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Grand Complications - Horology’s Pinnacle

Grand Complications Horology’s Pinnacle

The apex of watchmaking for the wrist should contain at least three of horology’s most difficult complications, allowing these timepieces to bear the title “grand complication.”

Last week, Patek Philippe introduced a new rendition of the Sky Moon Tourbillon, which was first introduced to the watch world in the year 2001 as Reference 5002. The Sky Moon Tourbillon displays the time, retrograde date, perpetual calendar (day, month, leap year, moon phase, angular motion of moon), and a chart of the stars in the sky on the front dial. The time displayed here can also be heard thanks to a minute repeater on two cathedral gongs. On the back, another time display indicates sidereal time as well as the meridian passage of Sirius and the moon against the backdrop of a deep blue-and-gold celestial chart. The beat is kept by means of a traditional one-minute tourbillon.

This wristwatch measuring 42.8 mm in diameter and 16.25 mm in height is the most complicated wristwatch in Patek Philippe’s repertoire, and the company calls it a grand complication. However – and this may seem like nitpicking to some – it does not contain a chronograph.

The unofficial rules of horology state that in order to be able to wear the title of grand complication, the movement must also contain a chronograph of some sort in addition to an astronomical complication (such as a calendar) and a striking complication (like a repeater or a sonnerie). Naturally, these rules are unwritten therefore subject to interpretation by the maker (or owner) of such complicated timepieces. Boasting twelve complications in total, the Sky Moon Tourbillon is without doubt an exceedingly complicated wristwatch – and an instant classic.


The classic grand complication

This year’s SIHH saw the introduction of not one, but two classic grand complication wristwatches. One represents a milestone by Saxon watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne: the 1815 Grand Complication. Containing seven complications, it is the most complex wristwatch ever manufactured solely by the traditional German manufacturer, and with that most likely ever in Germany. Its functions include grand sonnerie, petite sonnerie and minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and monopusher split-seconds chronograph (thus fulfilling all three of the criteria) in addition to foudroyante seconds and a moon phase display. One watchmaker will work on a single one of these watches for an entire year, assembling, adapting and regulating. Inspired by the recently resurfaced and fully overhauled Reference 42500 pocket watch from 1902, the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Grand Complication’s Caliber L.1902 contains 876 components.

“Celebrating” the twentieth anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore model – an ultra-sporty rendition of the evergreen Royal Oak – at the 2013 SIHH Audemars Piguet also introduced a classic grand complication wristwatch. The Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication may seem too sporty for this classic set of high functions, but its automatic Caliber 2885 comprising 648 components easily accommodates the minute repeater, perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph.

An excellent example of contemporary horology in titanium and ceramics, the Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication, issued in a three-piece limited edition only, is individually executed by a single artisan, who will devote more than 820 hours of painstaking craftsmanship to the task.

Instant classic

Atelier Loiseau’s masterpiece 1f4, which premiered at Baselworld 2011, needed six years of development and 15,000 hours at the bench. Boasting what the firm calls “instant dial reversibility” (there is one dial on each side: one “classic” and one “skeleton”; the owner can choose which dial to show at any given time), a flying tourbillon and 32 separate functions, it nonetheless remains an exceptionally slim dual automatic wristwatch – dual because it has two patented peripheral rotors, one to wind the movement and one to power the strike train. Thanks to master watchmaker Dominique Loiseau’s highly creative solution, the timepiece itself remains only 16.64 mm in height. This type of ingenuity should come as no surprise since Loiseau was the creator of Blancpain’s ultra-slim 1775 grand complication.

Its many functions include the following: monopusher split-second chronograph, day/night indication, second time zone, equation of time, grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, minute repeater, perpetual calendar with leap year and moon phase and day of week. Thanks to the presence of chronograph, calendar and repeater, the 1f4 is indeed a classic grand complication even though it looks anything but classic. Only two pieces can be produced per year by the exclusive Genevan workshop.

Naturally, how such complicated masterpieces are described are in the end up to the whims of its owner. Just like it is fully up to the owner whether he or she decides to wear such a rare timepiece. I know I would, and I know I wouldn’t care what they are called.


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Following the vision of Ferdinand Adolph Lange to build the world’s best watches, A. Lange & Söhne strives for ultimate precision and explores new avenues in order to advance the art of fine...

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Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry,...

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Patek Philippe enjoys outstanding renown and rare prestige, due to the constancy with which the Manufacture has applied its philosophy of excellence ever since it was founded.

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