Looking through our Throwback Sunday articles, we noticed that we have not made recommendations for this rather popular, high end combination of complications in a watch before. So today, we rectify this. Our recommendations for the 6 best watches with perpetual calendar and chronograph.
Throwback Sunday: Six recommendations for a perpetual calendar chronograph
Yes, it’s an esoteric and big budget Sunday, as we celebrate with this recommendations for a perpetual calendar chronograph. This is an interesting combination of complications – as the perpetual calendar is a complication which measures long intervals of time – years of precision required, and the chronograph is one designed to measure short intervals of time, typically tens of minutes.
The complication perhaps owes its historical roots to the now legendary Patek Philippe Ref. 1518, first seen way back in 1941. In a historical release just shy of 10 years after the Stern family’s acquisition of the brand, Patek Philippe released their first mass-produced Perpetual Calendar Ref. 1526, as well as their first Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 1518, simultaneously. One commentator – The Italian Watch Spotter remarked, “That’s like your favourite artist dropping 2 albums on the same day.”
Indeed it was. What a remarkable duo of watches. But of course the interest of this article is in the Ref. 1518. This was the first time, the wrist watch world had seen this combination of complications. And it was a thing of beauty. The Ref. 1518 was produced from 1941 to 1955, including one owned by the King of Romania. Auction results of the 4 examples made in stainless steel show the incredible sale prices attained. One recent example in 2016 was sold for CHF 11,000,000 in the Philips Auction.
With this backdrop, let’s press on to the list of our recommendations for 6 of the best, currently still available at prices with change left over from the CHF 11M of the SS Ref. 1518.
Though this list is constructed with no particular order, we place the Patek Philippe on top of the list as the grandfather of the genre. Our pick from the grande maison is the Ref. 5270J, in yellow gold, released in 2020. The Ref. 5270 has been on the Patek catalog since 2011, and our esteemed writer Dr. Frank Chuo has one in his personal collection since 2015, in a series known as the third generation. His article, linked, discussed the differences between the generations of Ref. 5270. See also this year’s new green dial version here.
Everything about the Ref. 5270 shouts class and exudes the magnificent confidence of a top top level work of art. From the highly legible dial layout (albeit only in good light), to the seductive feel of the chronograph actuation for start, stop and reset, to the gorgeous case work and the very innovative and superbly constructed and finished Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q. Everything is at the very top level of the haute de gamme.
Perhaps the closest competitor the the Patek Ref. 5270 is the Lange Datograph Perpetual. Hailing from the German city of Glashütte, this combination of the game changing Datograph with a perpetual calendar is a stunning watch. The watch was released in 2005. It was equipped with the then “new” in-house manufactured escapement with inertia weights. Lange first made their in-house production of the escapement with their own hairspring begining with the Zeitwerk released in 2004. The initial reception was cool, and the reference was taken off the catalog for a while only to return with a vengeance in 2010. The re-release was essentially the same watch, but with minor facelifts to the dial. But it achieved the great commercial success that escaped its predecessor.
Finishing of the elements – dial, hands, case, movement is as usual for Lange also top grade, and loses little to the competition. The Lange L952.1 movement is perhaps a bit more showy in finishing style than its Swiss brethren, but equally competent, and there is little to choose at the top of this game. The feel of the chronograph actuations is marked by the smooth and positive feedback achieved with each click taking an equal amount of light force to engage. The instantaneous jumping chronograph minute totaliser is another spectacle to be observed in the Datograph Perpetual.
Next up, remembering the randomness of this list, is the VC Traditionelle Perperpetual Calendar Chronograph. Our pick is this year’s edition in platinum with a gorgeous salmon dial, as the watch already exists in platinum with a anthracite dial, and in pink gold with a cream coloured dial.
The watch is rather large, as VC Traditionelles go, measuring 43mm, but remains comfortable on the wrist, thanks to the curvature formed by the lugs which allows the timepiece to hug the wrist. The movement is the magnificently laid out and finished Caliber 1142 QP. Movement finishing is par excellence. And the actuation of the pushers is also at the top of the game – light, smooth with good positive feedback. The dial layout is very clear and highly legible. And the small touch of the “humanised” moon’s face is a delight to behold, albeit only once a month.
