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Throwback Sundays: Six of the best Perpetual Calendar Watches

by Peter Chong on February 23, 2020

Next Saturday, we will see the arrival of the 29th of February. And event which occurs only once every 4 years, and one which a perpetual calendar watch takes into consideration. We highlight six of the best perpetual calendar watches in this article.

The perpetual calendar perhaps one of the most interesting and useful complication. While it lacks visual animation on the dial that a tourbillon provides, or the tactical feel of activating a chronograph, but what it offers is a utility which is just plain practical. The date takes care of itself, as long as one keeps the watch wound. Short months, the very short month of February, the long months, and even leap years are taken into consideration by the mechanism.

Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual

Thus the landscape of perpetual calendars is very densely populated. All the majors have an offering which feature the perpetual calendar. From the traditional maisons, we have, by way of examples, and at the risk of cherry picking, offerings from Patek Philippe Perpetual Ref. 5320g, Blancpain, Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual, Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Perpetual Ultra Thin, IWC Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar Digital Date Month. All perfectly valid perpetual calendars. But the exercise today is to feature what we think is the best of the best. And to rise to the top of the crop to be featured, requires a bit more ingenuity than a standard perpetual calendar. And ease of operation is one of the key criteria we used. Here is our list:

Moser Perpetual

We start off with what we think is probably the most advanced perpetual calendar in the market today. The Moser Perpetual 1. The movement was the brainchild of Andreas Strehler, and put into series production by the team at Moser. Moser debuted the Perpetual in 2005, and currently makes several versions of the Perpetual 1. We reviewed the Endeavour in a white gold case and their signature fumé dial in detail, see link above for details.

Moser Endeavour Perpetual Calendar, in a white gold case, with the signature Moser fume dial in blue.

What makes it special? The dial side is a model of simplicity. It looks like only the date and time is displayed, but all the essential elements of a perpetual calendar are present. A small arrow hand from the central pivot indicates the month. And the leap year cycle indicator, needed only for setting the date, is located in the movement side, case back.

The calendar display jumps directly and instantly from the end of the month to the first, without fast forwarding through superfluous dates between the last day of the month (which may be 28, 29, or 30 depending on the month) to the 1st. Moser calls this their Flash Calendar system. Correction for all indications when needed, for example when the watch has stopped for a while is done via the crown for both forwards and backwards.

MB&F LM Perpetual

Next comes the MB&F LM Perpetual which was introduced in 2015. A project which Max Büsser once said he would never undertake is the perpetual calendar. He opined that it was a complication which was too easy to misunderstand and misuse. But when Stephen McDonnell approached him with the idea of a perpetual calendar which uses the crown for all adjustments, and which will not jam or break if adjusted backwards, Max was intrigued. And set about to design a watch in the Legacy Machine collection to house this innovative movement.

MB&F LM Perpetual in platinum.

In the MB&F Perpetual Calendar, a “mechanical processor” consisting of a set of discs is used. The processor takes the default number of days of the month as 28, and add extra days as required by each individual month. This ensures the display shows the correct calendar which skips directly the the 1st of the next month and does not display the redundant days.

As the system is based on a planetary cam, it also allows quick setting of the year to correctly display the four year leap year cycle, while in a classical perpetual calendar, the entire 4 year disc needed to be scrolled through as the mechanism will not allow reversal of the year. To reach the next cycle, up to 47 months needed to be scrolled through.

Coupled with the visual aesthetics of the MB&F, and we have a magnificent watch. Beautiful and complicated. The latest edition was just released recently, details here.

Ulysse Nardin Perpetual Ludwig

Perhaps the earliest attempts to re-think the classical perpetual calendar began with the Ulysse Nardin Perpetual Ludwig in 1996. This was probably the first perpetual calendar which allowed the owner to use the crown to manipulate the calendar display. Here Ludwig Oeschlin re-imagined the perpetual calendar using a system of planetary gears, eliminating the traditional grand levier. This allowed the calendar system to be adjusted at will in both forwards and backwards directions at all times. Even during changeover. See an explanation on how it works on Timezone.com here. And an experiential review from an owner at Purists.com here.

