Traditionally, the size of the date display was limited by its design, which uses a numbered ring that turns around the edge of the dial. As a result, the date cannot be made larger without increasing the size of the case.
I believe A. Lange & Söhne was the first to create a new kind of date complication in 1995, when it introduced the company’s oversize date display in the Lange 1 and Saxonia. It also appeared the same year in the Arkade, a ladies model that’s no longer in production. That watch had a small case that made the big date even more striking.
Instead of a single ring, A. Lange & Söhne’s date display is comprised of two pieces: a ring numbered 0 to 9 that turns once a day, and an overlapping cross-shaped piece numbered 1 to 3 (including a blank space) that advances once every ten days. Inspired by the Five-Minute Clock in Dresden’s Semper Opera House, this innovative design made it possible to increase the legibility of the numerals without expanding the case.
Since then, others have introduced their own large date displays, including great examples from Glashütte Original and Girard-Perregaux. What’s also nice is that big date displays also are being used in a growing number of perpetual calendar watches. Ulysse Nardin and H. Moser & Cie. in particular are producing some amazing big date perpetuals.
But even before A. Lange & Söhne started this trend, others found simpler ways to optimize the legibility of the date without creating a new complication. The most famous is probably the Cyclops lens that Rolex patented in 1953. Essentially, it’s a magnifying lens attached to the crystal that was designed to make the Datejust easier to read.
Now more than ever, you’ll find a wide selection of calendar watches that won’t leave you squinting.
Leon Adams is the owner of Cellini Jewelers.