After looking at the legacy of the Day-Date complication, in the second instalment of our One To Watch series on horological complications, we explore the world of triple and annual calendars.
Essentially, the annual calendar and triple calendar (also referred to as the triple date) both feature the month of the year as well as the day and date, but the triple calendar has to be manually adjusted more frequently than the annual calendar. Dials or apertures, or a combination of both, are generally used to display the information. The addition of the moonphase display makes it a complete (or full) calendar.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Calendar Master Calendar Moonphase
As with the day-date complication, the day, date and month commonly sit on wheels that rotate each day and are displayed through an aperture. The date can also be displayed on a dial around the outer perimeter of the watch face, with a hand pointing to the appropriate number between 1 and 31. Months with fewer than 31 days are not taken into account on the triple calendar, so have to be manually adjusted five times a year (at the end of February, April, June, September and November). The annual calendar, however, adjusts the date automatically and only requires manual correction once a year (in February with its 28 days). This is what sets it apart from the more sophisticated perpetual calendar, which displays the same information but requires no manual adjustment as the complication not only knows the number of days in each month, but also which year, and can, therefore, automatically adjust for a leap year.
Vacheron Constantin Triple complication pocket watch, 1901. Simple Chronograph, minute repeater, perpetual calendar with 48-month dial
The triple calendar complication was originally developed for use in pocket watches, before appearing as a feature in wristwatches in the 1920s, when Vacheron Constantin and Rolex began making them. Their popularity really took off, though, in the mid-20th century, with several other brands introducing their own versions. Vacheron Constantin remained a key player, however. In 1942, it released the ref. 4240, with the date on the periphery and the day of the week and the month seen in windows at 12 o’clock. This limited-edition, vintage timepiece is now highly collectable among watch enthusiasts and the company even released a watch inspired by its retro appearance in its ‘Historiques’ collection in 2017.
Patek Philippe ref. 50361G Annual Calendar
The annual calendar is a more recent invention, developed by Patek Philippe and first introduced in 1996 as the ref. 5035. It immediately gained popularity, thanks to its advanced mechanics requiring the wearer to manually adjust it only once a year. Keen to retain exclusivity, Patek took out a 25-year patent on the complication but was so specific about the structure of the mechanism that other manufacturers, including Bulgari, Breitling, Omega and A Lange & Söhne, were able to then take the idea and engineer their own, slightly different, versions without contravening the terms of the patent.
With their simplicity of design and retro feel, triple and annual calendar watches still attract a devoted following, some even commanding extremely high prices due to their rarity. For example, when the 18k gold triple calendar with moonphase Rolex ref. 6062 ‘Bao Dai’ (one of only three Rolex black dial models in the world and the only to feature diamond markers at the even hours) went to auction in 2017, it sold in under eight minutes for more than $5 million. Of course, it did once belong to His Majesty Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, which, no doubt, had considerable bearing on its value.
Singing royalty Ed Sheeran is also a fan of this classic style of watch, having been spotted wearing a Patek Philippe ref. 5726 Nautilus Annual Calendar. Likewise, actor Charlie Sheen wears a Patek Philippe Annual Calendar.
Other than having to manually adjust these watches (if you can really call that a ‘problem’), when a perpetual will do it for you, there really aren’t any major flaws. Indeed, the annual calendar in particular is a popular choice with watch collectors because you get the same traditional feel without the high price tag that perpetuals command. This is because the wheels are easier to produce and assemble than the more complex cam and lever required in the perpetual calendar. So, they’re worth the extra effort in the long run.
Rolex Sky-Dweller ref. 326934 – a favourite heralded by the David Duggan team and Rolex technicians alike. Its ingenuity lies in its subtly integrated annual calendar mechanism fuelled by its impressive 11-part calibre 9001 engine. At first glance – and with the seeming absence of a month display – it doesn’t look like an annual calendar. Look closer and you’ll realise it’s hidden behind the baton hour markers with a discreet red square. Together, the crown and fluted bezel control all functionality, neatly removing the need for multiple pushers.
Patek Philippe Annual Calendar ref. 5396R – released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original first patented annual calendar launched by Patek in 1996. Not only is it an elegant, clean-looking dress watch, but its practicality and reduced price point compared to its perpetual contemporaries make it an incredibly enticing contender for top Patek annual calendar.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendar 1948 – based on the vintage 1948 ref. 4240 (originally launched in 1942), which gained a moonphase display in 1948, becoming the 4240L (The ‘L’ standing for lune). Released as a limited run of 400 – 200 with burgundy markers and moonphase, 200 with traditional navy blue – this is a beautifully executed, modern iteration of a Vacheron classic.
Want to know more about the intriguing world of watch complications? You can download a PDF version of our 35th Anniversary Guide to Complications by following this link.