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Complications continue to thrive
IRONICALLY, one of the most technically interesting watches of the year has no complications; it indicates only the hours, minutes and seconds in a conventional, almost boring, manner.
Though it doesn't look like much, the Citizen Caliber 0100 is the most accurate quartz wristwatch ever - guaranteed to run within a second a year - and, by extension, the most accurate wristwatch of any kind. And the watch is totally self-contained, and does not sync with an external signal to keep time.
The solar-powered movement within accomplishes that - thanks to the combination of several innovations within the movement, including a quartz crystal oscillator that runs at a higher frequency, perfectly formed gears and wheels, and a high-tech chip that monitors and corrects the time when needed.
Timekeeping prowess of another sort also arrived this year, from the other side of the world. Ingenious and mechanical, the Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar has a 65-day power reserve in "standby" mode, as well as an instantaneous perpetual calendar.
The key innovation within the watch is its double oscillators and the movement's ability to switch between the two at the touch of a button. In normal mode, the ordinary oscillator is engaged, and the Twin Beat runs like an ordinary watch. When switched to "standby mode", the movement switches to a larger, low energy oscillator that runs at less than a third the frequency of the normal balance wheel.
Coupled with a handful of other innovations, switching to the standby oscillator increases the power reserve from four days to 65, although word has it that the watch can run for up to 72 days.
A CLEVER CONSTRUCTION OF THE MOVEMENT
Crucially, the watch continues to keep time during the 65 days. At the end of the two months, the watch will be running within eight minutes, a variance of 7 seconds a day on average - and all the perpetual calendar indications will be correct, eliminating the need to adjust the calendar.
Also a perpetual calendar but innovative in a different manner is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin. Previewed last year as the Royal Oak RD#2 concept watch, the new perpetual calendar is the thinnest perpetual calendar watch in the world, thanks to a clever construction of the movement that spreads out the components instead of stacking them up. It's a remarkably refined 6.3mm high, making it difficult to believe it is a full calendar that includes a leap year and moon phase.
A far simpler but notably charming calendar watch comes courtesy of Patek Philippe. The Calatrava Weekly Calendar ref. 5212A indicates the day, date and week of the year. Although week numbers aren't widely used in Asia, Europeans, particularly Germans, do rely on week numbers for business planning - and it makes for an uncommon display on a watch dial.
More than its functionality, the Weekly Calendar stands out for its styling. The calendar is arranged concentrically around the dial, with the typography reproducing the actual handwriting of an unnamed member of Patek Philippe's design department. And the case is steel, an infrequent material for such a relatively dressy watch that gives it a more casual, younger feel than the average Calatrava.
In contrast to most of the other newly launched calendar watches, the Zeitwerk Date by A Lange & Söhne shows only the date. But in typical German style, significant and complex engineering went into reconstructing the movement, despite the only visible addition being a peripheral date ring.
Compared to the original Zeitwerk, the new model has a more efficient constant force mechanism, and double the power reserve. But most illustrative of the attention to technical detail is the mechanism to adjust the date. Due to the limited space available, the date button (and also the hour adjustment button) relies on a novel "all or nothing" clutch which jumps that display when the button is released, instead of the more conventional pusher set-up that jumps with the push.
Also digital, but in a far more imaginative manner, is the Freak X, which replicates the look of its flagship Freak carrousel wristwatch, at a fraction of the price. The Freak X manages that because it is essentially a conventional movement with a Freak-like module on top. The module carries the balance wheel on a carrousel that goes round the dial once an hour, quite a visual spectacle for a watch in this price range.
Also strong value, but in a far more classical style, is the Kudoke 2 by German watchmaker Stefan Kudoke. A simple watch with an elaborately engraved day and night indicator, the Kudoke 2 is a concise watch with pretty detailing. And it's powered by an attractive, proprietary movement inspired by 19th century pocket watches, which Mr Kudoke conceived with the help of fellow independent watchmaker Habring2.
Located in Austria, Habring2 also debuted a value proposition of its own: the Perpetual Doppel. It combines the brand's signature split-seconds chronograph that's built on a cost-efficient Valjoux 7750 base, with a perpetual calendar for the first time, creating a complicated watch priced relatively accessibly.
And the final two complications of note were both created for biennial charity auction Only Watch 2019 that supports medical research. One is an entirely new model, the other is a one-off execution of a uber-complication.
The former is the F P Journe Astronomic Blue. It's a prototype of an upcoming double-faced grand complication - the production version will probably be launched in 2020 - that bundles several astronomical complications, a minute repeater, and a tourbillon with constant force mechanism, into a tantalum case. Inspired by a pocket watch Mr Journe produced in 1987, the Astronomic Blue is the most complicated wristwatch produced by F P Journe to date.
A MONUMENTAL, MOST COMPLEX WRISTWATCH
The latter is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime with a stainless steel case and an 18k rose gold dial. Originally launched to mark the brand's 175th anniversary, the Grandmaster Chime is a monumental, 47.7mm wristwatch that's the most complex ever produced by the Geneva watchmaker, boasting 20 complications.
This version is unique, being the only one ever in steel, with one of a kind dials on the twin faces, both of which can be worn on the wrist as the case is swivelling and reversible. Despite a presale estimate of just 2.0 million -2.5 million Swiss francs, this will probably end up as the most expensive watch of the year by some margin, with an eight-figure result being a possible outcome, sealing Patek Philippe's status as preeminent in its domain.
- Su Jiaxian, who's also known by his initials, SJX, is a watch expert and collector. He founded online watch resource sjxwatches.com and is a member of the jury of Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve 2019 (watchmaking's equivalent of the Oscars.)