If there’s one thing more difficult than building a grand complication, it is apparently, defining it. To break it down, a complication is known to be a horological feature that’s outside the simple display of hours, minutes and seconds. A grand complication then — to put it simply — is when several complications are fitted into the small confines of an average-sized timepiece.
Though experts are often divided on the “rules”, the term ‘grand complication’ traditionally involves complications from three families: timing, chiming and calendars. These include features such as the chronograph, perpetual calendar, minute repeater, moon phase, and grand sonnerie. Of course, more features involved means more chances of errors when making them work together.
But one thing’s for sure: successfully creating a grand complication is truly the pinnacle of a designer’s expertise and watchmaker’s skill. There’s a reason why they’re so expensive and rare. Besides paying for the poor lad that’s hunched over for months on end putting the pieces together into a case no bigger than your wrist, these watches are usually also bigger than usual, incurring additional costs.
Here, we take a look at five of these rare modern beauties, each a hallmark of haute horlogerie that is as impressive as it is complex.
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36 complications, a 1,000-year calendar, and a price tag of S$3.7 million — Franck Muller has taken the term ‘grand complication’ very seriously here. Pulverising the record number of complications ever housed in a single timepiece, the watch features the usual stuff, plus an equation of time which only varies by 6.8 seconds per lunar month — an equivalent of one day every thousand years. With the Aeternitas movement as its base, and the Mega 4 representing the relentless pursuit of fine watchmaking with its grand and small Westminster chime striking-work, it’s little wonder the watch takes five years to put together.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s legendary reversible case finally got the recognition it deserved when the Swiss brand decided to put together civil, sidereal and perpetual time all in one timepiece. However, instead of the regular two faces, this one gets three — one for each dimension of time. Beneath the sober dial that only shows the time and a tourbillon carriage, the watch reveals another two displays, one full of celestial indications and the other, the full works of a perpetual calendar. A total of 18 complications power this unusual timepiece.
Master of complications A. Lange & Söhne are experts at making exceptional timepieces, but perhaps this is their best one yet. Inspired by a vintage Lange grand complication pocket watch, the limited edition of six pieces boasts a grand and petite sonnerie, minute repeater, monopusher, split seconds chronograph with 1/5 second foudroyante, and a perpetual calendar. Housed within a massive 50mm rose gold case, the timepiece will set you back a hefty S$3.5 million.
It’s not often we come across an edgy grand complication watch, so when Patek Philippe released this gloriously blacked-out one, we were ecstatic. Encased in platinum and with a black enamel dial, the timepiece romanticises the notion of time with a minute repeater, hidden tourbillon, perpetual calendar, retrograde date and moon phase indicator. Everything is, of course, highly legible thanks to the contrasting markers, making it one for the modern gentleman.
If astronomy’s your thing, look no further than the Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication. As the most complicated wristwatch ever created by the Swiss manufacturer, the watch aims to present astronomical indications in the most unadulterated way possible. Besides time, you’ll have access to the moon phase, sunrise/sunset, indication to the length of day and night. On a more macro scale, the watch will also indicate the current Sun sign in the Zodiac, the Equinoxes and Solstices too. A golden hand with a sun at the tip functions as an Equation of Time marchant, and if you’ve always wondered about the relationship of the sun, moon and tides, a mareoscope will tell you. It doesn’t stop there — at the back, a star chart shows the stars in the horizon in real time, alongside the position of the Milky Way. You’ll also find the Sidereal time, tourbillon, celestial equator location and plane of the ecliptic too.