The dial remains fully legible, despite that it carries all the traditional indications – large date, day of week, month, and even the year in addition to the hour, minute and seconds hands.

Greubel Forsey Quantième Pérpétuel à Équation

We decided to include the Gruebel Forsey because the watch offers a new way of thinking that has eluded other watchmakers. Instead of a mechanism purpose built to show the indications of the perpetual calendar, the Gruebel Forsey is based on a more flexible concept of a mechanical computational device.

All the indicators are centrally coordinated via the mechanical computer, called the Computeur Mécanique. The system is a Greubel Forsey invention which comprise of a complex stack of discs and wheels arranged coaxially. The discs and wheels can be designed to show any desired display, and is totally flexible and programmable this way.

Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation, on the author’s wrist. Magnificent timepiece.

For the Quantième Perpétuel à Équation, debuted in 2014, the mechanical computer is programmed to show all the indications of the perpetual calendar: the day, date, month and four digit year as well as the seasons, the equinoxes, the solstices, and the equation of time. All settings can be corrected via the crown bi-directionally. This system is quite similar to the one utilized by Stephen McDonnell in the MB&F LM Perpetual.

The watch is delivered with the usual Greubel Forsey accoutrements. Including their signature inclined tourbillon, ultra high specification finissage, and an equally heart stopping price tag (S$1,075,350 if you must know).

The Citizen Chronomaster AQ 4050

We come to a quartz perpetual calendar next. What. quartz? Quartz perpetual calendars are a dime a dozen. Adding a perpetual calendar to a quartz movement is a few lines of code to be executed by referencing a calendar table.

But The Citizen Chronomaster is not an ordinary quartz movement. The Citizen Chronomaster is not only packed with many clever features, but it features a mechanical display system with perpetual calendar with an instant change date system. The dial layout is simplicity itself, but displays all the required elements for the perpetual calendar, including the four year display. Our detailed review goes into detail how this is read.

The Citizen Chronomaster is also available in numerous dial colour combinations as well as the washi paper dial version in our detailed review.

We have also waxed lyrical over The Citizen Chronomaster in our detailed review, and remain enthusiastic about this remarkable watch. Its accomplishments are almost too many to list, but among the more impressive are the washi traditional paper dial, the high precision quartz movement which keeps an accuracy of no more than 5 seconds a year, a magnificent artisanal hand assembled and hand finished movement and case.

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar

We come to the final item on the list, and certainly not the least of them. The Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar. Magnificent looking watch. At first glance, looks like a Lange 1. Or rather, more like the Daymatic, which is the automatic version of the Lange 1 with the time dial on the left, so it peeks out of the sleeve to reveal the time. But wait…there is an added indicator ring around the main dial. This is the Month ring, which moves instantaneously at the end of every month, jumping one click forward…as do all the other day/date indicators. At 9 o’clock one spies the day of week indicator. And of course the outsized date, with a small aperture at 6 o’clock to show the 4 year cycle. Beautiful, elegant. Uncrowded…and perpetual calendar too.

The Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar

The perpetual calendar also brings to mind an interesting anecdote…during the unveiling of the Langematic Perpetual in 2001, I was unimpressed with the dial layout. I expressed this to Günter Blümlein. Too common…too similar to the Patek Philippe Ref. 3940, I said to him. I then challenged him to make a perpetual calendar, but to have it in a Lange 1 style dial. “Impossible”, he declared…and went on to explain why technically it is impossible to do so. But yet on SIHH 2012, Lange unveiled the Lange 1 with a perpetual calendar. Mission accomplished!

Concluding thoughts

Is the list complete? In every sense of the word – NO. Is the list even representative of what is out there in the landscape of perpetual calendars? The answer is again NO. This list is an accumulation of the elites. Only perpetual calendars which rise over the mundane are included, and with only space for 6, we needed to exercise our judgement on what makes the cut. And as with most things where judgement is called upon, this makes a rather personal list of what we perceive as the best the genre has to offer. Tell us if you think we have missed your favourite perpetual calendar, and why it should be included.

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