Hidden Figures: A Guide To The Horological Easter Eggs Of Your Favorite Watches
These horological Easter eggs make watch collecting even more engaging.
Any gamer or Marvel Cinematic Universe fan will tell you about the delights of finding Easter eggs. Once discovered, these purposefully hidden features, such as codes, off-screen character references, and other insider information, make the audience feel a little bit more “in the know.”
Likewise, in the watch industry, there are secret codes hidden in plain sight on movements. Yet, many watch enthusiasts do not know horological Easter eggs exist, even though the same enthusiasts can (and do) spend entire days talking about the design codes of their preferred brand. Horological Easter eggs exist for several reasons: To foil counterfeiters, to sign their work as an artist would sign a canvas, or simply, for the amusement of the watchmaker and the collector.
Let’s go down the rabbit hole of horological Easter eggs.
Abraham-Louis Breguet was the first in so many horological innovations, including integrating a “secret signature” into his timepieces. And even though the skill level required to create a Breguet would have discouraged counterfeits anyway, the watchmaker still felt the need to acknowledge authenticity.
Back in the 1800s, Breguet wrote, “To ensure the public is not deceived by works in which I have no part, I will put a distinctive mark on the dial, executed by a machine whose effects are extremely difficult to imitate.” He used a drypoint pantograph (one of which still exists in the Breguet Museum in Paris) to etch an almost imperceptible signature on the dial.
This signature is still etched onto modern Breguet watches, albeit using lasers because it’s the 21st century. On engine-turned dials, you will usually find this mark on either side of the 6 or 12 o’clock numeral or placed somewhere on the lower half of enamel dials.
A Lange & Söhne
Attention to detail is one of the hallmarks of this Glashütte-based manufacture. And one of its most enduring and endearing signatures is the hand-engraving on the balance bridge of its movements. For generations, these etchings have used the motif of flower petals surrounding the central screw of the bridge set against a floral pattern that covers the component to which it is applied. These details make each engraving as unique as a snowflake.
For some Easter eggs, horological detectives will need a magnifying glass and good lighting to look for clues. Blancpain doesn’t mark all of its pieces, but when models have a grand feu enamel dial – which is essentially a work of art – it demands a signature. Look for the hidden JB logo engraved between the numbers 4 and 5 or 7 and 8. As a tribute to the company’s history, the initials JB reference Blancpain founder Jehan-Jacques Blancpain. But you’ll have to work hard to find it. This subtle mark is only revealed when you examine the piece as the light hits it at an oblique angle.
As one of the most well-known luxury brands in the world, Cartier creations have always been the target of counterfeiters. That is why the maison uses a secret signature on most of its watch dials.
Take a close look at the Roman numeral markers placed at either 7 o’clock or 10 o’clock. You should see “CARTIER” spelled out where the “I” should be. Like microprinting on currency, it’s not easy to pull off such clear printing at such a tiny scale, which is why most counterfeiters don’t bother.
Other secrets are hidden in plain sight. For example, you may have noticed that the dials of Grand Seiko watches have two different stars. But what do they mean?
An eight-pointed star indicates the dial is a “Special Dial” using precious materials for the dial plate, hands, and/or the markers. A five-pointed star signifies that the movement is accurate to 5 seconds per year.
Grand Seiko has a tradition of telling a story through the design of its movements as well. For example, the caliber 9R01 is laid out to represent Mt. Fuji (a landscape that is visible from the Micro Artist Studio).
Omega places an almost microscopic Ω on the center of its crystals. The practice started in the early 1950s and continues today with the symbol being laser-etched onto the Hesalite glass version of the new Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch.
The world’s most copied watch brand, Rolex has many different hidden logos, including carefully positioned engravings on the rehaut (the inner bezel ring that surrounds the dial). This engraving encircles the dial with “ROLEXROLEXROLEX,” while the serial number is engraved at 6 o’clock. Previously, the serial number was only on the case engraved between the lugs.
Newer Rolex models also feature a dotted outline of the iconic crown logo laser etched onto the crystal. Again, not every model will have this barely perceptible engraving, but it can be found (with great difficulty) at the 6 o’clock position on most Rolexes made from the early 2000s and later.
Fun fact, some vintage collectors actively seek out samples with an unengraved rehaut because it marks the transition between old and modern-era Rolexes.
As if Vacheron Constantin’s Metiers d’Art pieces with miniature or enamel painting decorations weren’t already one-of-a-kind, they may also bear the initials AP. That is the signature of Anita Porchet, one of the few dial artists recognized for her talents.
And for its Quai de l’Île model, Vacheron Constantin worked with a banknote printer to create a watermark under the sapphire crystal to thwart anyone who tried to copy this creation.