In the traditional sense, a complicated watch is one that has a number of mechanical functions apart from just telling the time which all work together to provide its owner with useful information. To harmoniously incorporate all of these individual mechanisms into a movement is an achievement in and of itself, though in the past, some watchmakers have decided to not stop there. They’ve managed to display the complications in a way that’s elaborate, without adopting an avant-garde design. The watches I’m speaking of are, of course, retrograde timepieces, which are best characterized by hands that reset swiftly upon reaching the end of their tracks. Let’s take a closer look at these exciting timepieces and pick some of the stand-out offerings within this horological class.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine Bi-Retrograde
As one of the members of the unofficial “holy trinity” of watchmakers, Vacheron Constantin has consistently produced some of the most elegant and refined watches on the market since the mid-1700s — all while constantly challenging the status quo of watchmaking. Just last year, the Swiss manufacturer made headlines for developing the Ref. 57260, the world’s most complex watch with 57 individual complications, many of which are displayed using a retrograde mechanism.
Such a mechanism is typically only seen in the brand’s most exclusive offerings, which is why the relatively more accessible Patrimony Contemporaine Bi-Retrograde is such an enticing proposition for collectors. At 42.5 mm, the watch wears slightly larger on the wrist, but this allows for easier reading of the retrograde day and date indicators, which are powered by Vacheron Constantin’s 27-jewel Cal. 2460 R31R7 movement.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5496
Much like Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe has a rich history of precisely crafting retrograde timepieces for the most discerning of collectors, but it’s done in a way that’s unique to Patek Philippe. Their style results from a select few, impactful design decisions. The collectible, perpetual calendar-equipped Ref. 5496 is a terrific example of the brand’s retrograde efforts, as it channels Patek’s historically documented affinity with clean, well-proportioned aesthetics that stand out without necessarily asking for attention.
In the latest, platinum-cased version of this perpetual calendar, collectors will be pleased to find carefully applied numerals on the brushed silver, date-indicating arc, which speak to the extreme attention to detail that is possessed by Patek Philippe’s master watchmakers. It could also be said that this piece bears a resemblance to some of Patek’s great early references that are now highly desirable in the bustling market for vintage watches.
Chronoswiss’ Delphis stays true to the brand’s established style by sporting a stunning, silver guilloché dial and strong, pronounced lugs. However, mechanically speaking, it could be said that the Delphis is a departure from the rest of their offerings as it includes a legible jumping hour window and a retrograde minutes mechanism. All of this is contained within a stainless steel or precious metal, coin-edge case, with the brand’s distinctive onion-shaped crown.
While these traits are commonly considered traditional, this retrograde timepiece still has a very modern look, making the Delphis a respected design among industrial designers, and arguably one of Chronoswiss’ most thought-provoking timepieces to date.
Longines Master Collection Retrograde
Lastly, this piece from Longines represents something that many horological onlookers ought to realize: A great watch doesn’t have to break the bank. Coming from the brand’s Master Collection, this smart-looking wristwatch features a silver guilloché dial much like that of the previous Chronoswiss, but the real attraction with this one is the four separate retrograde displays, which indicate the date, day of the week, seconds, and the time in a second time zone. This is accomplished via the Caliber L698.2, a new, self-winding movement developed by ETA for Longines.
In its price range, it’s hard to find a more complicated, mechanical timepiece of comparable quality and value than what Longines offers with the Master Collection Retrograde. It’s watches like these that help spark interest in haute horlogerie at a more accessible level, which can be seen as an important part of keeping the watchmaking industry thriving.