Above: Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar
Before Marie Antoinette lost everything from the neck up, she was enamored with the pocket watches of Abraham-Louis Breguet. In 1783, the French queen commissioned the legendary watchmaker to create what is still considered one of the most complicated timepieces ever made.
Imagine a self-winding watch that was at once a perpetual calendar (it displays the full date without needing to adjust for leap year), a stopwatch, a thermometer, and, perhaps most impressively, a minute repeater (press a button to hear lilting chimes sound the hour and minutes). Even by today’s standards, it’s a marvel of design, and with so many moving parts, it was as complex as the time in which it was made—so much so that neither the queen nor Breguet lived to see the final product, as it took more than 40 years to complete. Today, the Reign of Terror might be over, but the decadence and architectural ambition of the era is here still.
Watchmakers are innovating, redesigning, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Here, a selection of the year’s most jaw-dropping complications—ones that would make Marie Antoinette lose her head, er, mind.
For The Formalist
Sometimes rejecting functionality has its merits. See: the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright and Zaha Hadid (like her Baku Cultural Center), which can be described as wonderfully
indulgent style for style’s sake. Similarly, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Rendez Vous Dazzling Star, a watch by all measures, adds a healthy dose of chaos and cheek to the ritual of checking the time: A shooting star blasts across the dial at irregular intervals.
For The Functionalist
Everyone wants to know how the sausage is made. The late architect Richard Rogers knew that when he placed the “bowels” of his structures—pipes, ducts, etc.—on the outside of his buildings. Just like Rogers’s Centre Pompidou in Paris (designed with Renzo Piano), H. Moser & Cie’s Endeavour Concept Minute Repeater lays bare its tourbillon escapement and chime—marvels to behold that tend to be hidden from sight. A minute repeater chimes the hour and minute at the press of a button on the side of the case.
For The Avant-Gardiste
In the world of haute horology, coming up with a completely new kind of movement is a unicorn that few brands have the R&D budgets to pursue. But like Louis Kahn or William Le Baron Jenney (steel frame), Cartier is one rare bird willing to put in the time—close to a decade on the Masse Mystérieuse—and resources to push watch design forward. This is the world’s first timepiece to feature an automatic movement built entirely inside the rotor.
For The Traditionalist
Patek Philippe’s 5270P-014 is a modern green-dial -continuation of the brand’s most timeless historic designs. A perpetual calendar and a chronograph, it presents the date without having to adjust for leap year and can be used as a stopwatch.
For The Classicist
Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar channels Vitruvius and the architecture of antiquity as well as the Italian Renaissance with its focus on symmetry. The diamonds adorning the bezel and lugs, like the acanthus-leaf motif of Corinthian capitals (as above), bring an element of glitz that’s at once scintillating and subdued. It includes a perpetual calendar, which keeps track of the time and date without having to adjust for leap year.
This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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