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A small watchmaking venture started as an experiment continues to design watches that offer simple solutions and unorthodox displays for complex timekeeping functions.   

By James Henderson

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of one of the longest running experiments in the watch business. Back in 2006, Ludwig Oechslin (of Ulysse Nardin fame and until 2014 curator of the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) in La Chaux-de-Fonds) and his fellow Ochs und Junior co-founders asked the watch world a contrary question – if you could buy a watch with complications that were distilled down to their most basic level, would you?

Dr. Ludwig Oechslin

Then they took it a few steps further. What if the case was not polished, but somewhat, well, basic?

In other words, what if you could buy a watch conceived by one of the most famous watch creators of recent times, one that possessed marvelous complications that apart from the dial of the watch, remained hidden away beneath a solid caseback?

In a world where watches are meant to be highly polished and eerily similar in look and feel, what if you went a different way?

The famed 39mm Ochs und Junior Annual-Calendar. Check out this video of Ludwig Oechslin explaining the date spiral for his perpetual calendar, which is also relevant for his moon phase watch.

Fast-forward to 2021. While the experiment continues, it appears to be a resounding success with Ludwig Oechslin and Ochs und Junior continuing to swim against the mainstream. Here’s a short, three-part history of the idiosyncratic watchmaker.

The Foundation

 This period involves Ludwig Oechslin, Beat Weinmann and Kurt König (the owner of Embassy, the Lucerne-based jewelry store that Beat Weinmann was working for at the time). Ochs und Junior produced a very small number of esoteric watches. These were known to a small group of collectors.

The Ochs und Junior Two-Timezones Date with rose gold PVD.

The Growth Period

This was when Ulysse Nardin was brought in as a partner and Ochs und Junior set up shop in a studio space, a little bit off the beaten path in Lucerne.

The Ochs Period

In 2019, after a lot of thought and consultation within the family, Kornelia Imesch and Ludwig Oechslin bought all the shares of Ochs und Junior. But it is important to note that this was only done once it was clear that some of the “Junior Ochs” would join the company.  And to that end, it has been agreed that two of the younger Oechslins will be joining the team, which is now based in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Inside the Ochs und Junior Annual Calendar.

Ochs und Junior today is a family company, led by Dr. Ludwig Oechslin. The rest of the band includes Christian Gafner, who is head of brand and design, Violaine Baudouin, the marketing chief, and Louise Krank (a junior), communication designer. The company’s watchmakers are Jost Schlatter and Masaki Kanazawa, who is a Master Watchmaker for Ludwig Oechslin’s special projects.

Ludwig Oechslin’s ideas will continue to set the tone moving forward, which is really what has made Ochs und Junior what it is today. As the company evolves, it continues to grow through experimentation. Below are some of Ochs und Junior’s most recent designs.

All three Ochs und Junior Calendario Cent’anni models.

The Calendario Cent’anni

This 100-year calendar, designed by Ludwig Oechslin, features a dial with indication of hours, minutes and seconds in addition to correct date, month, leap or non-leap year. The 40mm watch is titanium and is powered by a Ulysse Nardin UN-320 automatic movement. The Arabic character or indices with hour/minute hands are coated with SuperLuminova.

The Calendario Cent’anni (CCAII), a 100-year calendar.

Here’s how it shows the time and date:

  • The dates (28, 29, 30 or 31 days of any month) are visible for 100 years, without needing correction for the length of any month (including February in leap years), and are displayed via a traveling, rectangular dot on the date spiral.
  • The month and leap years are on a central rotating disk. The leap year and the three following years are displayed on a decentralized disc, rotating together with the position of the month-display. Finally, the central hour and minutes with the seconds rotating are seen on a small disk at 6 o’clock.

    The Calendario Cent’anni (CCAI), or 100-year calendar.

Prices begin at CHF 15,230 (approximately $16,600).

The Settimana Limited

This watch is designed to help savor a favorite day of the week, allowing the wearer to set six “standard” days and one “extra special” one. It colorfully indicates hours, minutes and seconds, and all seven weekdays by clockwise rotating dot between 1 o’clock and 7 o’clock.

The trio of Settimana models. They colorfully indicate hours, minutes and seconds, and all seven weekdays by clockwise rotating dot between 1 o’clock and 7 o’clock.

The titanium-cased Settimama measures 36mm in diameter and is powered by a Sellita SW 200-1 automatic movement. The watch is available in three limited color versions of 11 pieces each. Prices start at CHF 3,046, or approximately $3,300.

The new Moonphase Trilogy. All are 39mm and cased in titanium

Ochs und Junior moonphase

This special edition of the Ochs und Junior Moon Phase is available for pre-order in three 39mm variations, and can be purchased as a trio or individually.

The 39mm moonphase Emerald Green model features a lacquered dial with black galvanized moon disk and golden markers and hands. It also features a jade-stone as the sun at the 12 o’clock position.

