Published - The Triumph of Unnecessary Beauty

Every year, watchmakers try to outdo one another, inventing new complications or tinkering with existing ones, even though in most cases experts agree that the innovations bring little in terms of time accuracy. So it was that last year the Swiss watch brand Maurice Lacroix unveiled the Masterpiece Régulateur Roue Carrée, a watch with a square wheel mechanism. Activated by a toothed cloverleaf and making a complete revolution in 12 hours, the square wheel displays the hour and rotates so slowly and smoothly that it appears motionless. At the Baselworld watch and jewelry show that opens this weekend, Maurice Lacroix plans to unveil the Masterpiece Roue Carrée Seconde, focusing on the seconds display, with the square wheel now turning 720 times faster, at one revolution a minute, bringing it to life.

In January, during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2011 in Geneva, Montblanc released the innovative Tourbillon Bi-Cylindrique in the Collection Villeret 1858, the first wristwatch with a tourbillon escapement and a cylindrical double balance-spring, similar to that of ships’ chronometers.

While most watch professionals agree that a tourbillon does little to improve a watch’s accuracy, it remains the star complication. Invented around 1795 by the French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet to even out the effects of gravity on a pocket watch, the mechanism has been transformed over the years into double-tourbillons, multi-axis tourbillons, flying tourbillons and a bi-axial flying double-tourbillon, to name a few. Whether theses architectural marvels add significantly to precision is a matter of debate, though watch aficionados do not really mind. Find out why in this IHT story.