Luxurious complications

“Your watch can’t do that.” This is how a conversation on the superiority of one timepiece over another between two collectors of mechanical watches could start. Yet, such disputes are rather hard to resolve as luxurious mechanical watches are complete assemblies with characteristic brands, design and technology.

  1. Technology is primarily reflected in “complications”, i.e. the functions of that operate thanks to sprockets, shields, cams or other components of the mechanism. Complications dictate the price of mechanical watches – the more unusual complications and sophisticated design, the higher the price of the watch.

    In addition, manufacturers add a plethora of diverse complications to prove their technological edge, and that is how unique collectors’ watches come to life. One such watch is the “Henry Graves Supercomplication” pocket watch manufactured by Patek Philippe in 1933 and ordered by Henry Graves. The watch has 24 complications – its mechanism having 920 parts. On 11 November 2014, this unique and historical watch was sold at Sotheby’s auction house in Geneva for USD 24 million, which broke the record for the sale price of a pocket or wrist watch. The previous record, held by the same watch, was USD 11 million. This spectacular amount was paid in 1999 by a Qatari sheikh. The watch was produced at a cost of a little over USD 200,000 (when calculated into today’s value of currency).

    Virtually all features of a watch constitute a complication, apart from two or three hands on one axis. The most common complications are date, calendar, chronograph (stopwatch), power reserve indicator or the very effective moon phase dial.

    Complications also include so-called “grande complications”, among which the most popular are tourbillon, perpetual calendar or repeater. Tourbillon was designed by Abraham Louis Breguet at the turn of the 19th century. It is a rotating cage with an escapement mechanism and a balance wheel. The whole mechanism rotates in order to counter the effect of gravity on the balance wheel, and was designed to make the watch more accurate. Usually tourbillions make a complete revolution around their axis per minute and act as a second hand. Nowadays, this type of mechanism no longer impacts the accuracy of the watch, but is quite an impressive feature.

    Perpetual calendar is some sort of a mechanical “memory” thanks to which there is no need to reset the date for months of different number of days in leap years. In practice, the calendar is not really perpetual – in most cases the mechanism will have to be fixed in 2100, although there are watches which take into account leap years after 4 centuries. A repeater is a complication that chimes when a special button is pressed – there are different tones for hours, quarters and minutes.

    It is also popular to have multiple complications in one mechanism. Watches with the above complications are sold at high prices – from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands Swiss francs. They tend to be limited and therefore are sought after by collectors and constitute perfect capital investment.

    author: Marcin Lewandowski, Wealth Solutions