Written By: Vahid Moradi
Even the simplest wristwatch is a piece of complicated machinery that leverages hundreds of moving parts to keep accurate time. And since the modern-day watch was invented around the middle of the 15th century, these familiar timepieces have only gotten more and more advanced through the ages. Today, there are endless options for different types of watches, from luxury to functionality, and even both.
Among the most advanced of all is the perpetual calendar watch. A marvel of ingenious craftsmanship, perpetual calendar watches take timekeeping to a new level: They’re capable of keeping time pristinely, for far more than the hour of the day. Whether you're a watch enthusiast or not, it's not hard to miss how special the perpetual calendar wristwatch is to be able to indicate the date, day, month, and moon phase as well as take into account the leap year cycle. But what’s even more impressive is that they don’t require wearers to reset them for 100 years.
While other watches need to be manually reset to remain in sync with the minutes, hours, and days that make up our lives, perpetual calendar watches continue to tick in tandem with “real-time” for a lifetime. Let’s take a glance at the history of these magnificent timepieces to discover just what makes them so special.
A Brief History of Touchless Timekeeping
The perpetual calendar watch was patented by the Swiss clock and watchmaker Patek Philippe in 1925 and refined a few years later by the Swiss-French luxury watchmaker Breguet in 1929.1 Both Philippe and Breguet were working from a model of the first perpetual calendar, which was invented by Thomas Mudge in 1762 (and is still ticking away today in an exhibit at the British Museum).
A feat of mathematics, engineering, and artisanship, the makers of perpetual calendar watches then and now rely on dizzyingly complex craftsmanship to ensure these timepieces work properly. But from the first luxury watch craftsmanship of the Thomas Mudge, Breguet, and Patek Philippe perpetual calendar timepiece, it has come a long way. Today, some of the biggest names in watchmaking, from Bulgari to IWC Schaffhausen, manufacture perpetual calendar watches in a range of styles and designs.
What Makes Perpetual Calendar Watches Special?
It may be easier to understand how remarkable perpetual calendar watches are if you compare them with standard calendar watches.
Standard calendar watches are characterized by:
- A much simpler construction
- A much simpler watch face
- Fewer ways of measuring time
- The frequent need to manually adjust them (like when a month has fewer than 31 days, or during a leap year)
By contrast, perpetual calendar watches don’t require regular maintenance to keep time. They’re built with incredibly complex mechanics that allow them self-adjust and correct the various anomalies inherent in the Gregorian calendar (leap years and varying month durations among them).
That said, perpetual calendar watches defy time entirely—you’ll need to adjust them manually around a century after you’ve purchased one (so be sure to set an alarm as a reminder!).1
How Do Perpetual Calendar Watches Work?
If you were to open a perpetual calendar watch and take a look inside, you’d see an array of articulated gears, wheels, and levers that enable this horological marvel to keep accurate time.
The overlapping watch parts that dwell inside perpetual calendar watches work synergistically to create a mechanical memory of 4 years (1,461 days).2 And while each watch functions the same, every model possesses a wholly unique interior construction that accommodates the various peculiarities of the Gregorian calendar. In many models, some gears lay completely dormant until they’re triggered every 4 years.1
Additionally, many perpetual calendar watches also feature a prized component known as a tourbillon, an 18th-century invention that’s used in many watch styles as a hedge against inaccuracies. Tourbillons primarily work to:
- Counteract physical forces like gravity, which can throw a mechanical watch out of sync
- Lend a pleasant, balanced weight to the timepiece
- Provide a beautiful aesthetic accent when viewed from the watch’s face
Perpetual Calendar Watches: Design
From a design perspective, perpetual calendar watches’ variety of dials and displays are an opportunity for watchmakers to experiment with different styles.
For example, over the years, watchmakers have slimmed down the perpetual watch’s slightly bulky silhouette. Others are constantly reinventing the appearance of perpetual calendar watches by variegating elements like:
Most of the majesty of a perpetual calendar comes from the range of information that the face displays. Whereas your standard, everyday wristwatch can tell you the time of day, perpetual calendar watches go much further.
Depending on the specific watch, perpetual calendar watches are capable of keeping track of the following chronological units:
- Moon phases
As mentioned before, it's also built with a leap year indicator to track the correct date even on a leap year.
You needn’t be a Horlogerie enthusiast to appreciate a perpetual calendar watch’s rich reticulation of time. Whether you keep to the clock by the minute or the moon, it’s a beautiful piece to wear on your wrist and treasure for a lifetime.
Uncover More Luxury with CJ Charles
Perpetual calendar watches set the gold standard in timepieces, and CJ Charles in fine jewelry, gemstones, and watches. Our catalog features the most distinguished brands in watchmaking in enduring designs that have been celebrated throughout the centuries. Ready to find your best perpetual calendar watch from CJ Charles?
When you invest in a piece from the CJ Charles showroom, you’re guaranteed a legacy staple with a lifetime of support and repairs from our expert specialists. Find a timeless model to admire for generations, browse the CJ Charles collection online today.
Written By: Vahid Moradi
Vahid Moradi’s lifelong passion, dedication, and commitment for the jewelry industry led him to become the respected owner of CJ Charles Jewelers in 1988. From that moment, Moradi’s single focus in business was to become recognized as the pinnacle of value and world-class quality in the his Community. Over 34 years later, CJ Charles continues to grow and thrive as a successful, family-owned business that consistently provides exceptional service to all their clientele.
- The Perpetual Calendar Watch Represents the Height of Watchmaking. What is It? https://www.gq.com/story/watch-glossary-perpetual-calendar
- Haute Horlogerie. Perpetual Calendar Watches. https://www.hautehorlogerie.org/en/watches-and-culture/encyclopaedia/watches/complication-watches/d/s/perpetual-calendar-watches/#
- The Watch Box. Perpetual Calendar Watches. https://www.thewatchbox.com/blog/invention-of-the-wristwatch.html