Simple guide: What Is A Perpetual Calendar Watch?

In this post, we will take a detailed look at perpetual calendar timepieces, including their history, what a perpetual calendar complication is, and how this intricate function works. After that we’ll take a look at the very best perpetual calendar watches to add to your collection. Keep reading to begin your journey into the work of perpetual calendar watches. 

A brief history of the perpetual calendar movement

1762 – The first watch is fitted with a perpetual calendar movement. The famous watchmaker Thomas Mudge created a pocket watch with a perpetual calendar complication as early as the eighteen hundreds. 

1889 – High-end watchmaker Patek Philippe files a patent for a perpetual calendar mechanism that works for both pendant and pocket watches. 

1925 – Patek Philippe – modifies their perpetual calendar movement to fit into wristwatches 

1929 – Esteemed watchmaker Breguet created the very first perpetual calendar wristwatch with a movement designed especially for this purpose. 

1937 – Jaeger-LeCoultre embraces the trend and also brings out a perpetual calendar wristwatch. 

1941- The first serially produced perpetual calendar wristwatches were created by Patek Philippe. These watches are known as 1526 and the chronograph 1518. 

1955 – The very first perpetual calendar watch that indicated a leap year to the wearer was made by Audemars Piguet. It was known as the 5516. 

1985 – IWC revolutionised the field by creating a perpetual calendar wristwatch that can be controlled not by a set of push buttons, but via winding of the crown. 

Present day – High-end watchmakers still make watches with perpetual calendar complications, continually refining their delicate engineering, and combining them with other features such as chronographs. 

What is a perpetual calendar watch?

A perpetual calendar watch is a timepiece that contains an additional function (complication)  that goes beyond simply telling the time and allows the user to also read the day and date, the current month and the current moon phase (full, waxing gibbous, waxing crescent etc.) A perpetual calendar watch is also so sophisticated in its engineering that it can do this with accuracy up to the year 2100, even accounting for leap years, just as long as it’s kept wound. 

Also known by the French (Swiss) term, quantième perpétuel, the perpetual calendar watch is associated with some of the highest-end watch marquees there including Swiss masters including Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and of course Patek Philippe, among others. Indeed, association with haute horology and the delicate and accurate nature of the compilation means it is one of the most sought-after for many a watch collector. 

How do perpetual calendar movements work?

If you remove the back case of a perpetual calendar watch you will find a complicated group of gears that interconnect with one another. These gears have been specially made with dents, ridges, and gaps to work together to display the time, date, day, month, and moon phases accurately. Due to the ingenious way that this delicate mechanism works, some gears will be turning constantly while others will only turn after multiple years go by. 

One of the issues with perpetual calendar watches is that it can be complex to display the lunar cycles correctly. This is because a full lunar cycle around the Earth is 29.5 days. To get around this problem some watchmakers work with a double cycle so they can program the watch to work on a timescale of 59 days. However, at the very top end of the horology market, watches can be specially milled to provide maximum lunar cycle precision. 

Another issue that is associated with perpetual calendar watches is that they can become inaccurate when not kept properly powered. Indeed, adjusting a perpetual calendar watch that has lost its accuracy because of a lack of power can be quite the task. To that end, meticulous winding by the owner is needed for a perpetual calendar watch, or investing in a watch winder storage box can be a very good idea indeed. 

The Best Perpetual Calendar Watches To Add To Your Collection 

Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar – Audemars Piguet 

Part of the Piguet premium line of watches, the Royal Oak In blue ceramic is quite the timepiece. Released in 2022, it sports the iconic “Grande Tapisserie” pattern, and the Royal Oak octagonal bezel. 

The moon phase is displayed at the 6 o’clock position on the Royal Oak In blue ceramic, while the day is at 9 o’clock, the month and leap year at 12 o’clock, and the date at 3 o’clock. 

Villeret Quantième Perpétuel 6656 – Blancpain

Named for the Swiss village in which the first model of its kind was created, the Villeret Quantième Perpétuel 6656 is something truly special when it comes to watch collections. 

Very limited in edition, with only 88 made, this beautiful watch boasts not only a clear sapphire window in its case, where you can see the rotor made from solid gold, but also a moon phase display at 6 o’clock which is charming in its anthropomorphism. 

At 9 o’clock you’ll find the day dial, while at 12m you’ll find the month, and leap year dial. 3 o’clock boasts the date, and you only need to use the underlug correctors to reset this stunning watch’s function. 

Ref. 5270 – Patek Philippe 

Simply known as  Ref. 5270, this Patek Philippe watch combines a chronograph with a perpetual calendar making it the holy grail for many collectors. Based on a 1941 original design, that was updated for the Ref. 5970 in 2004, the 2011 Ref. 5270 boasts an even larger 41 mm gold case, along with opal and gold leaf hands. 

You’ll find the minutes and seconds subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock on this model while the day and month window is in the 12 o’clock position. At 6 o’clock the moon phases combined with the analogue date display, day-night, and leap year indicators are visible.

With so much included you may expect the dial to be cluttered by the master watchmakers at Patek Philippe have created a design that makes sure this does not happen, making this timepiece greatly coveted by many. 

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