The Datables: Watches with calendar displays can be things of beauty

Timothy Barber
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IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar,

There are few things that niggle at me more than the presence of an unnecessary date display on a watch (yes, yes, first world problems). Brands are, in the large part, hopelessly addicted to them, allowing tiny, pointless displays to disrupt the unity and balance of their designs. I especially can’t abide the now-canonical magnifying bubble Rolex places over many of its dials, though a no-date Explorer or Sub is liable to make me swoon. As it happens, Rolex’s sister brand Tudor has been extremely judicious in its use of the date window, impressing with watches like the Submariner-esque Heritage Black Bay and the Heritage Ranger. Both key pieces in Tudor’s revival, they are blessedly free of the date window’s tyrannical presence.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Calendar with meteorite dial,

However, when the date – and moreover the full calendar – is used as an essential component of a watch’s design and function, rather than an add-on to please an undiscerning marketplace, it becomes a thing of elegance and pleasing complexity. A Lange & Sohne’s alltime classic, the Lange 1, invented the “big date”, with two changing digits that exist beautifully in the dial layout. Lange has a minutely-refined new version out this year.

A Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Available at Wempe, 43-44 New Bond Street, W1S 2SA,

Baume & Mercier’s Retrograde Date is a watch that looks more complicated than it is – it gives you the date and weekday in a pleasing swish of contrasting hands. Jaeger LeCoultre’s Master Calendar, meanwhile, goes one better, adding a month and moon-phase for a complete calendar display – plus a dial made of meteorite, if that’s your thing.

Baume & Mercier, Retrograde Date,

Up from that you get the annual calendar, which IWC has introduced into its none-more-elegant Portugieser line this year. An annual calendar gives you the full calendar (with or without moon phase), and also knows the lengths of the different months, meaning you don’t need to adjust it when it hits 31 in a 30-day month (you still need to adjust it in February, mind).

Blancpain, Villeret Perpetual Calendar,

At the top of the calendar tree is the Perpetual Calendar, which recognizes months (including February) and even leap years without adjustment – you (or your great grandchildren) will only need to tweak it when the century changes. The example from Blancpain (which has a new shop on Bond St, by the way) is a classic of the genre, while H Moser & Cie’s minimalist, murdered-out version (the month is indicated by the tiny arrow pointing to one of the twelve hour markers) shows true ingenuity lies in making the complex simple.
Timothy is editor of QP Magazine