One of the favorite and most common types of complication seen on mechanical wristwatches today is the calendar function. As humans we love things that pique our curiosity, objects that challenge us to delve deeper to understand their innermost working. That’s surely one of the reasons it’s fun to own a wristwatch, right? We have a tendency to see something we like in a shop or online, go home and look up loads of information, and then share our newfound knowledge with those around us.
Who needs something that will be out of date in a few months, or something that needs a software patch every now and then, when a quality watch can provide years of pleasure? A solid watch is one of the best items we can own and calendar functions in a mechanical watch are much more complicated than most people think.
Annual Versus Perpetual Calendars
Patek Philippe is closely associated with the annual calendar thanks to the watches they released in the 90s which were the first to sport this function. Released in 1996, the Reference 5035 is now synonymous with the annual calendar. Unlike the more feature-packed perpetual calendar, which we’ll come to in a minute, the annual calendar usually displays less information and yet, the number of parts in the 5035 reference is higher than that of their perpetual models.
This classic setup was adopted by Montblanc for their annual calendar watches as well. This is the case because the annual calendar doesn’t adjust for the amount of days in February, so Patek uses a series of cams connected to various plates, whereas the more complicated and delicate perpetual calendar uses levers. In addition, annual calendars often don’t include a moon phase indicator.
This leads to another point of discussion: cost. Perpetual calendar watches are pretty pricey from the get-go and they hold their value well. Their intricate complexity and delicate construction can lead the buyer down a rabbit hole of expense. An annual calendar can be cheaper in comparison and possibly more rugged and ready for daily life.
The Zenith El Primero Winsor Annual Calendar is one example that can be had for less than € 6,000 if search and buy pre-owned. As a bonus, Zenith includes a chronograph, a function that most would associate with the El Primero range. The automatic 4054 5 Hz movement is a rugged piece designed to take the grunt of everyday life while still managing to keep its elegant appeal. The annual calendar on this watch consists of three windows spread across the dial. The day and month are located at 3 o’clock, while the date itself sits at 6 o’clock. The IWC Schaffhausen Portuguese Annual Calendar is another piece that uses windows for its calendar.
One Complication, Many Faces
Another way of displaying the calendar in a simple way can be found on Omega’s lovely new Globemaster Annual Calendar. Revealed at this year’s Baselworld show in Switzerland, the new Globemaster displays all of the important information in a very simple way. In aesthetic terms, Omega only added one hand and some lovely writing to the Pie-Pan dial. Each month is indicated by an extra hand coming out from the center. The Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 8892 with METAS certification is a gem of a movement and I can see this one running for a long time yet.
The annual calendar has taken on many forms since its inception with subdials on the Patek 5035, but the calendar many enthusiasts were waiting for was the Sky-Dweller by Rolex. Some say Rolex could have chosen a more distinctive design, but the watch is technically brilliant with no less than 14 new patents.
The system is very simple and indicates the month based on a rotating disk around the inside of the bezel. Sliding the bezel adjusts the month indicator which is discreetly tucked into a small window next to the numerals around the edge. The inner ring around the central hands serves as the reference hours, as the hands can be set for different times, giving you a time zone annual calendar watch with class.
Well, we’ve covered some of the big ones out there and explained how it all works. The annual calendar offers more complexity than a simple date system, is cheaper to buy, and more simplistic than the perpetual calendar. It’s a win-win, right?