Throughout many decades watch dealers and fans of beautiful timepieces have been fascinated by the wonder of the mechanical watch- the movement that’s kept the trains running on time and helped the life—saving nurse keep time during her ward shift. Although not as frequently seen as these days as in the past, the pocket watch is making a resurgence so we thought it would be interesting to take a look into some of the most remarkable pocket watches from this century and beyond— including one of the most complex mechanical devices that have ever been made.
The Pearl Star
The Pearl Star, made in 1794 by William Anthony, was one of the first watches with expanding hands.Made in London by Anthony, this piece has an oblong case with automatically extending hands. When the hands are at noon, for example, they become extended fully reaching the top of the case. When they move around to 9:15, they automatically shorten themselves in order to fit the dimensions of the watch avoiding touching the sides of the case.
Perrin Freres created one of the first “digital” watches that used a distinctive system of hands to display the time.The dream of a “digital” watch—meaning a watch that displayed the hours in minutes using rotating numerals as an alternative to hands—has always been an important quest in watchmaking. In 1800 Perrin Freres, the man from Switzerland created an amazing variation on this with the Wandering Hours watch. He developed a watch that allowed three hands to circle a central pivot and on the tip of each, four small hour numerals which would spin into place at the end of each hour. With the case closed, the watch resembles a fuel gauge showing minutes and hours but the interior provides an inquisitive eye with a cacophony of gears and hands waiting to be discovered.
The Packard was a result of a bet, which inadvertently created one of the first fantastically complicated watches.James Ward Packard, of Packard automobile fame, wanted to own the most complex watch in the world. He sent his order to another Swiss watch maker- Patek Philippe- and they sent back a watch in 1916 with as many as 16 complications— trade talk for features—including a star map that barred the night sky from his bedroom window in Warren, Ohio. And finally, in 1923, the watch was released.
This impressive creation boasted the pinnacle of “complicated” movements for more than 50 years.To avoid being outdone by Packard, a New York banker by the name of Henry Graves Jr. commissioned his own complicated watch from Patek Philippe. And in 1933 the result was the Graves Complication which showcased a staggering 24 complications. This watch sold for $11 million in 1999, making it one of the most expensive watches the world has ever seen in the process.
The Caliber 89 is known for being the most complex watch in the world.This extraordinary watch can now be found hanging in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. Commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the company in 1988, the watch was made with an incomprehensible 33 complications and is slightly bigger than a tennis ball in diameter. Sure, the average smartwatch is probably capable of beating it for accuracy and features, but to be able to pack in calendars, astrological charts, and chimes into a mechanical device present us with the natural inquisitiveness and wonder that only a mechanical watch of this kind can offer.