Happy Leap Year: 5 Innovative Perpetual Calendar Watches

The MB&F Legacy M3chine Perpetual in yellow gold.

Text size

As we observe the leap year on Feb. 29, it’s a fitting time to explore five unconventional perpetual calendar watches that put a fresh twist on one of watchmaking’s oldest complications, which automatically adjusts for months of various lengths, including leap years. 

English horologist Thomas Mudge (1715-94) addressed calendar irregularities with the first perpetual calendar pocket watch in 1762, currently at the British Museum in London.  

In 1898, Patek Philippe recorded a perpetual calendar movement in its registers. That same year, the compact perpetual calendar movement was used in a woman’s pendant watch. When that piece failed to sell, the brand repurposed the movement for a men’s wristwatch in 1925, thereby creating the first-ever perpetual calendar wristwatch.

Breguet, however, was the first to develop a perpetual calendar movement specifically for a wristwatch in 1929, when it debuted the Breguet no. 4244.

If you were able to keep one continuously running, a perpetual calendar, also known as a quantième perpétuel or QP, has a mechanical memory of 1,461 days (or four years) to automatically account for months of 28, 29, 30, and 31 days, until the year 2100, when the Gregorian calendar throws another curve ball by decreeing that century year is not a leap year because it is not divisible by 400. 

The traditional perpetual calendar dial displays the day, date, month, leap year counter, and often a moon phase with sub-dials or other indicators, making for an elaborate dial underscoring the complexity of the movement below.

Because of their daunting technicity, perpetual calendars are considered one of the most challenging and revered watchmaking complications, especially coveted by connoisseur collectors. And it’s one that has been revisited by several brands over the past year with an eye for innovation and modernization.

Vacheron Constantin's Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar 5 Hertz

Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar

One of the most technically impressive watches to launch in recent years, Vacheron Constantin’s 42mm platinum Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar (US$199,000) employs a patent-pending system that allows you to control the frequency of the movement to extend the watch’s power reserve, so you can avoid the hassle of having to reset the calendar functions if the watch runs down.

The in-house developed, manual-winding calibre 3610 QP is equipped with two balances, each operating at a different frequency, a first for the brand. Using the pusher at 8 o’clock you can switch between Active mode, with a 5Hz (36,000vph) balance and four days of power reserve, and Standby mode, which runs on a second balance with a reduced frequency of 1.2Hz (8,640vph) to extend the power reserve to at least 65 days when the watch is not use. Most importantly, switching between the two does not affect timekeeping, and the calendar functions remain as precise as possible. 

The Pioneer Perpetual Calendar MD follows in the company's sleek style.

H.Moser & Cie

H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Perpetual Calendar MD

For H. Moser & Cie., less is more. The Swiss boutique brand is celebrated for its minimalistic approach to complicated watchmaking and its intensely colored fumé (smoke) dials with an ombré effect. 

Last year, H. Moser debuted the Pioneer Perpetual Calendar MD (US$39,900), its first perpetual calendar with two apertures displaying the date and month. The brand’s previous perpetuals indicated the month (as aligned with the 12 hour positions) using a discreet central arrow hand.

The double apertures also highlight the watch’s Flash Calendar function, which allows you to change the date at any time of the day, forward or backward, without risking damage to the movement. 

A power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock tracks the energy in the new manual winding HMC 808, which is equipped with a double barrel to supply at least seven days of power. In keeping with its predecessors, the leap year indicator appears on the back of the watch.

The 42.8mm stainless steel Pioneer Perpetual Calendar MD is available with the brand’s signature funky blue dial or a new burgundy color with dots marking the hours. 

*** The Bovet Retrogade Perpetual Calendar Recital 21 now comes in red gold.


Bovet Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Récital 21

Bovet’s unorthodox “writing slope” case envisioned by its owner, Pascal Raffy, was inspired by the slanted top of a writing desk. But this strange case shape is not the only unconventional aspect of the Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Récital 21, introduced last year in red gold (US$78,000) and titanium (US$76,000).

Hours and minutes are tracked on a lacquered blue dial in the center, while the day and month are displayed on discs in apertures at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, and the leap year cycle appears in an aperture at 3 o’clock. A focal point is the cutaway seconds sub-dial, offset at 9 o’clock with a hand that sweeps beneath the central dial, which is encircled by a dynamic retrograde date indicator. With each new day, the pointer advances until the end of the month, when it snaps back to the first position to start again. 

MB&F has revisited its LegacY Machine Perpetual in a new yellow gold version.


MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual Yellow Gold

MB&F, the wildly creative independent brand, recently revisited its Legacy Machine Perpetual (LM Perpetual), introduced in 2015, with a new yellow gold version (US$167,000) limited to 25 pieces.

Designed from scratch with 581 components, the fully integrated LM Perpetual movement was developed in collaboration with independent Irish watchmaker Stephen McDonnell, who completely reinvented the perpetual calendar complication to eliminate issues with skipped dates and jammed gears. 

The secret to its user-friendly design is a default 28-day month that adds extra days only as required. Conventional perpetual calendars, which often consist of a module added to a base movement, use a default 31-day system. And there’s no need to worry about damage from making adjustments at the wrong time since the adjuster pushers automatically deactivate during the critical period when the calendar changes over.

The Hijiri Perpetual Calendar follows the Islamic lunar calendar.


Parmigiani Fleurier Hijri Perpetual Calendar 

Having initially made his name in watch restoration, Michel Parmigiani is always one to embrace a daunting technical challenge. His namesake brand, Parmigiani Fleurier, houses one of the most renowned watch and clock restoration workshops in Switzerland, where occasionally a project provides the impetus for a modern watch, such as the Hijri Perpetual Calendar (US$80,000). 

Inspired by the restoration of an Arabic calendar pocket watch, the Hijri Perpetual Calendar utilizes technology developed by the brand for a 2011 table clock featuring a Hijri calendar, marking a world-first lunar calendar designed to operate continuously.

The starting point of Islamic time calculations is aligned to Hijri, the day in the year 622 when the Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina.

The Islamic lunar calendar, consists of 12 months of 29 or 30 days, depending on the moon phase, and is used to determine the days for Islamic holidays. 

Each year, the lunar calendar lags behind the West’s solar calendar by about 10 days, so the months of the Islamic calendar fall during different seasons of the year. 

The unprecedented 44.5 mm platinum timepiece displays the hours and minutes, and date in Arabic numerals, the name and length of the months in Arabic calligraphy, as well as the abundant and the common years. A moon phase sits atop a sparkling aventurine glass sky.

Unlike the typical Gregorian perpetual calendars, Parmigiani’s Hijri Perpetual Calendar can run without the need for an adjustment for 2,500 years, well, theoretically of course.