7 February 2024


By In General, Hype Market

VicenzaOro Vintage, a sub-event focused on watches within VicenzaOro fair, has come to an end few weeks ago and it is time to make some considerations that arise from one of the most, if not the most, interesting talk the Watchype Magazine team had the opportunity to attend: Giulio Papi’s talk on ultra complications. During his speech, the Technical Director of Audemars Piguet went through the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 (winner of the “Aiguille d’Or” at GPHG 2023) analysing the main functions of the watch along with the challenges he and his team have faced during the project evolution. While doing so, he could not avoid mentioning a couple of his older creations from A. Lange & Söhne and IWC, as well as the much talked about collaboration with Richard Mille.

Giulio Papi – Technical Director at Audemars Piguet

The fil rouge of his narration has been the art of simplifying what, by nature, is complex. In fact, the majority of complicated watches are very fascinating but, at the same time, often difficult to handle, set, and even read for the final user. Moreover, up until the mid-1980s, brands used to take blanks complicated movements (produced until the 1930s) and disassemble, renew and assemble them once again before selling their watches. As you might imagine, it took a big amount of work and expertise to finalise these movements and this had an impact on watchmakers’ production efficiency. This modus operandi goes against Giulio Papi’s philosophy, being him a person particularly focused on the ergonomic aspect of objects, whether they be timepieces, seats, forks, or whatever he sees around him every day. That is why he is fully convinced a watch has to be primarily comfortable and easy to handle, no matter its complicated functions. It is worth pointing out, though, that being able to simplify something extremely complex is certainly a prerogative of the greatest. The union of simplicity and ergonomics has always been his final goal and guided him through his career so much so that Gérald Genta once accused him of having somehow “popularised” complicated watches, making them understandable to a wider audience, not necessarily to great collectors only. This anecdote made me think all day long and pushed me to write this article once back home.

A connection between simplicity and price point

From the history of complicated watches in general to how much Giulio Papi contributed towards the watchmaking industry, I ended up thinking long about the idea to popularise such watch category and whether this concept could also apply to price point or not. Making something simpler than it has always been means, from a certain perspective, making it more accessible to everyone, especially to those who are not familiar with watchmaking micromechanics and complications. Simplicity, as a result, helps these people and increases accessibility. Similarly, releasing a complicated watch at a lower price than what watch enthusiasts have always been used to means making it accessible to an even larger group of people. This is why the topics that have been touched upon during the watchmaker’s talk in VicenzaOro brought me to connect simplicity and popularisation with accessibility and price point. If Gérald Genta accused Giulio Papi of having popularised complications by making them simpler and more accessible in terms of understanding, I believe the very same accusation could also be made against those brands which offer complications at a “low” price point. That is, Giulio Papi popularised complicated watches by simplifying them, likewise brands who aim at making complicated watches within (ideally) everyone’s means are popularising them by making “haute horlogerie” available for more people. Do I think this is bad or something the brands should be accused of? Not at all. Let’s now go over a couple of examples below and I will then have my say on what I think might happen in the future.

Baltic Experiments Premier Quantième Perpétuel  front view
Baltic Experiments Premier Quantième Perpétuel – Photo courtesy of Baltic
Furlan Marri Secular Perpetual Calendar frot view
Furlan Marri Secular Perpetual Calendar – Photo courtesy fo Furlan Marri
Baltic and Furlan Marri lots for Only Watch 2023

As discussed here last October, Only Watch 2023 did not see daylight. However, two lots in particular had caught my attention back then and, coincidentally, they serve as good examples today. These are the Baltic Experiments with its Premier Quantième Perpétuel and Furlan Marri ultra-simplified Secular Perpetual Calendar. Both these microbrands have been working great since their respective launches in 2016 and 2019 but, without a doubt, they surprised everyone when they presented their lots for Only Watch 2023. Of course, these were unique pieces for the charity auction and, as such, are not mass-produced. However, these brands have shown us what they are able to achieve and I strongly believe (or better, hope) we will not have to wait too long for similar complicated watches to appear in their catalogues. Funnily enough, the Secular Perpetual Calendar movement by Furlan Marri has been developed by Julien Tixier and Dominique Renaud, who happens to be the Co-Founder of Renaud & Papi, the company lately acquired and then incorporated within by Audemars Piguet. After all, I was probably not that wrong in making the above connection between simplicity, popularisation, accessibility, and – why not – pricing. According to Furlan Marri’s website, the number of components of the complete perpetual calendar module is 25, including the number of secular module components (5). Isn’t this simplifying things to the nth degree? What if these microbrands (or any other watch brand) started to release ultra-complicated watches at relatively affordable prices in the future? This would mean popularisation not only in terms of simplicity but also pricewise. The ergonomic aspect (so dear to Giulio Papi) of these two Only Watch unique pieces has not been ignored, as Baltic watch has a 37mm case and a thickness of 9.8mm (glass is not included) and Furlan Marri one has a 39mm case with a 11.3mm thickness (with glass)… very impressive!

Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto front view
Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto – Photo courtesy of Christopher Ward
Which is the future of complications?

Many watch brands are constantly pushing forward and seeking growth, no doubt about it. Thus, it seems only a matter of time before the number of complicated watches at a lower price range than what we have always been used to will increase in the future. Leaving annual or perpetual calendars aside for a moment, there is space for other unusual complications to appear in the market. For instance, I am thinking of Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto and its “Sonnerie au Passage” complication, whereby every 60 minutes a “hammer” strikes a chime to mark the passing hour. This novelty has been positively welcomed by watch enthusiasts and, second coincidence in today’s article, won the “Petite Aiguille” at GPHG 2023. In conclusion, let’s embrace the fact that popularising complications by introducing “cheaper” interpretations is not something bad and try to look on the bright side of things: this new trend will help bring the charm of “haute horlogerie” to as many people as possible.

Written by Renato Spada

Super curious since 1990. One of his first questions was "And why?" He is now a localization project manager 8 hours per day and watch enthusiast for much more. Before being attracted by watches, he is charmed by their stories and what they mean for their owners.