Quantieme ... 9 magic letters that carry a lot of weight in the horological world. The Calendar is a timeless, significant complication that attracts high-end collectors and watch enthusiasts alike. It's no surprise it is an auction highlight and regularly shows up in our shop as well. So how did the appearance and the image of these timepieces change throughout the last Century? And how important is it for the modern auction industry?

May 31, 2022

We Have A Date - Calendar Complications, Their History and Appeal

 


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


  

Speak with me: "Perpetual Calendar" ... "Quantieme" ... "Triple-Date with Moon-Phase" ... don't you also feel the immediate attraction vibrating from these words?

What might be behind the aura of the complicated calendar watches? Maybe it is the inherently complex mechanical wonder that is oh so often paired with the unbearably romantic atmosphere created by a moon-phase disc. A recognizable design, a symmetric and classic dial layout. Every piece a metaphor that relates our being to the past, the present and the future. An infographic slightly busy yet never too crowded. (explanation for the different types below*)

 

Vintage 1940s Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple-Date in SteelAn iconic complication and something dear to our hearts here at Goldammer.me. The classic complicated calendar watch has been a classic ever since it became established in wristwatches in the 1920s.

 

No matter what it is for me, it is also an ageless, significant complication that attracts high-end collectors and watch enthusiasts alike. It is a true classic in the auction world. And we most certainly enjoy every example we list in our shop as well. This auction cycle alone 15% of the lots offered - over 230 watches - featured mechanical calendar complications.

The mechanical calendar has a long history that goes Centuries back (the first Perpetual Calendar pocket-watch came from Thomas Mudge in 1762[1-2]). Historically the first Perpectual Calendar wristwatch was commissioned by Thomas Emery and executed by Patek Philipe in 1925[1-2] and later Breguet in 1929. The first Annual and Triple-Calendars came in the 1920s as well with Vacheron Constantine and Rolex being important players in the sector[3].

 

Relative Distribution of Quantieme Calendar watches offered during the 2022 Auction SeasonFigure 1. Relative Distribution of Calendar watches offered during the 2022 auction cycle by year of production.

 

Most of these very early Calendar pieces were commissioned and as such they were the rarest of the rarest. It wasn't until the 1940s that more brands adapted the technology in their wristwatches and higher volumes were produced[3-4- particularly the early Heuer Datograph, Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple-Date and Omega Cosmic variants come to mind[5-6]. Also, around the late 1940s the modern "Quantieme" dial layout - 4 sub-dials with day, date, month with leap-year and moon-phase - was born in the manufacture of Audemars Piguet with the Ref. 5516[4].

 

Phillips Auction - 1945 Patek Philippe 1526 in yellow goldDuring the 1940s the world started to see more and more complicated calendar watches. From Omega to Patek Philippe, several brands executed this romantic complication. Photo a subtle 1945 Patek Philippe 1526 Perpetual Calendar, sold for 264,600CHF, over 2x its low estimate, at Phillips Geneva Lot 198.

 

It's around that time, from the late 1940s/early 1950s, that are also the oldest calendar pieces offered this auction cycle. We don't see many of them - 15 pieces offered from before 1960 - but they actually make up a quite substantial amount pieces from that era (up to 15%). Another peak in popularity comes around 1970, the same time we see AP (for example with the Caliber 2120/2800) and other brands investing in ultra-thin Calendar movements[7].

 

Monaco Legend Group - vintage 1990s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak QuantiemeThe star of many auctions and a big winner of the Spring auction cycle - the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quantieme - the ultra-thin 2120 Perpetual Calendar movement in Genta design. Photo a 1990s Audemars Piguet 25654 Quantieme, sold for 221,000EUR at the Monaco Legend Group Lot 19.

 

What many people might forget is that some manufacturers saw the complicated calendar watch as a potential life-boat during the quartz crisis. As the epiphany of the horological craft it comprised a unique selling point. And that's been a sentiment that several brands re-introduced with the Neo-vintage classicist design of the late 1980s and 1990s. That's clearly been calendar crunch time and a broad range of manufacturers produced these distinctive pieces - just think of IWCs DaVinci or Blancpains Villeret.

From early commission wonders to ultra-thin Neo-vintage statements - we have worked our way through the history and popularity of this romantic time machine. Now we should finally discuss the performance of all these pieces at auction. While I'm writing this - and the Phillips HK auction is still running - complicated calendar watches have hammered for over $34Mio. A tremendous sum that accounts for ~16% of the total revenue, and almost exactly what you would expect given the amount of watches.

 

Distribution of Price and price-to-estimate ratio for all Quantieme Calendar Watches Spring 2022 Auction SeasonFigure 2. Distribution of hammer prices (left, logarithmically scaled) and price-to-estimate ratio (right) for all Calendar watches sold during Spring 2022 Auction Season so far. The results are color-coded for different auction houses. Solid and dashed outlines indicate sales at the European and Asian branches of the houses, respectively. Photo depicting the profile of an ultra-thin Audemars Piguet 25657 non-Royal-Oak Quantieme. 36mm of pure joy in platinum with a blue "Tuscan" dial. You can also see the characteristic button to set the date at 4o'clock. Sold at Phillips HK Lot 938.

 

So let's look a little closer at all those prices. Even at major auctions you can find complicated timepieces for under $5k ... but you can also pay for one such calendar a seven-figure sum. It's a quite diverse range but the average piece will cost you in between $50,000 to $300,000. Quite juicy but you have to take into consideration that of those 230+ watches over 53% are Patek Philippe and another 27% are Audemars Piguet (over 85% of those Royal Oaks) - the major players in this realm of watchmaking (and auctions in general) and typically not known for being bargain pieces.

