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Throwback Sundays: Six (more) recommendations for the Annual Calendar

by Peter Chong on June 2, 2019
Watches

The Annual Calendar was an attempt by Patek Philippe to create a calendar which is less expensive to manufacture than their famous Perpetual Calendars. In 1997, they introduced the Ref. 5035 with the world premiere of the Annual Calendar. Today, we look at six of the best.

We did a recommendation article back in 2015 on the Annual Calendars, so we thought it is time we updated it with fresh thoughts from another author.

The Annual Calendar

Ironically, though Patek Philippe’s initial intent was to create a less complicated Perpetual Calendar, the Caliber 315 S-QA Annual Calendar movement was more difficult than a regular perpetual calendar. For starters, it even has more parts: 316 to the perpetual’s 275. The increase is in part due to a re-designed calendar plate that employs a series of cams and common pinions as opposed to the more lever-dependant perpetual construction. A study of how the C.315 S-QA is constructed is found in Walt Odet’s article on Timezone.

The parts of which make up the Patek Philippe Annual Calendar.

What it lacks from the perpetual is the leap year indicator and the ability to account for the short month of February. Hence the name Annual Calendar, as it needs to be reset once every year. This reset has to occur at the end of every February, while the Perpetual Calendar continues to show correct dates even for leap years; most requiring a one day reset once every century. (This is due to the peculiarity of the Julian calendar system. I leave you to work it out why this is so).

The Patek Philippe Ref. 5396 facelifted with Breguet numerals in 2016.

Though perhaps no less expensive to manufacture, the Ref. 5035 carries a price tag of approximately 65% of the Ref. 3940, then Patek’s perpetual calendar. I remember vividly when the Ref. 5035 retail price was circa S$16,000, way back in 1997/8.

With that in mind, here goes the list of the six Annual Calendars we recommend. In no particular order.

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Regulator Ref. 5235R

This is the latest iteration from Patek Philippe, with a slight twist – the Regulator style dial. The result is a clean look, though perhaps less intuitive to read than the regular one. The movement is the Calibre 31-260 REG QA, with automatic winding via a beautiful micro rotor.

At CHF 45,700 in rose gold, it is perhaps rather pricey, but this a Patek we are talking about. Design is excellent. Legibility is very good. It is elegant with beautiful aesthetics, and it sits on the wrist very comfortably. The finishing is top drawer, in line with other Patek calibers. And in addition to the immaculate design and execution, the brand’s history and secondary market performance is hors catégorie .

A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Annual Calendar

Hot on the heels of the Patek is the German rival Lange. The 1815 Annual Calendar is a strong contender. At €37,500 in either pink or white gold, the Lange comes in at a bit less expensive than the earlier mentioned Patek 5235.

The Lange 1815 Annual Calendar, shown in white gold and pink gold.

The dial layout is very traditional, as Langes tend to be, following the time tested layout of most perpetual calendars with the ommission of the leap year indicator. The result is a clear, legible dial. The clean elegant lines with a teutonic inclination are typical of Lange watches, and the build quality is second to none. The Lange L051.3 movement is hand wound and shows the characteristics of the 3/4 plate which is superbly finished.

We think, a rather competent proposition to the Annual Calendar sweepstakes.

IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” Ref. 502701

IWC combines their popular Big Pilot with their equally popular “Le Petit Prince” theme with the annual calendar for a hattrick of sorts, in a spectacular fashion, released in SIHH 2016.

IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince”, with the typical blue dial of the edition, and the now standard Santoni strap.

The magnificent blue dial with apertures for the day, date and month indicators free up dial space for the Power Reserve and the subsidiary second hands. The IWC also features the image of the little prince staring in amazement at the sky on the case back. The drawing is a cute and fitting tribute to St. Exupery’s own sketches.

At S$49,000 in red gold (limited edition 250 pieces), the IWC also features a larger 46mm case, which may appeal to some.

Rolex Sky Dweller

From the Rolex corner comes the mighty Sky Dweller. The most complicated watch made by the largest watchmaker in the world. The Sky Dweller features a novel way of setting the calendar via the bezel, in a system which Rolex calls the Command Ring. The Sky Dweller also features a second timezone.

The dial layout is a model of clarity and simplicity. Legibility is top notch, and the watch bears all the signatures of the traditional Rolex, from the fluted bezel to the markers with Chromalight. And the cyclops over the date. As usual, the build quality is an outstanding example of industrial manufacturing.

The Rolex Sky Dweller in Rolesor White Gold bezel and stainless steel case with the blue dial.

Now available in all materials from Everose, White Gold, Yellow Gold and also in Rolesor (White Gold bezel with Stainless Steel Bracelet and Yellow Gold bezel with Stainless Steel Bracelet with Yellow Gold links), there are many options in the Sky Dweller. The most popular being the Rolesor WG/SS version with a blue dial which retails for S$ 19,340. Precious metal versions are priced from S$ 53,000 to S$65,000.

Blancpain Villeret Annual Calendar GMT

From the workshops in Les Brassus comes Blancpain with this very pretty face: the Villeret Annual Calendar GMT. The clean white dial partners flawlessly with the applied silver hour markers and hands for a pristine look. The case at 40 mm in diameter is not too chunky or lean. Case finishing and construction is also excellent. The bezel is the classical step up design and pairs magnificently with the lightly tapered lugs for a polished and beautiful aesthetic.

As usual, the Blancpain is equipped with a Manufacture Blancpain in-house caliber self-winding 6054F with a 3 day power reserve and a large double date design. Well designed and finished, the Blancpain retails at US$27,300 in stainless steel case. We think it is a rather good value, especially when the gold versions are about double that.

Longines Master Collection Annual Calendar

And last, and in one particular way, proudly the least, though in many ways not is the Longines Master Annual Calendar. It certainly takes the prize for being least expensive. This Annual Calendar was a nice surprise in the Longines booth in Baselworld 2018. Coming in at only S$3,350, the watch sports a handsome, and highly legible dial layout. The dial is textured by stamping it with a barleycorn motif and a sloped rehaut carries the minute markers, leaving the dial design a nice visual elegance.

Longines Grand Collection Annual Calendar oblique view with crown
A simple steel case with polished surfaces that fits excellent on the wrist due to reduced size. The case is voluminous enough to look good even on a bigger wrist.

The movement is the L897.2, designed by ETA under the code A31.L81 especially for Longines. The base movement used for development is the widely known ETA2892-A2, revised and with annual calendar module. The 64 hour power reserve is also rather impressive.

Understandably at this price point, the Longines only offer machine finishing, but the watch promises reliable operations, and we think its a good compromise. And a good choice to venture into the world of complications.

Concluding Thoughts

There you have it. Our latest thoughts on the Annual Calendar. Many of the recommendations we made in the first edition are still valid, and we still like them as choices. This edition is an opportunity to add newer watches introduced after the first article was written, and we think contain some watches which will be come Annual Calendar icons. One such icon is the Rolex Sky Dweller. The other is the inexpensive Longines. But all are good watches. What would you chose for an annual calendar?

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