A PERFECT YEAR. Patek Philippe is celebrating their Annual Calendar collection’s 20th anniversary, which is also the oldest of its kind in the entire world
Year in and year out, timepiece enthusiasts never fail to keep up with the watch industry to stay abreast of what’s in and what’s new. Along with a slew of novelties shown during SIHH and Baselworld, top brands often compete to earn the distinction of having, say, the thinnest or the most complicated pieces. A layman, understandably, could easily find himself lost in translation as the whole business rarely seems to bring about anything new.
Like any métier out there, horology is constantly reinventing itself and pushing the limits. It never rests on its laurels, so to speak. Yes, wristwatches have been around for over a century. Yes, common complications like chronographs or even minute repeaters were invented even way before that. Calendar complications, however, are surprisingly not that old, especially when one takes the annual calendar into consideration. That particular complication is, in fact, still 20 years young.
CALENDAR COMPLICATIONS AT A GLANCE
Calendar complications in general are features on a watch dial that tell the date, month, year and might even account for leap years—which have an additional day, February 29, every four years. The first two are, quite frankly, quite common these days, since most watch brands have developed their own style of displaying dates and months. Calculating leap years, however, require an intricate mechanism, one that is able to count the passing of the years, and add one more day after three years in a row.
A calendar complication that includes all those four calendar features is called a perpetual calendar or, alternately, at least in Switzerland, a quantième perpétuel. The first watchmaker to offer that highly complex mechanism inside a wristwatch was none other than Patek Philippe, the last family-owned independent Genevan watch manufacturer. It was, to be precise, back in 1925 when the legendary house debuted the No. 97975 perpetual calendar timepiece. It not only accurately showed the date of different months (accurately moving between 30 and 31 days) but also automatically recognized leap years. Only one-time adjustment once every century was needed, because leap years, according to the Gregorian calendar, are skipped at the turn of a century (except for every 400 years). It was, simply put, groundbreaking.
THE BIRTH OF THE ANNUAL CALENDAR
There is an obvious gap between a simple date and month feature and a perpetual calendar. This is where the annual calendar complication comes into play. Unlike the complex perpetual calendar, it doesn’t count leap years, and therefore a quick adjustment every year is necessary from February to March.
The first annual calendar watch in the world, however, only came out in 1996, released by none other than Patek Philippe. It was decades after the perpetual calendar’s debut. One of the most pertinent questions would be: Why did it take so long?
Put simply, it takes intelligence and experience to create a new complication. More importantly, it takes a true pioneer to blaze a new trail. Patek Philippe was the one who brought perpetual calendar mechanisms into wristwatches, and it made sense that they were the one to tweak it and create the annual calendar mechanism. If you think it’s just a matter of taking one feature off the mechanism to create this feature, think again.
The real story behind this breakthrough began four years earlier, in 1992 when Philippe Stern, the owner and president of Patek Philippe, demanded that his engineers develop the annual calendar. Since the watch needs to be adjusted every year, the mechanism was expected to be user-friendly—a requirement that sometimes takes a backseat in modern horology.
After two years of research and development, the team presented their results that led to the filing of a patent for the principles and mechanical designs. Instead of following the perpetual calendar mechanism that uses rockers and levers, this annual calendar relies on revolving parts, heeding the need for practicality with regards to future adjustment. The unveiling of the Ref. 5035 Annual Calendar watch took place at the Basel Watch and Jewelry Show (now Baselworld) in 1996. That timepiece won the title of Watch of the Year in 1997 and became the brand’s bestselling complication.
THE MODERN REINTERPRETATION
This year, Patek Philippe premiered their latest interpretation of the annual calendar mechanism at the 2016 Baselworld fair. As a nod to the complication being only 20 years young, the new annual calendar piece, now Ref. 5396, looks fresh and stylish. Either in 18K rose or white gold, the 38.5mm timepiece fits the wrist elegantly. It gets it just right in terms of thickness at 11.2mm. The dial comes in dark grey sunburst or silvery white opaline, but with so many new endearing elements compared to the original 1996 piece.
For one, Breguet numerals replace the previous roman numerals, which allows easier time reading. The new day, date and month format frees up a lot of space on the dial and causes less clutter. The 24-hour counter with a moon phase in the middle at 6 o’clock serves as a day/night indicator. These elements, satisfyingly, add aesthetic charms that are as alluring as the history the timepiece represents. It is worth mentioning, too, that Patek Philippe’s perfection in craftsmanship extends to the transparent case-back, which showcases the in-house movement caliber 324 S QA LU 24 SH, with a 21K-yellow gold rotor.
CLOSER TO HOME
Nothing justifies splurging on a Patek Philippe quite like seeing the beauty of the watch up close in person. That is the particular reason why Cortina Watch, the leading retailer of luxury timepieces across Asia Pacific, opened the one and only Patek Philippe store in Indonesia at Plaza Indonesia in Jakarta.
Its grand opening back in 2015 was attended by none other than Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe. The 135sqm boutique exudes homey vibes, thanks to the use of warm-toned Birdseye maple and Indian rosewood throughout the interior. A staple piece that surely catches the eye of new patrons is the Patek Philippe Chandelier, a proud masterpiece developed and produced in collaboration with Baccarat.
The highlight of it all, nonetheless, is the Genevan manufacturer’s display of fine timepieces. Each collection carries a rich history and exemplifies the best out of Swiss watchmaking traditions. Without a doubt, the Ref. 5396 is among the most desired novelties in the boutique. It is part of the family of the first annual calendar watch the world has to offer, and, craftsmanship-wise, the Ref. 5396 is incomparable.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Caliber 2016. Get your copy here.