Ochs und Junior Perpetual Calendar: Enduringly Battling Complexity
Product design and development is rarely a straightforward process. Depending on the product, research and development can lead to numerous dead ends and plenty of direction changes. Quite often, the final intent of a product is only arrived at after multiple prototypes and review cycles.
But probably the biggest challenge, especially with technical projects, is the fight against runaway complexity. As I explained in In The Face Of Complexity, Simplicity Rules: The Konstantin Chaykin Genius Temporis, the U.S. Navy even came up with an acronym for fighting this called KISS: “keep it simple, stupid.”
Simplicity isn’t always the leading criterion for a product, and often simplicity is just a byproduct of cost reduction. This can be seen most evidently on modern automobiles. Over the years, higher end cars tended to be very complex with electronics and advanced mechanical systems while budget friendly cars were much simpler, utilizing bare-bones technology.
Only recently has technology and manufacturing efficiency advanced enough to allow even budget friendly cars to use the more complex technology previously reserved for higher end vehicles.
Today, complexity is skyrocketing in search of faster, more efficient, higher functionality products like electronics, appliances, and even furniture. Sadly, the “simple” way of doing things has becoming synonymous with “low-tech” and inexpensive.
But sometimes, searching for simplicity is the hardest route to take, especially when complexity arising from simplicity is the goal. Having a device that can act as ten different devices with fewer parts than just one of them is a tall order. But some people like a challenge.
One man that definitely likes the challenge of reducing complexity is the brain behind Ochs und Junior, Ludwig Oechslin. The MIH watch, the Ulysse Nardin Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, the Ulysse Nardin Dual Direct escapement, and every Ochs und Junior timepiece are evidence of his passion for simplifying complexity while retaining functionality.
This has resulted in one of the simplest perpetual calendar mechanisms in existence in the new Ochs und Junior Perpetual Calendar (extremely creative name, I know).
Why so simple?
At its most basic, a perpetual calendar mechanism displays the month and date as well as the current year in the four-year leap year cycle without needing correction until the year 2100. Many perpetual calendars also display the current year numerically in addition to the day of the week among other complications.
These displays can be configured in many different ways, with a large portion of them being rather complicated both mechanically and visually. Some perpetual calendars comprise hundreds of parts (one Patek Philippe perpetual calendar mechanism has 182 parts) outside those required for timekeeping.
Needless to say, Oechslin doesn’t believe that more complexity equals “better.” For him, it boils down to functionality, legibility, and reliability. For the Ochs und Junior Perpetual Calendar, the goal was to get the calendar functions as similarly legible as the hours and minutes so that the dial isn’t busy and unreadable.
Legibility can be an issue with many perpetual calendars, but Ochs und Junior’s design strategy is keeping complexity minimal.
Since the brand’s very first watch boasting a simple date, the design language has been set. Information presented with a series of dots is the go-to method, and variations of that are easily added. The only thing left to do was to invent an ingenious way to mechanically calculate months and leap years . . . simply. KISS.
How so simple?
With the previous development of the Ochs und Junior Annual Calendar or the even more impressive Ochs und Junior Moonphase boasting an accuracy of an impressive 3,478 years (see The 8 Most Accurate Moon Phase Wristwatches Today), Oechslin demonstrated his incredible horological prowess by developing (hitherto very complex) mechanisms requiring just five extra components to perform all the precise calculations.
By combining multiple functions into single parts, many problems are solved at once and the complexity reduced. And what is the best way to reduce complexity in a perpetual calendar? Get rid of all the levers and springs in the traditional mechanism and figure out better calculated gears instead.
Epicyclic gearing was the obvious solution since it can be used to derive complex ratios with only a few gears, and the idea was expanded upon for the perpetual calendar to incorporate reduced-tooth wheels that are only activated at specific moments.
The mechanism begins with a gear mounted to the hour hand axis. The first function of the wheel, which only has teeth around one-quarter of its circumference, is to activate the setting control indicator.
The control indicator is a dot on the dial revealing when it is okay to set the date and rest of the perpetual calendar functions. It meshes with a wheel mounted just to the side of the hour wheel that is also is not fully toothed. Instead, it features two sets of teeth on opposing sides so that when it is not being driven the gaps will keep it from rotating.
The rest of the perpetual calendar mechanism is driven by the geared date function of the base movement (Ulysse Nardin Caliber UN-118), which has the ability to be adjusted both forward and backward. The date ring features a slanted dark pill shape visible through the dial date holes. That shape is created by the fact that the date holes spiral out and overlap at 31/1 so the indicator needs to be able to cover more area than just a dot.
The date ring is also a double-decker ring gear, the smaller teeth meshing with the caliber’s date mechanism while the larger teeth drive the month/leap year function. The larger teeth are also only around a portion of the ring so that the month function is only driven at the end of every month.
