This Is the World's Most Complicated Timepiece

Modern digital watches can be beautifully engineered and designed items, but they will always lack the craftsmanship that their mechanical predecessors possess. This hand-wound masterpiece, declared "the most complicated watch in the world" by its maker, doesn't do anything a digital watch couldn't replicate but it does so with soul. It also costs $5 million which makes for some very expensive soul.

The Patek Philippe Calibre 89 is a timepiece fit for a queen. With more than thirty complications, it's the most complicated mechanical watch ever devised, and valued at about $6 million, it costs a king's ransom—that is, if you're even able to track one down. The Calibre 89 was built as a four-piece commemorative series of pocket watches—as in only four were ever made; white gold, yellow gold, rose gold, and platinum—honoring the Patek Philippe company's sesquicentennial anniversary in 1989.

Development of the Calibre 89 began nearly a decade earlier with the goal of making "the clock with the most complications in the world, containing all the traditional watchmaking techniques accumulated over one-and-a-half centuries," according to the Swiss Broadcasting Corp. The project took nine engineers five years of research and another four of construction to finish. And in the early 1980s there was no such thing as AutoCAD so this watch was, in every sense, completely hand-crafted.

Each timepiece is about the size of a hockey puck—3.5 inches wide, 1.5 inches thick—and weighs 2.5 pounds. That heft comes from the keyless three-barrel, double dial watch's 1,728 components including 24 hands, two dials, eight discs, a thermometer, and star chart. In all, the 18 carat case houses some 33 complications—features beyond telling the time in hours, minutes, and seconds. "It has pretty much all the complications that you can imagine for a mechanical watch," says Jean-Michael Piguet, deputy curator of the International Watchmaking Museum, told the SBC. Here's a partial list:

  • Sidereal time
  • Moon phase display
  • Winding crown position indicator
  • Century, decade, year, and month displays
  • Leap Year Indicator
  • Season
  • Day of the month
  • Day of the week
  • 12-hour recorder
  • Hour of second timezone
  • Split second hand
  • Power reserve
  • Thermometer
  • Date of Easter
  • Time of sunrise and sunset
  • Equation of time
  • Star chart
  • Sun hand
  • Westminster chime on four gongs
  • "Grande and Petite Sonnerie" alarm
  • Going and striking train indicators
  • Three-way setting indicator
  • Tourbillon regulator

The company won't say how much it sank into creating them but each watch is valued at roughly $6 million and the set was originally sold to an unnamed royal family. In 2004, however, the white gold model sold at the Antiquorum auction house for $5 million. Not bad for a watch that still needs its clockwork hand-wound daily.

[Hodinkee - Wikipedia - Luxist]