WATCHES: Leap year the perfect time to invest in perpetual calendar watch

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 5, 2020.
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IT is a leap year, and the leap day falls on a Saturday. That means for collectors who own perpetual calendar wristwatches, there is free time to luxuriate in a phenomenon that happens only once every four years: the “February 29” month and date clicking into place.

Miniature mechanical marvels, perpetual calendar watches accurately track the hours, minutes, and seconds, as well as the day of the week and date, always taking into account months with different numbers of days and leap years. Most such watches will precisely track time without needing an adjustment until March 1, 2100, when the leap year that should take place would not occur so our Gregorian calendars are realigned with solar time. Considered high complications in the world of horology, perpetual calendars are among the most challenging watchmaking feats.

“It’s fascinating that in such a tiny space, a series of gears and levers act as a microcomputer to calculate the exact date every day, as long as the watch is wound. It’s a single system that performs incredibly,” says Paul Boutros, head of watches, America, for auction house Phillips. “It is the perfect complication for gearheads and for those fascinated by how to make complex things look simple.”

Not all perpetual calendars are created equally. Some use small subsidiary dials on the main dial to indicate the necessary information. Others display only some information on the dial side and secrete the rest on the case back. Further variations even incorporate moon phase indications or other watchmaking complications. Time-consuming to build, perpetual calendars are typically made in small numbers, and some are so highly sought-after that there are waiting lists for them. The finest renditions often command upwards of US$50,000 (RM206,000) at retail, with those featuring added complications selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At auction, vintage pieces can fetch a lot more. Last year, Phillips sold a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar with chronograph for US$2.3 million. Here are some that can be had for less, so next time leap year comes around you would not be left adjusting your watch. — Bloomberg


MB&F (Maximilian Busser and Friends) Legacy Machine Perpetual Yellow Gold

MB&F’s first perpetual watch won 2016 calendar watch prize at Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (the Oscars of watches). This new 18-karat yellow gold version is devoid of a dial and is made in a limited edition of 25 pieces. US$167,000


IWC (International Watch Company) Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire

The IWC Big Pilot’s collection has a cult following, and this new version with military green dial and sandblasted bronze case is an eye-catcher. The movement shows moon phases for both hemispheres. US$28,200


Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked

A black ceramic case and transparent sapphire dial showcase the complex calibre here, some of which are crafted in 18-karat pink gold. It also shows the week of the year and a moon display. US$91,000


Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Quantieme Perpetuel Retrograde

Aventurine disks at 6 o’clock show the phases of the moon in both hemispheres, and the date is indicated by a red-tipped retrograde hand that, at the end of each month, jumps back to the first. US$64,100


Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétual

This white gold watch also combines a three-dimensional multiple-axis tourbillon with a minute repeater that sounds the time using Westminster chimes. US$895,000


Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar

This watch can beat at two paces: a fast one (5Hz) for when it is being worn and thus naturally wound, and a slower pace for when it is at rest. It can last two months on standby and not require resetting. US$199,000


A Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar 25th Anniversary

Each of these silver dial watches houses a self-winding movement filled with an incredible 624 mechanical parts. Just 25 pieces are being made for worldwide circulation. US$335,800