As with the control indicator, the wheel meshing with the large teeth has specially shaped teeth allowing it to rotate one-third of a rotation and then be held in place by a somewhat flat side.
Simple in appearance
From here the functions become a little more complicated as special teeth on the month disk, the calendar base plate, and the control indicator gear combine to control the “perpetual” functions of the perpetual calendar.
A set of teeth milled into the calendar base plate mesh with a Maltese cross-like wheel mounted to the bottom of the calendar disk to change the leap year indicator at the end of every year. The month disk has special extra teeth limiting the rotation of the month disc to create moments when the hour wheel can advance the date ring by one, two, or three extra days depending on the month.
While there are only nine extra parts and three modified parts comprising the perpetual calendar mechanism, the number of functions that those parts perform is much higher. Oechslin places strong value on the ability to take the time upfront to think and plan, usually leading to more comprehensive design solutions.
Making individual components perform not just one but several purposes inside a larger mechanism is the heart and soul of Ochs und Junior’s concept and timepieces.
The video above shows watchmaker Sandra Flück completing the full assembly and adjustment of the perpetual calendar mechanism; by watching this 23-minute video you can follow the entire process of the slight adjustments and careful alignments ensuring that the now-simple complicated mechanisms function as they should.
If you watch really closely you should be able to tease out exactly how the mechanism works for yourself. I watched the video twice through simply because I found observing the process extremely therapeutic.
There are more indications on the watch that I haven’t even brought up yet, but are surprisingly simple extras that really round out the watch.
Just under the 12 o’clock dual-line marker there is a very small disk with a very small dot on it. This disk is the power reserve indication showing exactly how much of the impressive 60-hour power reserve is left. When the watch is fully wound, the dot is directly under the right hash mark of the 12 o’clock hour marker, and when fully unwound it is directly under the left hash mark.
Moving clockwise as it unwinds, the dot is located on the bottom of the disk when the power reserve is half depleted.
Directly opposite, on the other side of the dial, we find another very small disk with a very small dot on it. This disk is constantly running as the small seconds indicator and visually balances the dial.
This design decision clearly displays the desired simplicity with which Oechslin creates these pieces. He isn’t striving to have the most decorated, highly complicated mega-watch but instead the most straightforward, functional, under-the-radar watch.
The entire Ochs und Junior aesthetic follows the principles set forth in the MIH watch that Oechslin helped develop way back in 2005: straightforward design with no clutter and exceptional functionality combined with ultimate readability.
With the newest addition to the Ochs und Junior collection, Oechslin further cements his legacy as one of the best, most ingenious watchmakers alive today.
The Perpetual Calendar does not conform to stereotypes about haute horology complications or what a high-end watch needs to be. It does its thing on its own terms, just like Ochs und Junior. There is a reason the brand has found such a cult following among watch enthusiasts, and this boils down to functionality and honesty.
Ochs und Junior makes great watches at relatively affordable prices with no desire to be the stars of the ball. The brand is too busy inventing awesome things to even care about the ball in the first place.
So instead of going to some stuffy ball, how about the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 7.0 Like practically every Ochs und Junior watch, the Perpetual Calendar definitely flies under the radar for haute horlogerie, wowing when you learn all about it!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 85.2 » 835.526 m/s2 Lusting for this watch is strong given that it is one of the most practical and accessible perpetual calendars on the market today.
- M.G.R. * 65.4 Built atop a fantastic UN-118 caliber, the addition of the perpetual calendar mechanism with only nine extra parts makes this movement punch well above its weight.
- Added-Functionitis * Severe You might be surprised to learn that you have a very advanced case of added-functionitis with the Perpetual Calendar. So much so that you’ll require prescription-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for subtle yet not-so-subtle horological swelling.
- Ouch Outline * 10.7 Accidentally rubbing jalapeño oil on sunburn! Extreme turn of events? Maybe. Really possible? Completely. And yet it seems like a mild breeze when I think of the awesomeness that could be the Ochs und Junior Perpetual Calendar on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Did you say “perpetual calendar?” Buy a ring now because it’s only a matter of time before it’s just the two of you forever. How could someone not love a perpetual calendar!
- Awesome Total * 770 Multiply the number of extra components needed for the perpetual calendar mechanism (9) to the ridiculously low price in thousands of Swiss francs (20) and then subtract the result from the alloy of platinum used for the hour and minute hands (950) and you’ll end up with a not-so-under-the-radar awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.ochsundjunior.swiss/watches/perpetual-calendar.
Case: 42 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic UN-118 with silicon escape wheel and hairspring, modified
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication, setting control indicator, perpetual calendar with date, month, leap year
Price: 20,240 Swiss francs