As the march into 2014 begins, we look forward to seeing what the world of watches and jewelry have in store for us, starting with the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) later this month. In advance of this grand affair, where we will once more be in attendance at the PalExpo, we have already seen some impressive sneak previews. Unlike in previous years though, we feel confident to predict that this will be the year of that most useful of high complications, arguably, the perpetual calendar. The Rotonde de Cartier AstroCalendaire is likely to be the most visible of the new calendar watches, simply because it is as visually stunning as Sofia Vergara. We also think there will be plenty of exciting moon phase models to look forward to but that is another story...
In an era where everyone’s phone can deliver the same result that the typical perpetual calendar does, it may seem that the anachronistic mechanical wristwatch had finally met its match. 2014 looks to be the year Swiss watchmaking confirms that the perpetual calendar is still both in vogue and completely useful. While we have not yet seen the full spread at the fair – the fun begins January 20 – we have received news from no less than three august manufactures of important perpetual calendars.
Briefly, perpetual calendars are not to be confused with Rolex’s Oyster Perpetuals. Instead, the perpetual calendar is a watch that keeps track of – and displays – the day, date, month and leap year constantly. Unlike simpler timekeepers, these do not need to be manually adjusted for months of differing lengths or for leap years. As long as they remain wound up, these watches will keep an unerring count of the Gregorian calendar.
Unfortunately, one of the aforementioned three – IWC Schaffhausen – has chosen to save the grand reveal of its star 2014 novelty for the fair itself so we do not have a picture of that piece. What we do have, pictured above, is the Aquatimer range, which has been completely refreshed for this year. We shall leave it at that and trust that your interest has been sufficiently piqued. We know ours has!
Another collection to look out for is the Montblanc Meisterstuck Heritage collection, which incorporates everything from a 3-Hand Automatic to a Perpetual Calendar.... Yes that is the last of the three significant perpetual calendars.
Of course, it would not be a proper world of watches without some variety and this is supplied by the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon. As you might remember from our report last year, the world can always count on Audemars Piguet to bring their A game to the pre-SIHH table and the firm does not disappoint. Perhaps the powers-that-be at Le Brassus will reveal a nice perpetual calendar at the fair...
Adding depth to the current selection are a new Panerai coming in from leftfield, so to speak, and, perhaps ironically, an ultra thin watch from Piaget that redefines what it means to be skinny... On that note, Panerai has revealed that its SIHH 2014 novelties will be chronograph-heavy but there is not much more information available.
To finish, as per usual style, we present our favorite pre-SIHH watches below in alphabetical order.
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon - We get wind of so many wristwatch tourbillons that telling them all apart is challenging. As an opener for 2014, Audemars Piguet uses its Concept novelty – originally an anniversary piece celebrating 30 years of the Royal Oak in 2002 – to introduce the world to a small but intriguing change. You might be able to guess that the bezel, pushpiece and crown are all in white ceramic, otherwise known as zirconium oxide. If scan the image more closely, you will see an unexpected flash of white right in the middle of the dial. Well, it is not part of the dial because the Concept does not have a dial. Instead, this is upper bridge of the movement; this is the first we have ever heard of ZO2 being used as a movement material and it is certainly the first time Audemars Piguet has deployed it in white. The watchmakers have taken pains to remind us that this material is nine times harder than steel, making it incredibly difficult to machine. The twin-barrel 10 day power reserve watch itself showcases a tourbillon, a 24-hour GMT display (3 o’clock) and day/night indicator.
- Rotonde de Cartier AstroCalendaire - As has been the case for the last five years, we are duly impressed by the genius of Carole Forestier-Kasapi as she and her team at La Chaux-de-Fonds rewrite the book on perpetual calendars here. Well, “impressed” is an understatement… What you see here is a perpetual calendar using neither subdials nor windows to show day of the week, month, and date.
- Rotonde de Cartier AstroCalendaire - What you have instead are three concentric circles (movement bridges no less) radiating outward from six o’clock, with all day, month and date highlighted by three blue PVD wheels tracing their respective courses. The watchmakers tell us that unlike what is typical for perpetual calendars, this movement uses only one star wheel (for the day), with the others running off the same train, and that a mechanical memory of sorts is at work here… Calibre 9459MC sounds very intriguing and we look forward to taking a closer look.
- Montblanc Meisterstuck Heritage Perpetual Calendar - It is not only about timewriters at Montblanc, although the luxury brand has staked a major claim on that segment. This perpetual calendar does not challenge the rules of watchmaking but it certainly does fly in face of what we have come to expect from the watchmakers at the Le Locle manufacture. For one thing, this marks one of the rare occasions a bona fide high complication has appeared outside the Villeret collection for Montblanc; the last we recall was in 2006, before Montblanc began its adventure with the Villeret manufacture. While Montblanc has released only basic information in the press communiqué – the launch amounts to a sneak really – what we can see intrigues us because here, finally, is a perpetual calendar in stainless steel. Well, Montblanc will be issuing it in rose gold too. Montblanc calls the automatic movement calibre 4810/915 but we are curious about the lack of the ‘MB’ signature; post-SIHH, we can confirm that this is indeed an inhouse movement, complete with the aforementioned 'MB' signature.
- Officine Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days PAM557 - The Neuchatel-based manufacture of Italian watchmaking outfit Officine Panerai understands the virtues of simplicity and, crucially, of form following function. Here in PAM557 for example, we see a literal mirror image of the earlier PAM372, with the crown at 9 o’clock, making a so-called left-handed watch. This is actually quite an elegant option for a watchmaker synonymous with naval traditions because such left-handed watches (and other wrist-borne instruments) are still used in contemporary naval operations.
- Officine Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days PAM557 - Having said that, PAM557 follows the PAM372 code right down to the movement, which is also the in-house manual-winding Calibre P.3000. Basically, the balance of the movement now sits at 1 o’clock to accommodate the switch in positions for the crown. In every other way, PAM557 is identical to PAM372.
- Piaget Altiplano 38mm 900P - If there is one watch manufacture that consistently makes a virtue of being lean it must be Piaget. The brand has many records in this area, including for thinnest automatic minute repeater and overall thinnest automatic wristwatch, with thinnest movements in both instances. The jeweler and watchmaker starts 2014 with a brand new ultra thin star, the thinnest of them all at an unbelievable 3.65mm thick.
- Piaget Altiplano 38mm 900P - This particular Altiplano uses a different approach than anything Piaget has ever made because the manual-winding calibre and the case are one and the same. Basically, the base plate is the caseback, thus removing another level of thickness and adding exponentially to the complexity of making the watch. To our knowledge, the Altiplano 38mm 900P is unlike any other mechanical watch currently in production.
- Roger Dubuis Hommage Double Flying Tourbillon - While we expect to see some impressive technical savoir faire from the manufacture at the SIHH, we were thrilled to get a sneak peek at this more subtle affair. It is worth saying that only at Roger Dubuis can a double flying tourbillon be called subtle! In fact, the complication here greatly obscures what is truly impressive about the watch, which you are looking at right now. While the watch has a face, there is no real dial; what you are seeing is actually the main plate of the movement. The sunburst motif has been engraved by hand, something typically done by machine, but in this case it was necessary to manually carve each line out four times to achieve the level of finish on display.