC Big Pilot’s Antoine de Saint Exupéry Watch color pattern matched by a Black Mixed White Revive Watch Strap
The impeccable craftsmanship is as expected. The four subdials are clearly visible, without blocking the view of the hour and minute markers or date display, something you can see in some other perpetual calendar watches. What makes it stand out is the grand 46.2 mm diameter case, particularly the see-through back, doing justice to the mechanism it houses and allowing us to witness firsthand how it operates.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch IW503801 dominant masculinity emphasized by a Crisscross white rubber watch strap
Finally, such design allows for numerous variety of replacement watch straps that further elevate the attractive design of this Antoine de Saint Exupéry inspired jewel among perpetual calendar watches.