Option one features a black galvanized dial and red lacquer-coated moon disk with red markers and hands with a case of black PVD-coated titanium. Another option has a red lacquer-coated dial with black galvanized moon disk, black markers and hands in a titanium case. Option number three has an emerald-green lacquer-coated dial with black galvanized moon disk, and gold colored markers and hands. This emerald green watch will feature a jade sun at the 12 o’clock position. The straps are made from red or black textile with a titanium buckle. Prices: CHF 7,400, or approximately $8,100.

The Ochs und Junio Moonphase with black galvanic dial.

And there are more interesting developments to come, but suffice it to say after fifteen years Ochs und Junior is here to stay.

Among its many notable 2021 debuts, Patek Philippe earlier this month unveiled two particularly interesting calendar watches. Each introduces a new approach to full-spectrum timekeeping, and, notably, neither debut is cased in gold. 

One, the much-discussed in-line Perpetual Calendar (Ref. 5236P-001), is a new perpetual calendar that shows the day, date, and month in a single panoramic aperture at the top of the dial –the first such display in a Patek Philippe wristwatch.

The new Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar (Ref. 5236P-001), cased in platinum.
The new perpetual calendar is thin, measuring 11.07mm front to back, all in platinum.

The second calendar model, the Ref. 4947/1A-001 Annual Calendar, places an annual calendar in a steel case and on a steel bracelet. Recall that Patek Philippe pioneered the annual calendar for the wrist in 1996, and this new model is the brand’s first annual-calendar-only watch not cased in a precious metal.

The Perpetual Calendar

A close look at the in-line calendar display on the new Patek Philippe Cal. 5236P perpetual calendar.

Patek Philippe has previously created in-line calendar displays, but strictly for pocket watches. Interestingly, these were made first for the American market. One example from 1972 (No. P- 1450) features a calendar format in the American style (“à l’américaine”), showing month, date, and then day.

Taking a cue from this historic model and a few others, Patek Philippe several years ago challenged itself to devise such a display in miniature for a wristwatch.

Patek Philippe’s watchmakers decided to design a system with two date disks – one for the tens and one for the units. This meant that the entire calendar display would require four disks, one for the day, two for the date, and one for the month, and all needed to be embedded in the same plane.

Stay thin

To accomplish this, and to maintain a thin caliber, Patek Philippe’s watchmakers built the new movement based on the caliber found in the Ref. 5235 Annual Calendar Regulator from 2011. The caliber in the Ref. 5235 features an off-center micro-rotor, which opens up space for the additional 118 components required to construct the in-line display.

The new Patek Philippe Caliber 31-260 PS QL AMB.

Patek Philippe then had to re-engineer the caliber to more efficiently drive the extra energy required by a perpetual calendar. The firm’s watchmakers increased the torque of the spring barrel 20 percent and boosted the winding power by utilizing a platinum rotor rather than the more typical gold rotor.

And finally, Patek Philippe improved the caliber’s overall rate stability by increasing the frequency from 3.2 to 4 Hz (28,800 semi-oscillations per hour).

The resulting new automatic, ultra-thin caliber 31-260 PS QL boasts a recessed mini-rotor and a customized module for which Patek Philippe has filed three patents. In addition to powering the date display, the movement also powers two round displays that show the leap-year cycle as well as the day/night indications. A further window displays the moon phases.

Patek Philippe is launching the Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5236P-001 in a hand-polished 41.3mm x 11.07mm platinum case. Its handsome blue dial offers nicely gradated black at the edges. It arrives on a matching navy blue alligator leather strap secured with a fold-over clasp. Price: $130,108.

 

Annual Calendar

The new Patek Philippe  Ref. 4947/1A-001 Annual Calendar finds the manufacturer re-designing the ultra-practical complication to fit within a steel Calatrava case for the first time. Equally interesting, the Calatrava is attached to an all-new steel bracelet.  

The new Patek Philippe Ref. 4947/1A-001 Annual Calendar.

You might recall that Patek Philippe invented the wrist-borne Annual Calendar in 1996, effectively creating an entirely new calendar watch category for itself (and many other high-end watchmakers.)

Requiring only one manual correction per year (at the end of February), the annual calendar brings with it a convenient, and moderately priced, calendar function to those who would like the all-encompassing coverage of a perpetual calendar, but balk at the high cost of nearly all examples of the mechanical complication.

Until this new model, Patek Philippe has offered its annual calendar in various ladies’ and men’s models, all in either gold or platinum cases.

The new 38mm steel-cased Patek Philippe  Ref. 4947/1A-001 Annual Calendar offers a polished steel bezel that matches the new, totally integrated steel bracelet. Patek Philippe has created a luxurious five-row bracelet made of fully polished links and a fold-over clasp.

The blue dial on the new watch is patterned with vertical and horizontal satin finishes that appear textured, as on a matte linen fabric. This assures that the dial contrasts nicely with polish of the case and bracelet, creating a surprisingly contemporary overall appearance.  

