Perpetual Calendars

Discussion in 'Complicated Watches' started by Ethan Lipsig, Apr 11, 2019.

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  1. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
    NAWCC Gold Member

    Jan 8, 2006
    80% Retired Attorney
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    I have several perpetual calendar pocket watches. I have some questions about these watches.
    1. I understand them to be watches that automatically adjust for the length of month and leap years. Is that correct?
    2. Are there different types of perpetual calendars?
    3. How complicated are the mechanisms needed to make perpetual calendars work?
    4. It seems to me that a perpetual calendar only makes sense if a watch runs continuously for years, which mechanical watches are unlikely to do for a variety of reasons, e.g., servicing. If so, do perpetual calendars ever make rationale sense?
  2. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
    NAWCC Member Sponsor

    Jan 12, 2017
    New York State
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    Why climb a mountain..........because it's there
    The amazing part is creating a mechanical way
    to measure and display the complication. Weather it's ever used or
    not isn't as important, being able to create a mechanism to
    solve the problem is. I'm sure there are may owners of
    these complicated watches who will never use the complications in them
    (as what they were created for), but to marvel at the accomplishment.

  3. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

    Jul 26, 2015
    retired and on my second career
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    yes, part of it is definitely climbing a mountain because it is there and marvelling at the wonder of the complication. Though it is quite useful having a calendar that doesn't need updating most months even if it does still need winding
  4. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
    Staff Member NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Ruby Member Sponsor

    Aug 24, 2000
    retired SW dev
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    As I mentioned to Ethan in another context, your gentleman's gentleman is supposed to wind your watches and take care of such things. Breguet's Sympathique was used to wind the watch and in some instances adjust the regulation and correct the hands.

    I would think that taken all together that was a substantial complication, but the watch was not itself all that complicated.

    I visited an Italian collector a few years ago who had a staff of three, as I recall, to care for his watches and keep his clocks wound (or perhaps wind and set them when visitors were expected.)
  5. MartyR

    MartyR Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Dec 16, 2008
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    Very apposite, Tom :coolsign:

    A good friend of my father's was a noted jewellery retailer. His company held a Royal Warrant from King George VI and then Queen Elizabeth, and his own main task was to make a weekly visit to Windsor Castle to wind and adjust all of their clocks. He was not allowed to tell me how many clocks there were, nor how much he was paid for his visits, but he did tell me that very often he had to return on a second day! He also told me that his instructions were to set all the kitchen clocks five minutes forward, which was designed to ensure that food was always served promptly!

    Rob is absolutely right - watch complications serve no functional purpose. I know a bit about the Hebrew Calendar (one of the much-vaunted complications on all the record-breaking productions); that (lunar) calendar works on a 19-year cycle, and is constructed by a panel of rabbinical experts. In the very old days, only a rabbi was qualified to determine the date and times of events included in this calendar, but today I can instantly find any of those for the next 50 years or so in a website. But how much more fun, and how much more rewarding, it would be to look at my V&C 57260 ... assuming I could lift it out of the safe I would need to keep it in :excited:
    musicguy likes this.
  6. dshumans

    dshumans Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Sep 17, 2009
    #6 dshumans, Apr 18, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019
    Specific answers:
    1. Yes that is the function.

    2. Yes there are different types and different mechanisms to make them work. Most showed 4 years of months on the subdial, but some did not even though they were 4 year calendars.

    3. The mechanisms were quite complicated, but extremely ingenious. Usually there were at least 40 extra very complex parts contained in a completely separate level (frame) between the works and the dial. The picture below is the calendar level of a minute repeater with perpetual calendar. The movement has a repeater level above the dial plate with many complex parts and then a frame with another level above that for the perpetual calendar works. These parts were kept very thin so as not to add too much depth to the case.

    4. Prior to 1900, people carries pocket watches every day and kept them wound and correct, and high quality watches would run accurately for years, just taken in for servicing every couple years or only if it needed it. A perpetual calendar watch would not need the monthly update to account for uneven day months, and they were good for keeping you informed of what date it was. Witness the very large number of modern wristwatches sold with a date window, or note how many times you check your smartphone to see if you know the current date. Additionally, there was satisfaction to be had in displaying your complicated watch at dinner parties and the like. The more functions your watch had, the better for bragging rights.
    MartyR, Ethan Lipsig and musicguy like this.

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