What is a bit glaring to our admittedly very critical eyes, is that the movement is perhaps a tad too small for the large case size. This leads to the design of the sub-dials to a bit cluttered in the middle. And we wonder if it might be better to encase the movement as a smaller watch. Perhaps 40mm. But we digress, as mentioned, the movement is rather exquisitely laid out and finished. And the rest of the watch – the case, dial and hands are superbly well finished, in accordance to very high VC standards. Ne plus ultra.
The RD Symphatie is from the early days of the brand. Mr. Roger Dubuis started out on his own circa 1995 and was at the helm as a watchmaker and creator. Prior to independence, Roger had spent considerable time in his watchmaking career in the Patek Philippe Grandes Complications workshop. And when he struck out on his own, the ideas he applied are clearly a reflection in the tradition of Patek Philippe. The choice of a Lemania base movement is one such example.
The standout feature of this watch, even on first glance is the Symphatie case. A complex shape of curves and sharp points – an angular case, with elegant elongated lugs. This wonderfully shaped case also carried a front crystal which is a tracing of the same shape. The first generation Symphatie carries a sapphire crystal echoing the complex shape of the case, while the second generation ones simplifies the watch with a round sapphire crystal, and eventually discontinuing the wildly shaped aesthetics of the complex case for a round one and finally discontinuing classically designed watches altogether for the current aesthetic of the Excalibur series. Which is a pity, as the original Symphatie case with the form crystal is ever so charming and unique.
The movement is the Roger Dubuis Cal. RD 5637, which is built on a base of the time tested the Lemania 2310. The bi-retrograde perpetual calendar module that was developed for Harrry Winston was used over the base. The Lemania is the same base movement as what Patek used as the CH27-70Q for their perpetual calendar chronograph Ref. 3970 (successor to the Ref. 1518 and predecessor to the Ref. 5970. (the Ref. 5270 listed above carried Patek’s first in-house chronograph caliber in combination to their perpetual calendar module) and many of their later chronographs until they created their own. Movement finishing is top drawer, and chronograph activation feel is superb.
The unique, complex and very beautiful case shape and execution makes this an icon. And that dial. The layout is near perfect to display the complications of both a chronograph and a perpetual calendar. Made more difficult by a black canvas, but the watch remains rather legible. And top that with a beautifully executed movement.
The IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph has come a long way. First introduced in 1985, the Da Vinci series is a kind of a step child of the IWC family. An early example of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Rattrapante Chronograph is reviewed by our Chester Lau, who owned the watch in platinum. The original Da Vinci was an acquired taste, with its funky lug design. It was designed by Hano Burtscher inspired by Da Vinci’s circular sketches of the harbor fort in Piombino from 1499.
Our pick is the 2017 released Da Vinci Ref. IW392101 with revised aesthetics. Gone are the flaps that hold the straps which fitted to the case, and replaced with a more traditional looking articulating lugs fitted over the plate at the top and bottom of the case. The overall look is more traditional, with the benefit of the articulation provided by the lugs giving good wear comfort for the large 43mm case.
The movement is a modern IWC designed and manufactured C. 89630 featuring a column wheel and flyback. A new perpetual calendar plate is used to keep with the dial layout of the 1985 variant. Activation of the chronograph is smooth with strong feedback, and judged to be perhaps a bit heavier than the others in this list, but still very pleasurable in actual use.
The L.U.C Perpetual Chrono is an offering from Chopard to pick up the gauntlet of the perpetual chronograph. The design is somewhat bolder, and less classical than the others in this list, through the use of thick bold Roman numerals for the hour markers and a two tone dial aesthetic in blue and silver.
The Calibre 03.10-L. is a gem of a movement. Constructed in-house by Chopard, it is built around a vertical clutch system controlled by the column wheel. Activation of the pushers is smooth yet firm, and provides a satisfying click with each push. In terms of layout aesthetics visible from the sapphire glass caseback, the movement perhaps loses out to the spectacular view offered by Lange and Patek, but certainly holds its own in terms of excellence in finishing.
This is the high end. At this level, we think there are no losers. Choose any on this list, or any others you might fancy. They are all winners. A watchmaker who is able to offer this level of complication by combining two classical ones already qualifies them for consideration. The selection we have offered here is based purely on the author’s own biases for the classical aesthetic. Tempered by a preoccupation of not only with the aesthetics, but also in the construction of the movement and perhaps even more important – the finishing. What are your thoughts if you were in the market for one of these complicated gems of the industry.