The watch’s calendar displays are easy to read: Two subsidiary dials between 9 and 10 o’clock indicate the day and, between 2 and 3 o’clock, the month; the date appears in an aperture at 6 o’clock just below a moon-phase display rounds out the calendar functions.

From the back, the wearer can enjoy a clear view of the beautifully finished automatic Patek Philippe caliber 324 S QA LU movement. The watch is nicely sized at 38mm and not too fussy, particularly given its array of calendar functions. It also holds a unique position within the Patek Philippe lineup, especially with its steel case and bracelet. If you’ve been waiting for a steel-cased Patek that is not a Nautilus and not a chronograph, this might be your new watch.

Price: $47,904

 

Specifications: Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar (Ref. 5236P-001)

Movement: Self-winding mechanical Caliber 31‑260 PS QL. In-line perpetual calendar. Day, date, month, leap year and day/night indication in apertures. Small seconds.

Dial: Blue, black-gradient, vertical satin finish, gold applied hour markers.

Case: 41.3 by 11.07 platinum. Interchangeable solid and sapphire crystal case backs. Water-resistant to 30 meters.

Bracelet: Alligator leather with square scales, hand-stitched, shiny navy blue. Fold-over clasp.

Price: $130,108. 

 

Specifications: Patek Philippe Annual Calendar (Ref. 4947/1A-001)

Movement: Self-winding mechanical movement. Caliber 324 S QA LU. Annual Calendar. Day and month by hands. Date in an aperture Moon phases. Sweep seconds.

Dial: Blue, vertical and horizontal satin-finish (“shantung” finish), gold applied numerals.

Case: 38mm by 11mm steel, sapphire crystal case back, water-resistant to 30 meters.

Bracelet: Steel. Fold-over clasp.

Price: $47,904

Parmigiani Fleurier introduces a sportier Tonda with the release of its new Tondagraph GT, a steel-cased chronograph inspired by the excellent Tonda Chronor, which won the Chronograph Watch Prize from the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2017.

The new Parmigiani Fleurier Tondagraph GT, a 42mm steel-cased chronograph with annual calendar.

The watchmaker also adds the Tonda GT, a three-hand version of the new model, a more leisurely design to be made as a limited edition in both a steel and a rose gold case.

The new Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda GT Steel, on a rubber strap.

Both the chronograph and three-hand model (with date) measure 42mm in diameter and feature a distinctive Parmigiani Fleurier “clou triangulaire” guilloché dial, a three-dimensional hobnail-type pattern that serves to nicely separate each dial display.

The chronograph

Parmigiani Fleurier powers its new sporty chronograph with the in-house PF043 automatic caliber that features a chronograph with, unusually, an annual calendar. As a reminder, an annual calendar shows the correct date and day all year, with only one correction required (on February 29). Combining these features places the watch among only a few high-end Swiss Made watches available with both these features.

 

Two subdials are dedicated to the chronograph display; the display at 3 o’clock is shared by the month aperture and the running seconds.

Parmigiani Fleurier has accented the large date and month displays with an orange color to both highlight and separate that function visually from the time and the chronograph timing. In fact, ‘annual calendar’ appears ­– in orange –  within the subdial to visually tie the function together.

The case itself, designed by Dino Modolo, reprises the fluted bezel seen on the brand’s Toric models and on at least one model of the limited edition Tonda Chronor, but with smoother curved lugs that perfectly integrate the case with the new steel bracelet.     

The dial features delta-shaped hands with a black luminescent coating. Water resistant to 100 meters, the Tondagraph GT also offers a screw-down crown and a 45-hour power reserve.

Parmigiani Fleurier’s PF043 automatic movement, with a power reserve of forty-five hours, powers the watch and is finished with Côtes de Genève stripes visible through the open caseback.  Price: $18,500 (on an integrated rubber strap) and $19,500 (bracelet). The Tondagraph GT is limited to 200 pieces.

The three-hander

The Tonda GT offers a cleaner guilloche dial finished with the same pattern as the chronograph, but here the dial underscores a simple hour and minute hands display with a large date at 12 o’clock and a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. Parmigiani Fleurier’s PF044 automatic movement, with a power reserve of forty-five hours, powers the watch.

Unlike the chronograph, the Tonda GT will be made in both steel and rose gold. The latter precious metal model further differentiates itself with a stunning blue dial and can be had with either a gold bracelet or a sporty blue rubber strap matching the dial. The Tonda GT Steel, likewise, is available with a steel bracelet or a black rubber strap.

The Tonda GT Rose Gold Blue is limited to 150 pieces, while the steel model is limited to 250 pieces. Prices: $13,500 (Tonda GT Steel on rubber strap), $14,500 (Tonda GT Steel on bracelet), $49,500 (Tonda GT, blue dial on a rose gold bracelet, and $24,900 (Tonda GT, blue dial in gold case on rubber). Availability: Pre-order now with delivery in August (Tonda GT with bracelet only in September).