A Closer Look: Unusual Variations On Complications

Collector’s Guides • 25 May 2017

A Closer Look: Unusual Variations On Complications

by Victor Toth

As watch collectors and enthusiasts, we are really spoiled when it comes to timepieces with fascinating mechanical complications. At times, it may seem like we have seen it all, but here are three variations on existing complications from Breguet, Ulysse Nardin, and F.P. Journe, that should offer more than a few surprises.

Let’s begin with Breguet’s Marine Équation Marchante 5887, which offers a twist on the equation of time complication. First, a little background on timekeeping itself. The time of standard 24-hour days, called civil time, is kept by highly accurate atomic clocks. Due to the orbit and rotational axis of the earth, however, the actual lengths of our individual days, as measured by the period of one midday to the next, vary from between 16 minutes shorter to 14 minutes longer than civil time’s 24 hours.

The equation of time complication equates (i.e. squares off) this discrepancy between the two measurements of a day described above, usually via a sub-dial that indicates the difference in minutes. Where the Breguet 5887 is special is in its running indication of the equation of time. A central minutes hand with a Sun at its end is a more legible and illustrative way of telling where we stand in the universe and how it affects the lengths of our days. The component that makes this possible is a kidney-shaped cam that is situated over the tourbillon assembly at five o’clock – it is “read” by the gear train that controls the solar minutes hand, to speed the hand up and slow it down accordingly.

Breguet 5887BR

Breguet Marine Équation Marchante 5887


The Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta, is the second watch we’re looking at, and it doesn’t just display Ulysse Nardin’s close connection to sailing and regatta races, but also its expertise in crafting genuinely novel and impressive calibres in-house.

Regattas have a very tricky starting procedure where each crew must keep extremely close track of the time remaining before the race starts, while positioning their boats as close to the starting line as possible without crossing it. Regatta chronographs must thus be able to count down specific periods of time (typically five minutes), then transition smoothly to count “up” and measure elapsed time. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta delivers this information via a chronograph that functions in both directions, meaning its seconds hand can run anti-clockwise. What Ulysse Nardin’s new piece can do that regular regatta chronographs cannot, thanks to its patented mechanism, is perform this required countdown until the crucial moment when the race begins and then instantaneously the bi-directional seconds hand will start moving in the opposite direction to record the race time.

This is a highly intuitive function helps the crew focus on positioning their boat and getting the start timed exactly right and, better still, amuse and impress the knowing collector who can appreciate just how challenging a task it is to create a chronograph of such complexity.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta

Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta


The last watch in this line up is the F.P. Journe Vagabondage III, which we have discussed before in another context. It’s worth revisiting it given this timepiece’s remarkable jumping seconds indication though. Master watchmaker Francois-Paul Journe debuted the first Vagabondage in 2004, but it was the 2010 Vagabondage II that brought a jumping indication into its array of features: the hand-wound calibre included had jumping hours and jumping digital minutes, along with a conventional small seconds display as well as a power reserve indicator.

While jumping hours and minutes are difficult complications to engineer, there still are manufactures that offer them. However, a continuously jumping seconds has never been done before. In the past, the greatest barrier to create a watch with jumping seconds is the fact that the constantly jumping mechanism requires a lot of energy, hence drastically decreasing power reserve and accuracy. With the Vagabondage III, Journe has overcome this barrier. To do so he linked the double-digit jumping seconds display to the remontoir d’égalité, the constant-force device also found in his tourbillon watch, to deliver even pulses of energy to the escapement.

FP Journe Vagabondage III


F.P. Journe Vagabondage III


A most fascinating link between these three extremely rare and unusual watches is legibility: note how Breguet’s running equation of time allows for a more accurate reading of the equation of time by making it a proper minute hand, and Ulysse Nardin’s large countdown track and seconds hand improves racing starts while being unexpectedly cool, and how F.P. Journe’s jumping seconds is, quite possibly, the most legible seconds display ever created.

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