The Collectibles: The Holy Grail of Timepieces including Cartier, Panerai, Patek Philippe and more

Ask any watch collector and he will tell you he values his ticking treasures above all other possessions. But for every collector, there is that one Holy Grail piece that he would gladly trade all the others for in a heartbeat. It is the one that is more than heart-stoppingly beautiful. It embodies both the traditional inventions of watchmaking – the tourbillon, the minute repeater and the micro-engineered marvels of chronometry – and embraces their modern interpretations.

 Piaget holds several records for ultra-thin horology, including the thinnest automatic movement, the thinnest automatic chronograph and the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar.

Any one of these timepieces could be that Holy Grail watch. All have pedigree, originality and exclusivity, and anyone who has a good relationship with a retailer that can access limited editions – and if you’re a serious collector, you have one on speed dial – can acquire one. Four are tourbillons, unique reinventions of the world’s most intriguing complication, and the others represent the epitome in their categories of haute watchmaking, from minute repeaters to solar timers.


Movement with a view

Rotonde de Cartier Double Mystery Tourbillon

The Rotonde de Cartier Double Tourbillon is double coup for Cartier. It references the brand’s heritage as an horological innovator by referencing the mystery clocks for which it became famous in the early 20th century. Secondly, it emphasizes the brand’s recently honed watchmaking ingenuity. The brand only started making its own calibers in 2006, but is already one of the most prolific and inventive of the Geneva watchmakers, introducing five new movements this year alone. With the impressive Double Mystery Tourbillon, it miniaturizes the concept of the mystery clock, with hands that seem to tell time by floating in space, thanks to a system of rotating sapphire disks. Cartier recreates the magic using a flying tourbillon escapement. It’s one thing to see hands that seem disconnected from the gear train, but to see a disconnected escapement rotating in mid-air is a sight to behold. The double tourbillon caliber 9454 MC turns on its axis every 60 seconds, then makes a second rotation at a rate of once every five minutes.


 The faster rotation, combined with the re-oriented position, results in more rigorous compensation for running errors due to the effects of gravity.

Pocket Power

Panerai Pocket Watch Tourbillon GMT Ceramica

The tourbillon was invented 200 years ago to house the regulator of a pocket watch which, sitting in one position all day, was vulnerable to the forces of gravity. Over the next two centuries, watchmakers reinterpreted the mechanism for use in the wristwatch, and it is refreshing and somewhat poetic to see it come full circle to rest in one of the most striking of modern-day pocket watches. The blackened movement and case are the first signs this is not your grandfather’s pocket watch, followed by the three-barrel power source (after all, there is room in a 59mm watch) and the wicked black chain. Most unconventional of all is the tourbillon carriage of the Panerai P.2005/S movement, which turns perpendicular to the rotation of the balance rather than parallel, like all other tourbillons. It also rotates at twice the normal speed, making two revolutions per minute. The faster rotation, combined with the re-oriented position, results in more rigorous compensation for running errors due to the effects of gravity. Only 50 pieces will be made.


The dance of time

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3

It seems counterintuitive to describe as conventional this double-axis tourbillon with sphericalshaped cage, spherical balance wheel and ball-shaped hairspring, but that is partly what Jaeger- LeCoultre was going for here. This is the brand’s homage to one of watchmaking’s original inventions, and the traditional understated hours and minutes dial is very deliberate. It was inspired by pocket watches of the 19th century, for which the tourbillon was originally invented. The absence of an upper bridge – this is a flying tourbillon – provides a clearer view of the gyroscope-like carriage. If you can take your eyes off the tourbillon, you’ll notice the watch also incorporates a digital chronograph, with elapsed chronograph minutes recorded in what looks like a large date window. The movement caliber 176 is the 1,242nd to be created by Jaeger-LeCoutre since its founding in 1833, and it is a serious contender for the It movement of the era. Does it take the tourbillon concept as far as it can go? Maybe, so place your order now for one of the 75 pieces being made.


