Review: Harry Winston Premier Perpetual Calendar
The winner of the 2021 GPHG, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, demonstrated a combination of highly specialist watchmaking mastery, chief of which was its exceptional thinness at just 5.8mm. But waiting in the wings was another watchmaking spectacle in Bulgari’s record-breaking perpetual calendar—two retrograde displays, top and bottom, reading the date and the leap year. It wasn’t Bulgari that innovated that, however. It was this.
Quick watchmaking lesson: a retrograde display is one typically read with a hand—like the hours and minutes—that doesn’t go full circle—unlike the hours and minutes. It tracks an arced display, reaching the end where it appears to have become trapped in a horological cul-de-sac when—snap—it pops back to the beginning again.
A retrograde display is not just useful for fitting more, bigger displays onto one watch, it’s also the go-to of many a high-end watchmaker thanks to the deceiving level of complexity involved. Instead of a simple gear rotating simply around and around, snail cams, ratcheted levers and springs all quite literally pull together to send the retrograde hand quickly and precisely back to its starting position.
It’s why Gérald Genta, the progenitor of what is now Bulgari’s Octo range, had such a fascination with them—something Bulgari has rather pleasingly carried through. His famous Bi-Retro collection—which included the Octo, amongst many others—celebrated in its entirety the art of combining not one but two retrograde complications together in one watch.
This fascination of Genta’s dates back to the early 1990s as he sought to build up a collection of watches attributable to him and not his customers like Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. But they weren’t the first bi-retrograde watches, and certainly not the first bi-retrograde perpetual calendars. That accolade goes to Harry Winston.
But why on Earth is a jewellery brand like Harry Winston making watches like that?
Like Bulgari, Harry Winston sought to expand and diversify by entering into the world of watchmaking. So, in 1989, Harry Winston released the ground-breaking Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar, the first of its kind. Up to then, wristwatches had only ever used retrograde displays in their simplest form in power reserve indicators—never for a primary display like a perpetual calendar, and never two at once.
But where did this movement come from? Harry Winston couldn’t have magicked up an Earth-shattering movement like this for its first watch? Well, the story goes a little deeper, because two watchmakers, one a freelancer who built high complications for luxury brands and the other a watchmaker in the Patek Philippe Grand Complications workshop, came together to jointly find a solution to a problem.
The problem was quartz: a technology that was set to put them both out of a job. They figured they needed to do something to save mechanical watchmaking in the eyes of the collector, to do something new and exciting and innovative, the likes of which had never been seen before. The answer, it seemed, was in the retrograde. Make a perpetual calendar, the first of its kind, with two great retrograde displays that would redefine the complication forever.
The two men worked on the movement to completion, and now they sought a buyer. As it happened, Harry Winston, renowned for its diamond jewellery, was looking for exactly the kind of genre-bending work they were offering, and so the deal was done, setting Harry Winston on a path towards the incredible Opus watches we know and love today.
But the story isn’t quite over, because this project gave the two men the courage to do something more with their talents. One, Jean-Marc Wiederrect, founded Agenhor, the conceptual complication manufacturer that has furnished award-winning hyper watches like the Singer Track 1 and Hermès Arceau Temps Suspendu with its movements. The other was Roger Dubuis, who was encouraged to found the watchmaker that took his name. This watch isn’t the origin of one legend—it’s the origin of three.
Premier Perpetual Calendar
This Harry Winston Premier Perpetual Calendar is, launched in 2010, a more recent iteration of the bi-retrograde perpetual calendar that stemmed from the unlikely hero that was the original, updated with a more contemporary aesthetic but still very much in keeping with the ethos of its forebear. There’s been a little bit of rejigging that loses the original’s retrograde day display that promotes the month to that complication instead, with the date sitting just below in the largest display on the dial.
But those aren’t the only secrets contained in the 41mm white gold case; there’s a traditional leap indicator up top and the hours and minutes straddling a cheeky moonphase on the right-hand sub-dial—but we’re still not done yet. Unscrew the pusher at one o’clock and there’s yet another complication, a dual-time display that can be clicked along in hour increments beneath the hours and minutes.
The case retains the traditional triple claws top and bottom, but the dial gets an altogether more modern treatment, with steely greys and blacks finished in contrasting layers to pop against the blue indicators. It’s probably one of the most easily readable perpetual calendars out there, which is entirely what Wiederrect and Dubuis were aiming for back in 1989, and was perhaps what inspired Genta to pursue the complication as well.
From the back, the Girard-Perregaux GP 3000-series base is visible, a high-quality and stable foundation seen in the likes of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, complete with a solid 22-carat gold rotor. It may look fairly ordinary, if well-executed, but it’s what happens between it and the dial that really makes the Premier Perpetual Calendar sing.
Whilst this is a watch that’s hardly being fought over at the auction houses, it bears the legacy of a true pioneer that continues to this day to fly under the radar. It’s not a watch for the panderer, the show-off, it’s a watch for someone who wants to appreciate the masters who changed the industry for the better, quietly and for themselves. It’s the unsung hero of modern watchmaking—until now.