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Throwback Sunday: Six Unassuming Watches with a Secret (Complication), from Our Archives

"I've Got a Secret and I Can't Explain"
by Robin Lim on May 19, 2019
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When it comes to watches with complications, most of the people would like to be seen wearing one that shows people the functions and complications that he or she had paid for. After all, he or she must have probably spent quite a fair bit of money on the timepiece.

However, we do think a bit differently. What if we turn the equation around entirely, and we look at discreet watches that have hidden their complications away. For example, a tourbillon that doesn’t have the tourbillon cage rotating on the dial-side, or an unassuming timepiece that features interesting complications such as the seconde morte mechanism?

Call us naughty, but we certainly love to imagine the shock on the faces of the people who realised that a three-hand watch actually has a tourbillon hidden at the back of the watch. What are some of such watches that we think will blow the minds of other collectors away? Let’s find out!

Jaeger LeCoultre Geophysic True Second

We begin the article with the elegant Geophysic True Second, from Jaeger LeCoultre.

The Geophysic True Second is a timepiece with an interesting history. The collection can trace it roots back to 1958, in which the collection was created to celebrate JLC’s 125th Anniversary and the world’s first “International Geophysical Year”. Production for the collection is scarce, it was only manufactured for two years. It is said that only around 1,230 pieces from the original collection were produced in its short life span.

JLC brought back the collection a few years back, and the True Second is one of the more intriguing pieces in the collection. The watch is fitted with JLC’s Calibre 770, and its main highlight is the seconde morte mechanism. This is similar to the movement of the seconds hand in a quartz movement, in which the hand advances only once a second. However, achieving this from a mechanical timepiece is not an easy feat – more information on this particular movement and mechanism can be found in our review article of the watch.

Prices begin at S$13,300 for the stainless steel version, and we reckon that this is an interesting and relatively modestly priced piece (for a mechanical watch with this complication) to include in any collection.

A Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Pour le Mérite

The Pour le Mérite collection from A Lange & Söhne is considered to be the pinnacle of watchmaking for the Glashütte-based watch manufacturer. They are considered to be some of the most well-made, stunning, and complicated watches to be produced by the maison, and they are certainly one of the most desirable series of watches to collect for the longest time.

The 40.5mm Richard Lange Pour le Mérite is one of the five watches from the exquisite collection. While it might be the least complicated one (it is the only one without a tourbillon regulator), but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Beneath the stunning enamel dial lies an incredibly finished movement that houses a fusée-and-chain mechanism. The mechanism, which is made up of 636 components in this particular watch, allows the constant force to be supplied to the escapement as the mainspring (or fusée) unwinds itself. This prevents the loss of torque from the conventional mainsprings, which may affect the accuracy of the timepiece as it progresses towards the tail-end of its power reserve.

The newer Richard Lange Pour le Mérite, which comes with white gold case and a black finish silver dial, is priced at US$82,500 (approximately S$113,636). However, the original version with the white enamel dial (as seen in the picture above) has long gone out of production. You’d be lucky if you happen to find an example of that in the secondary market – and if your finances permits, you’d better not let that slip away from your grasp.

Patek Philippe 10 Day Tourbillon (Reference 5101P)

Patek Philippe Ref 5101 in platinum with salmon dial

The Patek Philippe 10 Day Tourbillon, Reference 5101P, is one of the most interesting pieces from the Geneva-based manufacturer. On the surface, the Ref. 5101P may appear to be a delightful Art Deco style timepiece. But there is so much more to that.

The first indication that the Ref 5101P is a special watch lies in the salmon dial. While the 10 day power reserve indicator points towards an impressive timepiece with a mammoth power reserve, the sub-dial at the 6 o’clock position indicates an interesting complication. On the top-half of the sub-dial, Patek Philippe had stamped the word “Tourbillon”. But where’s the tourbillon? Interestingly, the tourbillon is fitted at the back of the movement – and it is only visible via the caseback. This makes the timepiece very discreet, and it also allows the watch to have a relatively simple and clean dial design.