 

Phillips Auction - 1948 vintage Omega CosmicIt is not only the big-money lots that should get the attention... a stunning 1948 Omega 2471-1 "Pre-Series" or prototype Cosmic has been one of the historically relevant lots and a relic from a different era. Sold for 25,200CHF, over 2x its low estimate, at Phillips Geneva Lot 189.

 

If we speak about the success of the individual auction houses we can see that from the 15 top-selling lots (>$400,000 ) 2 were sold by the Monaco Legend Group, 3 by Christie's Hong Kong and the remaining 10 by Phillips (9 Geneva, 1 HK thus far). By brand those pieces were 1 Rolex, 6 Patek Philippe and astonishing 8 AP Royal Oak examples.

But the net revenue is not the only factor. Another one is the "expectation exceedance" of a lot, or in other words how did each lot perform in respect to its low estimate**? Of course Phillips has their pieces in front in this category, they are known to set the estimates rather low to let the market decide on the actual value (30 watches at >2x the low estimate). Nevertheless, another 6 pieces actually went beyond the 2x boundary: 1 at Sotheby's Hong Kong, and another 5 at Christie's.

 

Monaco Legend Group - vintage 1953 Rolex Triple-Calendar in rose goldIt's not only steel sport Rolex that reel in significant results... Mid-century complicated pieces in precious metals have been on the forefront this season. Photo a beautiful rose-golden 1953 6062 Rolex Automatic Triple calendar with Moon-Phase, sold for astonishing 2,106,000EUR at the Monaco Legend Group Lot 103.

 

Overall, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe definitely dominate the picture in the complicated calendar niche at auction these days. What might be of particular interest is that AP and majorly their complicated Royal Oak models made an extremely big splash this year. It is not only about the 50th anniversary of the 5402 Royal Oak, it's the entire Audemars Piguet portfolio that is showing up big times!

From every piece of data that I've seen this far the complicated calendar watches are an established pillar of the modern auction world. You can find that they hold value (monetary as well as emotional) in all age ranges. The priciest examples are from the Neo-vintage era (10 out of 15 top-lots are from between 1980-2000) but we also see early vintage examples from the 1950s going for big money.

A perpetual calendar is not a hype-watch, the Triple Calendar is not "hot" right now. We see that those pieces are both established as they are popular in demand. You don't see crazy numbers yet solid results. It's something for the true connoisseur and not the people chasing the quick buck. But enough input for now ... but maybe we can check out just one more photo?

 

Phillips Auction - vintage 1974 Automatic Patek Philippe 3448A classic white-golden Patek Philippe 3448 Automatic Perpetual Calendar "Padellone" from 1974, sold for 655,200CHF, at Phillips Geneva Lot 216.

 

 

Here, I summarized the results from: Bonhams NY (April 14th, 2022), Christie's Geneva (May 9th, 2022) & HK (May 24th, 2022), Monaco Legend Group (April 23rd & 24th, 2022), Phillips Geneva (May 7th & 8th, 2022) & HK (May 26th 27th), & Sotheby's HK (April 26th, 2022) and Geneva (May 10th, 2022).

- And more Auction World content [here]

 

 

* Date/Calendar complications come in various flavors - Triple-Calendar refers to watches featuring the date, day and month; Annual Calendars further automatically adjusts for the length of the month for 30/31 day months; Perpetual Calendars (or Quantieme) are the most complex as they adjust the February 28 days and the leap-year[1-3]. For this analysis I'm leaving out the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph pieces

** There are certainly problems with only looking at the estimate: Some auction houses are more prone to set the estimates low to foster a bidding war versus other houses sticking more closely to the actual value for example. Let's keep that flagged in the back of our heads when discussing trends based on estimates. Here, we particularly focus on the 'Low Estimates' as they have some binding implications: the reserve (minimum price) has to be below or equal to the low estimate.

 

 

References

Catalogues: Bonhams NY, Christie's Geneva, MLG, Phillips GenevaPhillips HK, Sotheby's Geneva, Sotheby's HK

[1] Perpetual Calendar Complication: A History; Caitlyn Bazemore; Crown And Caliber;

https://blog.crownandcaliber.com/the-perpetual-calendar-complication-a-history/

[2] The Perpetual Calendar Complication; David Duggan;

https://www.daviddugganwatches.co.uk/one-to-watch/2019/a-guide-to-the-perpetual-calendar-complication/

[3] A Guide to: Triple Date and Annual Calendar Watch Complications; David Duggan;

https://www.daviddugganwatches.co.uk/one-to-watch/2019/a-guide-to-triple-calendar-and-annual-calendar-watch-complications/

[4] Through The Scope: The History of the Perpetual Calendar; Kapoor Watch;

https://www.kapoorwatch.com/blogs/through-the-scope-the-history-of-the-perpetual-calendar/

[5] Cosmic - the best Triple Calendar Moonphase?; Felix Goldammer, Goldammer Vintage Watches;

to the Youtube-Video

[6] Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Calendar - History & Design; Felix Goldammer, Goldammer Vintage Watches;

to the Youtube-Video

[7] Reference Talk - Audemars Piguet Quantieme Perpetual Automatique; Ben Dunn, WBLDN;

https://www.watchbrotherslondon.com/articles/reference-talk-audemars-piguet-quantieme-perpetual-automatique

 

All Rights on the text and graphics reserved to the Author.

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