The Trilogy Complete

Patek Philippe Ref. 5204 Split seconds chronograph with perpetual calendar

As a point of tradition, Patek Philippe’s classic chronographs are assigned to one of three categories: simple chronographs, simple chronographs with perpetual calendars, and split-seconds chronographs with perpetual calendars. When the brand developed its manually wound chronograph caliber CH 29-535 PS three years, ago it had this triple-tier of complexity in mind. In 2010 it introduced the movement in the Ref. 5170 chronograph (for ladies!). A year later came the Ref. 5270, with chronograph and perpetual calendar. Now, completing the trilogy is the Ref. 5204 with chronograph, perpetual calendar and split seconds functions, effectively replacing the Ref. 5004 split-seconds chrono. The split-seconds chronograph mechanism was extensively redesigned by Patek Philippe’s engineers. The new caliber has six patented innovations, including a new component that facilitates instantaneous minute register, so that when the chrono is stopped and started again, there is no delay or perceptible jumping of the hand.


Cool Classic

Audemars Piguet Tradition Tourbillon Minute Repeater Chrono

Only a handful of brands can put out a grande complication of this complexity or lay claim to doing it longer than anyone else (since 1882), but this watch takes more than know-how; it takes nerve. In a sea of blackened cases and movements, inclined tourbillon carriages and multi-tiered, super-luminated dials, entering into the fray with something this traditional is by comparison downright avant-garde. This is a brand that, if it wants to, could simply build on the more modern Royal Oak collection, appealing to its large and loyal fan base. The fact that it chooses as well to build on such a traditional piece is proof of the emerging return to classic watchmaking and the appreciation for that capability. The cushion-shaped case is inspired by a 1920s piece housed in the brand’s museum. It will be produced in two 10-piece editions: one in pink and white gold, and the other in titanium and white gold.


Chart topper

Piaget Emperador Coussin Ultra-Thin Minute Repeater

Piaget holds several records for ultra-thin horology, including the thinnest automatic movement, the thinnest automatic chronograph and the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar. The Emperador Coussin Ultra-Thin Minute Repeater is the world’s thinnest automatic minute repeater. At only 4.8mm thick, caliber 1290P presents in a watch that is only 9.4mm in its case (both movement and case thickness set a new record). The repeater is generally considered the most difficult of all complications to execute, and the addition of an automatic winding system makes the challenge even more daunting, as the automatic winding train has to be incorporated into what’s already an extremely crowded space. A micro-rotor, set into the plate itself, plus a reorientation of the repeater slide – it is pushed downwards rather than upwards – helps make room for all 407 components.


Fast Times

Breguet Classic Chronometrie 7727

High freqency has become the final frontier in haute watchmaking, thanks to new super-alloys and space-age materials that allow watchmakers to test the boundaries of speed and friction. Silicon hairsprings and balance wheels, titanium components, and gears and pinions that are more precisely engineered to hold their shape with minimal friction have made it possible to create escapements in mechanical movements that are almost indestructible. Observatory Chronometer competitions of the 1940s awarded prizes to the most accurate watch movements, and the winners were inevitably those with the highest frequencies. The standard today is 28,800 beats per hour, or 3 Hz. The Breguet Classic Chronometrie 7727, oscillates at a frequency of 10 Hz, or 72,000 vph. It is equipped with a silicon balance, pallet lever and escape-wheel. This edition is the first to be issued in pink gold. The debut piece was launched in platinum last year.


Ode to New York

The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle Caliber 2253 New York Boutique edition.

For practical reasons, mankind has divided each year into 365 and a quarter days, each day into 24 hours, and the hours into 60 minutes. But if you want to know exactly what time it is, you have to track solar time, which requires either a sundial or an equation of time watch. According to solar time, the length of a day can vary by up to nearly 17 minutes from average time, and the variation is called the equation of time. One of the things that keeps this complication valuable and collectible is its rarity: while most brands now make a tourbillon, only a handful make an equation of time. It is also a tourbillon, with sunrise and sunset indicators, perpetual calendar and power reserve indicator. The Patrimony Traditionnelle was made as a unique piece for the brand’s Madison Avenue boutique. The case side is hand engraved with the spiral wave-like pattern that appears along the frieze on the exterior of the store’s entrance.