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Hot Dates!

Calendar watches heat up the horology scene with new takes on an old problem
Laurie Kahle
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Daniels-The Newsroom, July/August 2012

(continued from page 1)

Oechslin’s streamlined perpetual calendar mechanism is paired with a dual-time-zone function and oversize date in Ulysse Nardin’s El Toro, now outfitted in red gold and blue with a ceramic bezel and pushers. The watch’s big date, day, month and year change instantly forward or backward when the hour hand is moved to a new local time with the pushers.

Cartier’s new Rotonde de Cartier Annual Calendar also allows you to set the watch via the crown. The watch’s multilevel dial was devised for enhanced legibility with a double central dial and large date aperture. “From the outset, we took into consideration the most ideal specifications and looked at the fundamentals to develop a movement,” says Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who directs Cartier’s movement development. “This meant focusing on the function of the complication—for example the date is positioned to represent the most important information on the dial, and the day and month are relegated below the central dial as secondary information.”

Surprisingly, annual calendars did not emerge until 1996, when Patek Philippe introduced its Ref. 5025. “It was a hybrid—not a perpetual and not a simple calendar,” says Junod. “Nobody thought it would be commercially successful, but it was.” This year, Patek Philippe added rose gold and white gold bracelets to it 5396 annual calender line as well as two new dials for the rose gold 5960R, which pairs an annual calendar with a chronograph.The annual calendar is an intermediate complication that has allowed the maker to offer a more accessible complication to a broader audience. “Many who could not afford a perpetual calendar could buy a similar watch,” says Junod, adding that the annual calendar cost about half as much as a perpetual calendar.

“From a watchmaking perspective, the annual calendar was a brilliant, simple solution to an ancient problem,” says Sotheby’s Reardon. “A perpetual calendar is typically cam based with the cam rotating four times a year. The annual calendar is a rotary-based system that computes the number of days in each month throughout the year.”

The complication was also brilliant from a marketing perspective. “It offers an opportunity for collectors to own a piece of horology at a more affordable price,” continues Reardon, who notes that Patek Philippe had a virtual monopoly on annual calendars until recently, when other brands saw the wisdom of investing in this stepping-stone complication. This year, annual calendars were presented by Corum, Girard-Perregaux, and Omega among others. “The annual calendar actually inspired a whole new genre of watchmaking with this mid-level complication.”

Reardon and scores of Rolex purists were shocked this year when Rolex unveiled its new Sky-Dweller annual calendar with a dual-time-zone function at the Baselworld fair in Switzerland. Some bloggers instantly derided the complicated piece for its atypical aesthetic, while fans declared it a forerunner to a new era for Rolex. The Sky-Dweller is a watch aimed at affluent globetrotters that shows local time on the center hands and home time on a 24-hour rotating disc at the center of the dial.

The annual calendar is dubbed Saros as a tribute to its inspiration—the approximately 18-year cycle that aligns sun, earth, and moon resulting in lunar and solar eclipses. The calendar system is designed around a fixed planetary gear that represents the sun at the center of the movement. A satellite wheel symbolizing the earth engages the planetary wheel and rotates, completing a revolution around the planetary gear once per month, driven by the date disc. The satellite wheel has four fingers for the four 30-day months. At the end of these months, the date disc instantly jumps twice to advance the date to the 1st. Meanwhile, the months are shown through apertures positioned around the dial. A novel setting system allows you to set the local time, home time, and the date using the rotating Ring Command bezel to designate the individual function you intend to adjust.

“I wonder if it represents a new departure for Rolex to go into more complicated timepieces,” says Reardon.  “From an auction perspective, it is such a rarity to present a complicated Rolex. In the 1950s and ’60s, they made the Ref. 8171, which is a cult collectible and the ultimate Rolex you could own with a calendar and moon phase. The new complication is exciting in the world of Rolex, and in the world of watchmaking in general.”

Parmigiani also debuted a new movement with the Tonda Annual Calendar, based on the brand’s PF 331 automatic caliber developed in its workshops in Fleurier, Switzerland. The unusual retrograde date hand sweeps along the top of the dial and snaps back at the end of the month. It will need to be adjusted in non-leap years, but in leap years, the date will display February 29 and jump back to March 1 the following day. The exceptionally precise moon phase—which displays for both southern and northern hemispheres—requires a correction only once every 120 years.

A moon phase display is a natural complement to calendar watches given our lunar-based calendar. The ancient Maya, who were accomplished astronomers, also developed calendars based on lunar cycles. The mind-boggling Mayan calendar system has captured the attention of people around the world who have speculated about a doomsday scenario on December 21, 2012 at 11:11 UTC, when the Mayan calendar supposedly ends. (The Maya divided time into underworlds of 400 years each, the last of which ends on that date.) Even Hollywood hyped the apocalyptic prophesy in the film 2012. Experts, however, dismiss the notion, pointing out that the date simply marks the start of a new cycle—a time for celebration rather than a cataclysm.

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