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A good year for complications

2018's highlight for a modest budget is Tudor's Black Bay GMT.

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Tudor Black Bay GMT.

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FP Journe lineSport Chronograph Monopoussoir Rattrapante.

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Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept.

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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2

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A Lange & Söhne Triple Split

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IWC Pallweber.

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Charles Frodsham’s Double Impulse Chronometer Wristwatch.

TWENTY-EIGHTEEN has been a pretty good year so far for complications, even at the affordable end of the spectrum.

The year's highlight for a modest budget is the Tudor Black Bay GMT, which combines a useful dual time zone function, and an in-house movement no less, with the robust quality typical of Tudor. And some of the glamour of Tudor's parent company, Rolex, no doubt rubs off on the GMT, giving it a bit more allure.

Also value for money, albeit one at the other extreme of the spectrum, is the FP Journe lineSport Chronograph Monopoussoir Rattrapante. The lengthy name translates as "single-button, split-seconds chronograph", which typically means a hefty price tag well, well into six figures. Large but slim, the FP Journe chronograph in titanium is priced on the high side of five figures, but is still a lot of complication for the money, especially since the chronograph mechanism is laid out traditionally, leaving a lot to admire through the display back.

In a similar vein, but technically more impressive, and correspondingly more expensive, is the A Lange & Söhne Triple Split. It's an upgrade on the German watchmaker's signature Double Split, which is able to record twin, simultaneous elapsed times of up to 30 minutes. The Triple Split is able to do the same for up to 12 hours, making it a triumph of German micro-engineering, especially since the Triple Split is a mere 0.3mm thicker than the Double.

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Slimness, on the other hand, was the obsession of both Piaget and Audemars Piguet. The former rolled out a concept watch that is the slimmest mechanical wristwatch ever. An improbable 2mm high, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is barely there, feeling more like a printout on the wrist than an actual watch.

It gets there via a series of ingenious and prosaic tweaks to the movement and case, including replacing jewels with ball bearings and stripping out superfluous movement parts. Even the paper-thin crystal is glued onto the case, which is made of a rigid cobalt alloy.

Also a concept was the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar, the slimmest watch with the complication on the market. As with the Piaget its slimness is achieved with a streamlined movement that also relies on smaller parts. The exterior of the watch, however, is classic Royal Oak. In concept, fit and finish, it is probably nearer in coming to market than the Piaget.

Coincidentally, Patek Philippe also introduced the Nautilus perpetual calendar this year, adding a new complication to one of today's most desirable watches. Though the mechanics are familiar - it relies on a movement introduced in 1985 - it is the first time the perpetual calendar has made it into Patek Philippe's signature sports watch, a product of the same era and designer as the octagonal Royal Oak.

CONCISE ENGINEERING

Despite being functionally simpler than any of the other watches in this story, the IWC Tribute to Pallweber is a complicated watch. Inspired by vintage pocket watches known as Pallwebers, after their Austrian inventor, the watch has a double digital display, with digits showing the hours and minutes.

While such watches are typically pricey - the best-known examples come from Lange and FP Journe - IWC managed to make it affordable as such things go, thanks to some concise engineering. The resulting watch is a large one, but with a 60-hour power reserve, the Pallweber manages to avoid the pitfall of most digital watches, which is a short power reserve.

Even more simple, but with arguably more complication, is perhaps one of the least-known new watches of the year. The Double Impulse Chronometer Wristwatch is the creation of Charles Frodsham, an English watch and clockmaker that has surprisingly been in continuous operation since 1834. The firm's main business today is repairing vintage Frodsham clocks and pocket watches, and the wristwatch is its first ever.

DOUBLE-IMPULSE ESCAPEMENT

In the works for some 16 years, the Frodsham wristwatch features the double-impulse escapement conceived by Abraham Louis Breguet and further refined by the late George Daniels, an English watchmaker best known for inventing the Co-Axial escapement he later sold to Omega.

Operating with nearly zero friction but prone to stopping when shocked, the double-impulse escapement was never successfully installed in a wristwatch, even by Mr Daniels, until Frodsham accomplished it.

While Charles Frodsham is realising 19th century watchmaking for today, Ressence has an eye towards the future. Still experimental but not far from commercial production, the Type 2 e-Crown Concept adds an electronic setting mechanism onto a traditional mechanical movement.

Solar-powered and connectable to a smartphone via Bluetooth, the electronic mechanism remembers the time and sets the watch, with several modes of setting frequency available. It can also change the time displayed when the wearer crosses time zones. And when timekeeping starts to deteriorate noticeably, the system will alert the wearer that a service is due.

  • The writer has his own blog ("Watches by SJX"), which ranks in the world's top 10 websites in the English language. He writes for over a dozen publications in Asia and advises watch companies, auction houses, institutional investors and collectors