An annual calendar watch is one that can differentiate between months with 30 and 31 days, therefore, only requires the owner to adjust it once a year, when February turns into March. Annual calendar watches generally indicate the time, day, date, and month, and often, the moon phase too. Surprising to most, annual calendar watches are a relatively new timepiece type, released in the mid-1990s. Since then, annual calendars have gained popularity in the luxury watch space thanks to their practicality and user-friendliness. Not only are annual calendar watches vastly easier to use than perpetual calendars, but they’re also much more affordable.
From their history and how they work to some of the best options on the market, here’s everything you need to know about annual calendar watches.
It may be hard to believe, but the annual calendar complication has been around for less than three decades. It was Patek Philippe that presented the first annual calendar watch in 1996. The mechanism was conceived by an engineering student at the University of Lausanne in the early 1990s and eventually refined and patented by Patek Philippe.
Learn more: Patek Philippe, History of One of the World’s Top Watchmakers
Patek Philippe was looking for a calendar watch that would fill the price gap between its time-only Calatrava models and perpetual calendar models–and the Annual Calendar ref. 5035 was born. To power the watch, Patek Philippe added an annual calendar mechanism module to Caliber 315 S, which was then renamed 315 S QA (Quantième Annuel).
According to the company, the reference 5035 went on to win the Swiss “Watch of the Year” award the year it was launched. The annual calendar complication has remained a mainstay of Patek Philippe’s catalog with plenty of variations joining the lineup.
Timeline of Notable Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Releases
- 1996: Annual Calendar Ref. 5035
- 1998: Annual Calendar Ref. 5036 with moon phase display
- 1998: Annual Calendar Rf. 5056 in platinum with moon phase display
- 2004: Gondolo Calendario Ref. 5135R
- 2005: Annual Calendar Ref. 5146
- 2005: Ladies’ Annual Calendar Ref. 4936
- 2006: Flyback Chronograph Annual Calendar Ref. 5960
- 2006: Annual Calendar Ref. 5396
- 2007: Minute Repeater Annual Calendar Grand Complication Ref. 5033
- 2007: Annual Calendar Regulator Display Ref. 5235
- 2010: Nautilus Annual Calendar Ref. 5726
- 2022: Annual Calendar Travel Time 5326G
Of course, aside from Patek Philippe, other luxury watch brands also offer annual calendar watches, which we detail further below.
Watch: Patek Philippe 5056 Annual Calendar on Roman Sharf’s desk.
How Does an Annual Calendar Watch Work?
An annual calendar watch is constructed to account for the differences between months with 30 days and 31 days. The 24-hour driving wheel has two “fingers” placed at an angle to one another. The first advances the date once a day and the second comes into play at the end of April, June, September, and November to skip from 30 to 1. However, an annual calendar does not factor in the shorter length of February (nor the extra day during leap years) like a perpetual calendar does.
Thus, if an annual calendar watch keeps running (either on the wrist or on a watch winder), it will only require the wearer to advance the date on March 1 – other than that, the watch will continue to display the correct date throughout the rest of the year. In short, it is immensely useful in day-to-day life since it requires far fewer adjustments than a simple calendar watch while also being more straightforward to set than a perpetual calendar.
Difference between Annual and Perpetual Calendar
Although perpetual calendar watches and annual calendar watches are closely associated, they operate differently. Whereas perpetual calendar watches rely on a vast network of cams and levers, annual calendar watches depend on rotating gear wheels, which are in constant contact with each other. This results in a much easier to produce, service, and operate watch mechanism.
Best Annual Calendar Watches
In addition to all the fantastic Patek Philippe watches outlined above, some other notable models to consider include the following:
- A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Annual Calendar
- F.P. Journe Octa Calendrier
- Omega Globemaster Annual Calendar
- IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar
- Glashütte Original PanoMaticCalendar
- Zenith Captain Winsor Annual Calendar
- Rotonde de Cartier Annual Calendar
- Rolex Sky-Dweller
Learn more: How Much Does a Rolex Sky-Dweller Cost?
The creation of the annual calendar not only filled the Patek Philippe price gap but also gave way to a whole new complication for watch enthusiasts to enjoy.
Today, this modern invention (relative to centuries-old watchmaking) is recognized as one of the most useful types of watches to own and wear. A step up from simple calendar watches but more accessible than perpetual calendars, annual calendar watches offer an appealing combination of real-life practicality, good looks, and mechanical mastery.
More from this series:
- What is a Perpetual Calendar Watch?
- What is a Tourbillon Watch?
- What is a GMT Watch?
- What is a Chronograph Watch?
- What is a Diving Watch?