Patek Philippe And The Birth Of The Annual Calendar
In most of the world, we use what is known as the Gregorian calendar. It was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and replaced the Julian calendar. This was done because the Gregorian calendar, although not perfect, more closely follows the actual time it takes for the earth to orbit around the sun. This offered quite a challenge for watchmakers when the date complication was introduced. While most of the months have either 30 or 31 days, February and its leap year day causes trouble. With the vast majority of timepieces, this means that when a month doesn’t have 31 days, you have to manually adjust it unless you have a perpetual calendar. This ingenious complication considers the individual lengths of each month, including leap years. Unfortunately, its complexity makes it rather expensive to make, and therefore it remains an exclusive complication.
In 1996, this changed when Patek Philippe launched its Reference 5035. This was the very first watch to feature an annual calendar. This complication holds the middle between a regular timepiece with a date function and a perpetual calendar. It will automatically adjust any month that doesn’t have 31 days, with the exception of February. This month is the only time a year when the owner of an annual calendar needs to manually intervene to correct the date. While Patek Philippe patented this technology, they were rather specific about it. The introduction of the Reference 5035 inspired other brands to pursue their own annual calendar construction, working around the patent of Patek Philippe. This means that today you can find this complication in watches from various brands, from Longines and Rolex to Omega and Blancpain.
At Patek Philippe, the annual calendar has become one of the pillars of the brand in terms of exciting complications. While the original Reference 5035 combined subdials for the day and month with a 24-hour display, later on, Patek Philippe also used the complication in a more traditional sense like, for example, the Reference 5146/1J-001, with a moon phase and power reserve indicator. With its beautiful cream-colored dial and gold brick bracelet, it oozes luxury, yet the annual calendar gives it a more casual touch than the often more serious perpetual calendar. It also offers a lot of value for money, with a complication pioneered by Patek Philippe, and executed as only this brand can.