Ever since the first watches were created, there has been a desire to add complications. Moon phases and calendar functions were among the first, and as pocket watches and later, wristwatches appeared on the scene, these complications were implemented very quickly. As the moon’s influence in modern-day life has diminished for many people, knowing the day, date, and month has become more important, which in part explains their continued popularity.
There are many ways to implement a calendar function in wristwatches. The most basic and popular is simply showing the date through a window on the dial or by hand. This latter is often called the pointer date. A full or full calendar gives you additional information. There are quite a few varieties these days, but the most classic combines day and date indicators with the moon phase as a subdial or window. These watches often have a classic appeal, with the downside that they must be manually corrected at the end of each non-31-day month.
While it may seem like a small effort to do so, technical ingenuity required the creation of a perpetual calendar that automatically corrects for months with less than 31 days, as well as for leap years. In 1762, British watchmaker Thomas Mudge first created this issue for a pocket watch. It never appeared on a wristwatch until Patek Philippe sold one of their perpetual pocket watch movements in a 34.4mm case with a leather strap and recased it. It was to American watch collector Thomas Emery in 1927. Other brands soon followed, and nowadays most high-end watch brands have one or more perpetual calendars in their collection.
The mechanical complexity of the perpetual calendar made it expensive rather than one of the most coveted complications. In 1996, again Patek Philippe launched the Annual Calendar. Part of the mechanism that makes the perpetual calendar so complex is dedicated to correcting for leap years. With an annual calendar, you only need to manually adjust the watch date once a year in February. This gives it a lot of advantage over a full or complete calendar, while being much less expensive than a perpetual calendar watch. Although Patek Philippe patented this new complication, many brands have found different solutions to the same problem, and as a result, there are now quite a few annual calendar watches to choose from.
It is clear when we look at recent introductions that the three different versions are very much alive and relevant. With Omega expanding its collection of annual calendars in the Constellation Globemaster, Frédéric Constant is doing the same for their Highlife Perpetual Calendar manufacture, while Vacheron Constantin has launched an open-worked version of its Traditional Complete Calendar. Which would you choose?
THis article comes from the Watchtime archives and was originally published in February 2022.