History of Timepieces All About Perpetual Calendars

Patek Perpetual Calendar

We’re taking a closer look at what a perpetual calendar is as well as some amazing models that will leave you wanting more.  We originally outlined what a perpetual calendar is in our article introducing calendar complications.

If you’re not sure what a perpetual calendar is, it has been designed to take into account an extra day every four years for leap year, and automatically transition to the correct day whether March 1st or February 29th.  We’re in luck as February, 2016 has 29 days rather than the usual 28 days. This leap year correction is what differentiates a perpetual calendar from an annual calendar.

A perpetual calendar is also set to make corrections in date until March 1st, 2100, when the leap year is ignored. Some perpetual calendars have been designed to correct themselves when the leap year is ignored, meaning they won’t need correction until 2400!

History of the Perpetual Calendar

Thomas Mudge

Thomas Mudge was an English horologist who invented important parts of a watch, including the lever escapement, mechanisms for the equation of time, minute repeater and the important perpetual calendar. He was born in 1715 and died in November of 1794 in London, England.

He began a clock and watch making apprentice in London when he was about 15 years old under George Graham. In 1728, he became a qualified watchmaker and was employed by a number of retailers.

Thomas Mudge and his Perpetual Calendar

While making a complicated equation watch for John Ellicott FRS, Mudge was discovered to be the actual maker of the watch. This led him to be directly commissioned to supply watches for Ferdinand VI of Spain, producing at least five watches including one that repeated the hours, quarter hours and minutes.

Around 1755, Mudge invented the detached lever escapement, which can be considered one of his most celebrated inventions and can be considered one of the greatest improvements when applied to a watch.

The oldest known perpetual calendar watch was made by Mudge in 1762, was in fact a pocket watch, and now resides in the British Museum.

Patek Philippe

In 1889, Patek Philippe filed a patent for a perpetual calendar mechanism.  This was designed for pocket watches, providing immediate jumps in days, dates, months and lunar phases.  This movement combines a wheel, heart-piece and levers that all simultaneously work together to turn the star-wheels.


First Known Perpetual Wristwatch

One of first known wristwatch with a perpetual calendar was manufactured by Patek Philippe in 1925 using a pendant watch movement. This first perpetual calendar was commissioned by Thomas Emery, who was an American connoisseur of Patek Philippe watches.

Patek Philippe has since reacquired this historic piece to display in their museum collection. They have also become a watch brand synonymous with perpetual calendar complications, boasting a long list of famous reference numbers.

Historic Perpetual Calendar Watches

During the period leading up to World War II, almost no watch manufactures were producing perpetual calendar watches. It was extremely rare to find a brand creating these complicated watches.

Patek Philippe is known to have produced one of the first perpetual calendar watches. This was produced using a ladies pendant watch movement. This movement was originally crafted for a pocket watch, but what about a movement created specifically for a wristwatch?


Breguet created the Breguet no. 4244, the very first watch from the company to feature a perpetual calendar. This watch is also very likely the first wristwatch to hold a perpetual calendar movement created specifically for a wristwatch.

Breguet 4244 Perpetual Calendar

The Breguet no. 4244 was manufactured in 1929 and sold for 11,000 CHF in 1934 to Monsieur Jean Dollfus, an industrial heir and regular client of the company. This historic watch was up for auction in 2011 at Christie’s.


In 1937, Jaeger-LeCoutlre produced their own important perpetual calendar. This rectangular perpetual calendar is thought to have been designed to celebrate the merger of Edmond Jaeger to the LeCoultre manufacturer.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Perpetual Calendar 1937

The dial of this unique JLC is only marked by the words “perpetual calendar” in English, indicating it was most likely for the UK or U.S. Markets.  The Jaeger-LeCoutlre name is hidden from the dial and is only found on the movement.

The 10,000 Year Clock

Not exactly small enough to fit on your wrist, this massive clock is being built in a mountain in Texas and will show the time for 10,000 years! The 10,000 Year Clock is being constructed by the Long Now Foundation and supported by Amazon Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, who’s land contains the mountain where this is being constructed.

The clock is designed to function for 10,000 years and is dedicated to challenging notions of the accelerating pace of modern life. Because the clock is going to last for so many years, it must take into consideration different design considerations and natural occurrences.

Prototype of the 10,000 Year Clock

Prototype of the 10,000 Year Clock

Designed to generate power through solar power and thermal energy, it is believed this will generate enough energy to tell the time.  However, if you do visit the extraordinary clock, you will have to fully wind the mechanism to display the current time.  This process both conserves energy and gives visitors a look into when the previous visitors were there.

Read more about this incredible clock and all of it’s unique design features and materials on Hodinkee and on the Long Now Foundation website. Currently, the clock is still being built as the mountain has to be dug out to make room. Prototypes like the one pictured above have been built to visualize all the moving parts that will keep the clock ticking for many, many years.

Building Your Collection

Perpetual calendars are a perfect addition to any collection. They are available in classic designs, unique skeleton models and sporty models. This wide assortment of models (and brands) also means they are found in a variety of price points. We love perpetual calendar watches and have compiled a selection of current models we have in our pre-owned inventory.

Don’t forget, we’re also an authorized dealer of new models if you were looking for a different piece. Please contact our concierge department with assistance purchasing new models.

Perpetual Calendar Watches

About Emily Smith
Newbie to watches but a quick learner. She loves the history of watches and loves learning how they work. She prefers Rolex and Omega watches but is learning the history behind other brands. Her watches of choice right now are her vintage Omega Ladymatic that is a mere 19mm and her newest addition, a 1973 Rolex Oyster with a navy dial. While she enjoys the look of vintage watches, she is excited to learn about new models and build her collection.

Watches you may be interested in:

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