It’s been said that human beings are the only animals on Earth that obsess over the passing of time. Our fear of death has in a sense, spurred us to be mindful of the limited time we have and that mindfulness has been a catalyst of our progress as a species. As we evolved, so did the way we tell time.

The calendar saw constant change and updates until Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar in October 1582, that saw 365.25 as the average number of days in a year. His introduction of the leap year rounded down the year to 365 days, with every fourth year holding 366 days. Since then, we’ve stuck to this manner of counting the days. It’s true, necessity is the mother of invention, and translating the process of counting the days to a timekeeping device was where watchmakers played an important role.  

While Thomas Mudge, an English watchmaker, built the first known perpetual calendar pocket watch in 1762, it was the acclaimed Geneva-based watchmaker Patek Philippe that filed the patent for a specific perpetual calendar mechanism in 1889. The patent protects the construction of the brand’s perpetual calendar multi dimensional mechanism, which allowed for the date, day, month and moonphase to jump instantaneously as well as simultaneously.

When it comes to function, the perpetual calendar mechanism is respected as horology’s most forethought solution to keeping time. It correctly displays the day of the week, the date, the month and the phases of the moon “perpetually”, taking into consideration the differing lengths of months as well as leap year cycles.

Should a perpetual calendar be constantly wound, they would never need manual correction till 2100 (as the year will not be a leap year).

At its heart, a cam (either as a 48-month or 24-month cam) works as a programmed function, dictating when the date wheel should skip the 29th, 30th or 31st depending on the month. With everything connected to a main multiple lever that pushes off this information to the correct star-wheels, the mechanism constantly follows a systemised pattern of skipping dates when necessary. The right amount of components, filed down and designed to work in sync and to keep constant track of time has been Patek Philippe’s signature for more than a century now.

The latest from Patek Philippe 

This year, at Baselworld, the maison celebrated the complication with several new perpetual calendar releases. Our favourite, the Ref. 5230G (above) is its newest perpetual calendar that in true, Patek Philippe-fashion, borrows design elements from the past. The cream lacquer dial plays home to the “twin in line” configuration, with the day and month at 12 o’clock and little clutter, which makes other elements such as the applied blackened gold Arabic numerals and baton hands with Super-LumiNova coating stand out. The day/night indication is shown in a circle aperture between seven and eight o’clock while the leap year indication sits between four and five. Powering the piece is Patek Philippe’s calibre 324 S Q, a self-winding movement that has the perpetual calendar module sitting on top.

Because most perpetual calendars exist as modular additions to a base movement, the girth of the watch is often thicker. Brands are forced to utilise ultra-thin base calibres in order to produce slimmer perpetual calendars. An example from Patek Philippe is the new Ref. 5940R-001 (above), a cushion-shaped timepiece, originally made in yellow gold five years ago. The red gold version this year was created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ultra-thin Patek Philippe Calibre 240 automatic movement powering it. The calibre is one of the manufacture’s thinnest at only 2.53mm thick, and has been used for several of the maison’s timepieces. The 18k gold micro-rotor generates a generous amount of power, while the movement sits on the same plane as the rotor, saving space.  

There is no guarantee on a lot of things in this world, as time has shown us but judging by Patek Philippe’s impeccable record, it’s a safe bet to imagine that like its calendars, the stature of Patek Philippe will always remain at the top. Perpetually.

This story was first published in the Sep ’17 issue of AUGUSTMAN

Edit: The patent that was filed in 1889 by Patek Philippe was for a specific part of the perpetual calendar mechanism. 

“In 1889, Jean Adrien Philippe’s inventiveness in this domain, was granted the Swiss patent No. 1018, protecting the construction of the Patek Philippe’s perpetual calendar multi dimensional mechanism, which allowed the date, day, month and moonphase to jump instantaneously as well as simultaneously.”

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