With telling the time now as simple as tapping a home screen, it can be easy to forget that watches are machines of exquisite craftsmanship. Even the simplest of mechanical movements can have a mesmeric effect, with hundreds of individual parts ticking like, well, clockwork. And some manufactures go one cog further.
“Horological complications are viewed by many as the pinnacle of precision manufacturing,” says Michael Wilson, in-house watchmaker at American luxury outfit Niall. “And there’s a lucrative business for complex novelties, limited editions and extreme complications. Pair this with general brand rivalry, and watchmakers often pursue ultra-complex watches out of a thirst to be the best.”
This race to the bottom of your bank balance has resulted in some of the most mind-boggling tickers ever made, most of which would require nothing short of a Rothschild inheritance to afford.
Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon
The most elaborate watch ever produced by Patek Philippe, one of the most revered luxury watch brands in the world, the Sky Moon Tourbillon requires two dials to fit 13 outrageous complications. The most audacious is a celestial chart of the northern hemisphere that allows the wearer to chart the course of the moon and stars, alongside a perpetual calendar, retrograde date and mean solar time function. Because, why not?
The otherworldly piece is housed inside an 18-carat white gold case with intricate enamel hand-carved over 100 painstaking hours.
Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260
Vacheron Constantin is to watches what Bentley is to cars: classic, well-crafted and very, very expensive. The Reference 57260 takes this reputation to the next level.
Dubbed the world’s most complex piece, this 50mm thick pocket watch boasts 57 individual complications made up from over 2,800 components. To give an idea of how much showing off is going on here, it houses nine astronomical calendar functions, eight Hebrew calendar functions and seven alarms. Like a Bentley, it’ll guzzle a small fortune in maintenance costs, too.
Breguet No. 160 ‘Marie Antoinette’
Allegedly commissioned by Marie Antoinette’s bit on the side in 1783, the Breguet No. 160 is what made the brand a worldwide name.
First, there’s the construction: rubies, sapphires, platinum and gold. Which would be extravagant enough alone. But there’s also a chronograph, chime function, perpetual calendar, power reserve, minute repeater and even a thermometer.
The landmark piece has survived to this day with a staggering £23m price value (which probably explains why it went missing for 24 years in 1983).
A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication
A. Lange & Söhne’s ‘normal’ output easily hits the £20k mark. So multiply that craftsmanship (and price tag) by a couple of orders of magnitude, and you’re still not even close to the Grand Complication.
The 2013 novelty was limited to just six pieces worldwide, with industry attention fixated on its far-reaching functions: a perpetual calendar that can track every single month across a four-year span, hand-engraved tickers and a complication to rival Notre Dame itself – 876 individual components, 67 of which are precious jewels. Not bad for £2m.
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime
Despite sounding like a nineties rapper from the Bronx, Patek Philippe’s Grandmaster Chime was designed to celebrate the brand’s 175th anniversary – a bash not even P. Diddy could outdo.
Hand-assembled from over 1,366 individuals components and with 20 complications inside, this milestone watch features an 18-carat rose gold case with a swivel function that opens to reveal a separate dial.
To get your wrist on this BOGOF deal, all you have to do is lay down a cool £2m and pass an interview with Thierry Stern, head honcho at Patek Philippe. Better get revising.
Harry Winston Opus 14
Okay, so it may look like a crossover between Geneva and Gene Simmons, but Harry Winston’s Opus 14 is proof that haute horlogerie isn’t just made up of classics.
As if the Americana-themed aesthetic wasn’t intricate enough, this 2015 novelty uses a whopping 54.7mm diameter (that’s about the height of a golf tee) to house a series of stacked dials that are equal parts monstrous and magnificent. Expect a ‘jukebox’ automaton-like mechanism, 1,066 individual parts, 124 jewels and over 68 hours of power reserve. Though with a £360,000 price tag, it’ll cost a lot more than a Kiss T-shirt off eBay.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie
Jaeger-LeCoultre is a brand for the purists, and it doesn’t get much purer than the Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie – a culmination of everything the manufacture holds dear.
Overlooking the design (a rare example of Jaeger-LeCoultre going more RoboCop than royal palace), the 2009 novelty packs two separate complications powering a treasure trove of functions: three different chimes (that perform a rendition of Westminster’s bells, of course), a tourbillon balance wheel and a skeleton dial. A ‘pre-loved’ one will cost you £899,000 on today’s market.