Now discontinued, the Ref. 5101 can be occasionally found in the secondary markets with an estimated price of US$170,000 (approximately S$234,158) onwards. This particular Patek Philippe is extravagant due to its rarity – but those who, will certainly know what it is worth.

Voutilainen Détente Escapement Tourbillon

Following the Patek Philippe 5101P, we have yet another sublime timepiece that features a tourbillon that is hidden at the back of the timepiece. Cue the stunning Voutilainen Détente Escapement Tourbillon Wristwatch.

Every Voutilainen timepiece is special, and there are no disputes on that. But there are some there are slightly more special than the others, and the Détente Escapement Tourbillon Wristwatch is one of such watches. The watch – as its name suggests – features a pivoted détente escapement. This form of escapement requires almost no oiling, and it is considered to be one of the most accurate escapement for balance wheel timepieces. It also features a gigantic tourbillon cage, which measures at a staggering 16mm. The finishing, notably, is stunning as well. We certainly do not expect anything less from one of the grand masters of watchmaking.

This particular watch is a pièce unique, and it is a project that took 10 years to fully materialised. The Voutilainen Détente Escapement Tourbillon Wristwatch is certainly a special timepiece, and there is no doubt that this is truly one of the masterpieces from the well-loved Finnish watchmaker.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater 1731

If looks can be deceiving, then perhaps the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater 1731 might just be the epitome of it.

First launched in 2013, the Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater 1731 remains one of the thinnest minute repeater watches that is currently available in the market. The ability of the maison to produce such a thin minute repeater amazes us, but we were also equally enthralled by how simple and classy this watch is. For an untrained eye, the watch looks pretty much like a well-made dress watch. But for the more discerning collectors, they would have realised that there is a sliding actuator at the left side of the case. That is the activate the minute repeater function, and it is said that the Patrimony produces one of the harmonious sounding tone amongst all the other watches with the similar complication.

Priced at S$633,400 for the platinum version, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Ultra-thin Minute Repeater 1731 is certainly out of the league of many collectors. However, this is a truly magical timepiece – and perhaps one that might take a long time to beat, in terms of its design, execution, and sonics.

Philippe Dufour Simplicity

We round up the article with another superlative timepiece: Philippe Dufour Simplicity.

The Simplicity, as its name suggests, is a simple timepiece. It is a three-hand watch, without any complications to speak of. But what makes this particular watch special is its incredible details. The pièce de résistance of this piece lies in the movement, and more specifically the superlative finishing. There are a multitude of hand-finishing techniques were applied, and that includes black polishing, interior angling, and chamfering. The double assembly method is also applied to ensure that the final finish isn’t marred by the assembly and adjustment process. This is dedication at its finest.

We understand that the Simplicity is discontinued, and its last known retail price is CHF89,000 (approximately S$121,273). We have, however, seen some of the pieces being priced upwards of US$200,000 (approximately S$275,480), and even then it is rarely seen or available in the secondary markets. If there is just one watch that you’d keep for the rest of your life, we will surely bet our money on the Simplicity. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Concluding Thoughts

We like surprises, and all of these watches certainly have an element of surprise in them. Most of these pieces might look simple, but what sets them apart is the fact that they feature either (i) an interesting complication, or (ii) a movement that is simply finished to the highest level.

Ironically, it is their discreetness that makes them special. We are not too sure about others, but seeing a Patek Phillipe Ref 5101P with a hidden tourbillon certainly excites us more than an equivalent with a large cut-out on the dial to display the tourbillon. Don’t get us wrong: We like tourbillons, but the element of surprise and discreetness in the Ref 5101P, for instance, makes it a little bit more special. The same goes for the rest of the watches that we have selected today.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you fancy watches with such hidden “secrets”, or would you rather have a timepiece that proudly displays its complications and capabilities to the everyone? Let us know in the comments section below.

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