Timekeping
By Shane Griffin
on 7.22.14

If there were a downside to getting into mechanical watches, it would likely be learning to love watches you’ll never be able to afford. Take the perpetual calendar complication as an example. Its complexity draws in the most knowledgeable watch enthusiasts; the near-impossibility of acquiring one only sweetens the deal (in a way). Think about it: never having to set your watch for, potentially, your whole life. There are no worries about short months, very short months (February), or leap years. However, with such an incredible achievement in watchmaking comes a hefty price tag.

So what’s a watch lover to do? Well, in the last year or so, a couple of watchmakers bucked the trend of only wrapping perpetual calendars in precious metal and gave steel a chance. It may sound like a downgrade, but really it depends on how you look at it. A stainless steel case obviously brings the cost down from gold and platinum, and it’s a great opportunity to save up and finally add a top-level complication to your collection. Precious metals are soft, and will nick up and show their age more. Stainless steel is much more durable, and while not as valuable monetarily, makes for a great heirloom material that can be worn on a daily basis.

This past January, Montblanc shook up their lineup with a steel perpetual calendar, offering a more affordable (though still not cheap) alternative to the unobtanium that is Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar ref. 5140

“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.” Pretty bold tagline, huh? Well, when you actually take a deeper look at what Patek offers, particularly with their reference 5140 Perpetual Calendar ($91,000), the tagline gains significance. This is a family heirloom and one of the few “sure bet” investments in timepieces.

The reference 5140 is powered by the in-house caliber 240 Q movement, which is thinner than some three-hand movements — even those that claim to be ultra thin. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), Patek didn’t sacrifice performance for space, as the 5140 runs at about -3/+2 seconds per day, and the moonphase will require only a day’s adjustment in 111 years. Patek managed to design a perpetual calendar layout with three dials, giving it an almost chronograph-like appearance at a distant glance. The overall appearance wastes little space, and it’s absolutely gorgeous — the same can be said of many Patek references. All of this requires either a really fat wallet, or good credit history and a mortgage, because the retail price is $91,000.

Montblanc Meisterstück Perpetual Calendar

Earlier this year at SIHH, Montblanc hit back-to-back home runs with their Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph, followed by the Meisterstück Perpetual Calendar ($12,800). The common denominator here being “Meisterstück”, which happens to be the product of their Minerva acquisition. Montblanc now has some serious horological firepower behind it. The self-winding caliber MB 29.15 is a real Patek-beater, with a full perpetual calendar, and similar power reserves and dimensions.

Where Montblanc arguably — and we stress “arguably” — falls short is dial layout and movement finishing. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the four closely-huddled sub-dials. There’s no problem with a fourth sub-dial, as opposed to Patek’s three, but they are a bit crowded towards the center of the dial. And as far as finishing goes, Patek is just on a different level, so it’s probably not a fair comparison. However, there will always be folks ready to point out that a bridge wasn’t hand beveled or a screw was left unpolished. Considering the $12,800 price tag in steel, this is arguably one of the best values for a serious complication and one your offspring won’t sniff at when you bequeath it, tagline or not.