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Our story begins with Patek Philippe owner Philippe Stern, who one day came to his staff and gave them the following assignment: “Build the world’s most complicated watch.” 

Two very complicated watches already existed at that time. The Graves has been created by Patek Philippe for a collector that has the same name. The other complicated watch was the Leroy made for the Universal Exposition in Paris.

At the outset, the watchmakers, that were also developers, did not believe that such a complicated watch could be created uniquely on the basis of abstract technical drawings. Their approach was very pragmatic and focused on components. They didn’t think it would work with over 2000 detail drawings and overall views.

The technical specifications were repeatedly modified and then the prototypes, small preassembled parts, were created and had to be tested. 

Success! The prototypes functioned according to plan and the project was given the green light to continue.

At the beginning is was a real joy to work on this kind of project, as there was plenty of time. But as things developed, time started to run out. The watch had to be assembled and it needed to work, as the announcements had gone out and the auction date was published.

The biggest difficulty the watchmakers faced was the challenge to invent new mechanisms which had never existed before. For example, no watch had ever indicated the date of Easter. They needed to learn the fundamentals of astronomy, to understand how astronomical indications worked and to comprehend the cycles.

The journey lasted nine years, including development and production work needed to debut the Calibre 89 right on time for Patek Philippe’s 150th anniversary. It was a successful venture: the timepiece with 33 complications and 1728 parts. It remained the most complicated portable mechanical watch for over 25 years.

Now, many people don’t know what a “complication” is. If we go to Patek Philippe’s website, we find the following definition: “A ‘complication’ is any additional horological function to the display of hours, minutes and seconds.”

The most common complications used in commercial watches are day/date displays, alarms, chronographs (also known as stopwatches) and automatic winding mechanisms. The more complications a watch has, the more difficult it is to design, create, assemble and of course, repair.

Among the complications (features) that the Calibre 89 has, we can find the following:

Day of the month Day of the week
Hour of second time zone Moon phase display
Winding crown position indicator Century decade and year displays
Leap year indicator Power reserve
Month Thermometer
Date of Easter Time of sunrise
Equation of time Star chart
Sun hand Time of sunset
Split second hand 12-hour recorder

Take a closer look and while your doing this, see how many complications you can spot:

The Patek Philippe Calibre 89 is made from 18 carat (75%) gold or platinum and it has an estimated value of $6 million. Four watches were made: one in white gold, one in yellow gold, one in rose gold and one in platinum.

It is no doubt possible to build an even more complicated watch, but it will be a difficult undertaking to even match the number of complications of this watch.

So is this the most complicated watch ever made? Actually, it is not. Vacheron Constantine takes the crown with a watch that has 57 complications, and we are honored to tell it’s story, as it illustrates what a watch is: a watch is a timekeeper and what it does is measure intervals of time, while it also tells the time.

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