Leap Year What’s new in the world of perpetual calendars?
Are you looking for a novel approach to the QP? As 29th February approaches, WorldTempus is doing the rounds of perpetual calendars that offer something a little out of the ordinary. Whether they’re technical, playful, musical or ultra-simple, they all have their charm.
It’s always the same refrain: “In watchmaking, everything’s already been invented. Particularly as far as traditional complications, like the perpetual calendar (QP), are concerned.” But that’s not quite true, because the QP is continually being improved, optimised and reinvented by talented watchmakers. How?
Moser: even simpler? Impossible!
Pioneer Perpetual Calendar © H. Moser & Cie
As far as perpetual calendars are concerned, H. Moser & Cie has considerable form. To the point that the perpetual calendar has become the watchmaker’s signature, and its greatest success. And yet, in terms of the movement, there is nothing revolutionary about it. The genius of H. Moser & Cie lies in its having created the simplest, most legible and most intuitive QP around. The principle is a central micro-hand that uses the 12 hour markers as indicators for the 12 months. The date is at 3 o’clock. Given that most people are generally aware what day it is, the watch dispenses with a day-of-the-week display. And finally, the leap year indicator, which is rarely needed, has been moved over onto the back of the watch. The ultra-minimalist Moser QP is a paragon of legibility.
Pioneer Perpetual Calendar, with the leap year indicator on the back of the watch © H. Moser & Cie
A ringside seat for Cartier
Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire, platine © Cartier
Cartier turned its attention to the QP at around the same time (2014). The name of the piece in question gives an insight into its unusual nature: Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire. The aim was to come up with a new kind of display. This watch is designed like an amphitheatre. The perpetual calendar functions are displayed on different levels of a three-dimensional, tiered concentric structure. The day is at the top, followed by the month on the second level, with the date one step below. Slender apertures slide around the tiers. The final function of the perpetual calendar is indicated by a hand on the back of the watch, which shows whether or not the current year is a leap year. This disruptive design is adjusted entirely by turning the crown forwards or backwards, and is driven by a central flying tourbillon. It’s guaranteed to impress!
Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel © Jaeger-LeCoultre
At the 2019 SIHH, Jaeger-LeCoultre once again demonstrated its technical and aesthetic mastery with an impressive Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel. The watch follows in the footsteps of the multi-axial tourbillons for which the watchmaker has developed a reputation. In addition to the perpetual calendar, this watch also plays the Westminster chimes – as heard from Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster in London. The Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel contains four sets of gongs and hammers, which sound the Westminster chimes on the quarter-hours when the minute repeater function is activated.
Mechanical thunder from MB&F
Legacy Machine Perpetual © MB&F
MB&F takes a different approach to aesthetics. The Legacy Machine Perpetual features an imposing bridge from which the balance wheel is suspended – a signature of the “LM” collection. Arranged around the dial, inside the moderately proportioned case (44 mm), are the day, date and month in a traditional tricompax arrangement (at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock). In between are the retrograde displays for power reserve (at 5 o’clock) and leap year (at 7 o’clock).
So far, so conventional. But the internal mechanics are far from traditional. Most perpetual calendar mechanisms are based on a 31-day month; in months with fewer days, the superfluous dates are skipped, as the movement cycles quickly through the unused dates at changeover time. With the LM Perpetual, the system is reversed. A “mechanical processor” takes as its reference a 28-day month, adding more dates as necessary. This means that the exact number of days for each month can be displayed, without the need for skipping or fast-forwarding. In 2016, the Legacy Machine Perpetual won the Calendar Watch Prize at the GPHG (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève).
De Bethune, on the Moon
DB25 QP © de Bethune
De Bethune has remained true to its lunar inspiration, which has become a speciality of the Maison. The DB25 QP is the only manufacture perpetual calendar to feature a spherical moon phase. The display, in titanium and blued steel, reigns over the dial from its position at 12 o’clock. In addition to this innovation, the watch has an auto-regulating double barrel, a triple shock absorbency system and a titanium and platinum balance wheel.
The Breguet approach
Marine Equation Marchante Ref. 5887 © Breguet
Finally, let’s look at a more nautically-oriented perpetual calendar. Breguet unveiled a masterful interpretation two years ago, the ref. 5887 “Marine Equation Marchante”. The watch embodies the principle of a perpetual calendar alongside an equation of time. This complication shows the correct solar hour, which is almost permanently offset from our standard time by a gap of -14 to +16 minutes. The 5887 shows the difference on a second minute hand, which means that both the solar time and the conventional time can be seen at a glance. It’s a clever complication, and it gives this QP an unusually poetic touch.
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