Leap Day Special: Celebrate The Leap Year With Five Great Perpetual Calendar Watches
From sporty to posh, these complicated timepieces represent the pinnacle of watchmaking.
Collectors of grand complications await February 29th like a sprinter awaits the Summer Olympics, or my Portuguese neighbors await the FIFA World Cup. It’s an event that happens every four years, and fans use the occasion to let their freak flags fly!
You see, the perpetual calendar watch represents the peak of watchmaking Olympus. Sure, it has a lot going on, on the surface, with its classic layout of day, date, month, time, and moon phase displays. But what sets the perpetual apart from an annual calendar watch is its ability to calculate the date even in leap years. And that’s because it has a mechanical memory of 1,461 days.
Fun Fact: If you bought a perpetual calendar today, you wouldn’t have to reset it until the year 2100.
Since 2020 is a leap year, we thought we’d celebrate with a look at some classic perpetuals.
Patek Philippe 5320G Grand Complications Self-Winding Perpetual Calendar
British watchmaker, Thomas Mudge, created the very first perpetual calendar in 1792. It was a gold pocket watch. Patek Phillipe was next to take up the calendar baton, starting with a pocket watch manufactured in 1864. The company then came into its own with this complication when it introduced the first commercial perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1925.
Here’s a list of some other Patek Philippe firsts: retrograde perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1937; perpetual calendar chronograph in 1941; sweep seconds perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1944; and self-winding perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1962.
And in 2019, the company continued this tradition of technological advancement when they introduced the Patek Philippe 5320G Grand Complications Self-Winding Perpetual Calendar. This timepiece has a “vintage” appearance with its round case, three-tier lugs, and lacquered dial accentuated by luminous numerals and hands. The throwback style was inspired by models from the 1940s and 1950s found in the Patek Philippe Museum.
But the newly developed caliber 324 movement comes straight from Patek Phillipe’s research and development department. Typically, it takes the most skilled watchmakers over a month to assemble everything necessary to make a perpetual calendar work. Details, like the double apertures for the day/month and analog date, require hundreds of gears to track the exact date, including those only used once every four years. It’s a complex and beautiful dance, and the Patek Philippe 5320G Grand Complications Self-Winding Perpetual Calendar provides the perfect choreography.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin
Sure, this watch is technologically proficient, but the main reason that the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin makes this list is that it manages to marry the sporty codes of the Royal Oak with the perpetual calendar display.
This was not the first Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, nor the last. But this time, AP’s designers challenged themselves to fit the most demanding expression of the watchmaker’s art into a super svelte movement.
Measuring just 2.89mm thick, it is, in fact, the world’s thinnest perpetual calendar. Originally presented as a prototype at SIHH 2018, the Ultra-Thin is pared down in many aspects. It features a subtle brushed matte-blue dial, lightly sunken sub-dials for the date indications, and an unobtrusive moon phase.
Maximum thinness is achieved by radically changing the architecture of both the movement and the case, which is constructed of platinum and titanium. Measuring in at just 6.33mm in height, it also wears lightly on the wrist.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar In White Ceramic
Audemars Piguet is credited with inventing the leap year indication in 1955, making it the first actual modern perpetual calendar. Fast forward to the 21st-century, and AP is also making leaps and bounds into the future of style.
The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar In White Ceramic is a watch that begs to be noticed and makes no apologies for it. At 41mm, it’s not the biggest watch on the block, but the highly finished white ceramic surface just pops. At the same time, the dial features all the classic AP codes, such as a tapisserie dial. And it is powered by a new self-winding calibre 5134, which is based on the famed calibre 2120.
Frederique Constant Manufacture Perpetual Calendar
Because perpetual calendar watches are so intricate, they are naturally quite expensive.
Priced under $10,000, the Frederique Constant Manufacture Perpetual Calendar is the best value proposition on the perpetual scene. Introduced in 2016, this 52mm machine runs on the in-house Caliber FC-775 movement that oscillates at a frequency of 28,800 vph and has a 38-hour power reserve.
Frederique Constant’s motto is “affordable luxury,” and the reason the brand can make these pieces accessible is by using Computer Numerical Control (CNC) technology. CNC uses digitized data to control, automate, and monitor the manufacturing process. The result is more predictable, which is good news if your watch needs replacement parts over its lifetime.
This state-of-the-art technology is also used to create the beautiful perlage and circular côtes de Genève on the bridges and plates. Of course, with such a competitive price, the four versions of the Frederique Constant Manufacture Perpetual Calendar are currently sold out.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Perpetual calendar watches are in investment in both money and time. So long as you keep it wound, you can set it and forget it. If you let the power reserve run down, however, you may need to employ an expert to get it running on time again.
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Chronograph requires a bit of extra attention. It’s a manual wind without a watch winder to help carry the load. It then doubles-down on this investment by combining two desirable complications: a perpetual calendar and a chronograph.
Introduced in 2016, the Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Chronograph’s in-house 1142QP caliber stands out for its engineering. For example, it has only 324 parts and 21 jewels. And fewer parts means fewer chances of something going wrong. And the frequency of the base movement was bumped from 2.5 to 3 Hertz, while the power reserve was increased to 48 hours.
The dial is also quite clever. With a small offset date aperture, along with more traditional indications for the day, month, and moon phase, it’s easy to read. And very easy to love.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)