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These World Record Watches Are the Pinnacle of Watchmaking

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC 104081 Limited Edition

Last month Bulgari reclaimed the world record for world’s thinnest watch with their latest Octo Finissimo Ultra. They took back the record from Richard Mille who’s Ferrari collaboration in 2022 snatched the title from them. Seeing RM and Bulgari trade this record over the last few years got us thinking about other brands that have produced world record watches.

Setting a world record is a bit of a badge of honour for a brand. It gives them something to shout about and a genuine sense of achievement. There’s no question Bulgari’s latest record is an impressive feat of engineering. At just 1.7mm thin you have to wonder how much further we can go. Your move Richard Mille. For now let’s take a look at other notable watches that have world records to their name.

The Lightest Watch Ever Made: Ming LW.01

Ming LW.01

The Ming LW.01 is believed to be the lightest watch ever made. At its release it was offered in two variants. An automatic version weighing 10.8g and a manual wind version which tips the scales at just 8.8g. It weighs the same as 9 paper clips. To put this in perspective the non mechanical Moonswatch weighs 29 grams.

With a watch this light weight you might expect the lightness to have been achieved through size. That’s not the case. The Ming measures 38mm in diameter and 6.5mm in thickness. So, not especially small. Instead the commitment to lightness has been achieved through material science. The case is made from a magnesium compound which is incredibly light and 75% lighter than steel.

Ming LW-01 Automatic

Elsewhere weight saving can be seen across the dial and crystal. For starters there is no dial in the traditional sense. Instead the movement holder is combined with a small dial ring. The hour markers, which would normally appear on the dial, are instead printed on the underside of the crystal. Even the crystal itself isn’t your usual sapphire, it’s made from Corning Gorilla glass which has received specialist hardening treatment to improve scratch resistance. Whilst it’s not as tough as sapphire crystal it is nearly half the weight.

The final touch from Ming’s designers is to use a gradient colour print on the centre of the crystal. The coloured crystal hides the movement and to the glancing eye makes the watch look like it contains a traditional dial.

Limited to 200 pieces this world record watch offered the purchasers a variety of strap options to choose from. The stand out option being a 1.2g single layer alcantara strap. This takes the overall weight of your watch to 10g. The same as 2 sheets of A4 paper.

Smallest Mechanical Watch Movement: Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101

Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101

Whereas the Ming was a technical innovation from 2023 for this world record watch we need to head back to 1929. Jaeger-LeCoultre produced the Calibre 101 at a time when women’s jewellery and wrist wear was all the rage. Through the 1920’s bangles and bracelets were popular so Jaeger-LeCoultre saw an opportunity to create a watch movement which was small enough to integrate into a piece of wrist jewellery.

Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre 101

Measuring 14mm by 4.8mm and weighing just 1 gram. The 101 was reserved for high jewellery pieces only. Think precious metal and diamond covered bracelets. What’s impressive is Jaeger-LeCoultre still makes the Calibre 101 today and staying true to its original purpose the calibre can be found only in the 101 Collection. A collection with minute and hidden watch faces. At present the 101 is in its 4th generation. Today’s version contains 98 individual components compared to 78 that were used in the original.

Perhaps the most famous use of the Calibre 101 can be seen on the wrist of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953. On this day the Queen sported a diamond set watch bracelet with the Calibre 101. The watch was a gift from the then president of France, Vincent Auriol.

Most Expensive Watch Ever Sold At Auction: Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300-A010

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Only Watch 2019

Unsurprisingly the most expensive watch ever sold at auction comes from Patek Philippe. The Grandmaster Chime is a collection of timepieces of which Patek makes very few each year and in the past has been seen on the wrists of Jay-Z and Mark Wahlberg to name a few. The Grandmaster Chime in any reference is a special piece. Containing approx. 20 different complications the watch has two sides so you can rotate the case 180 degrees to reveal a different dial.

Patek don’t publicise the price of the Grandmaster Chime collection but expect to be around the £3million mark just for starters.

Jay Z's Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300G

Jay Z’s Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300G

The world record Grandmaster Chime sold in 2019 for a staggering CHF 31million (approx. £27.4million). This version was a piece unique sold by Christie’s auction house as part of the Only Watch event. Only Watch is a charity event held in Geneva each year which auctions watches provided by some of the biggest brands in the industry to help fund research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Only Watch tends to grab headlines as every watch auctioned is a one of a kind. Collectors flock to break out their cheque books to try to secure incredible pieces from the likes of F.P Journe, Hublot, Blancpain, MB&F and many others.

The Only Watch event for 2024 took place just last month and Patek were centre stage once again. Their auction piece the Grand and Petite Sonnerie ref. 6301A sold for approx. £13.8 million making it the 4th most expensive watch ever sold at auction and the most expensive sold since 2019.

Patek Philippe Grande and Petite Sonnerie Minute Repeater Rare Handcrafts Ref 6301A-010

Patek Philippe ‘Only Watch’ Grand and Petite Sonnerie ref. 6301A sold for CHF 15.7 million (approx. £13.8 million)

Given it’s prominence as Patek’s most complicated and prestigious watch the Grandmaster Chime usually comes in precious metal. Very much in keeping with the price. The interesting thing about the world record piece is it was the first and only steel Grandmaster Chime ever made. 31 million and not even in gold.

Other notable characteristics are the dial colours in ‘golden opaline’ (salmon pink to you and I) and ebony black. A colour combo not used on any other version. And the cherry on the cake is the text – The Only One – written inside the alarm dial in the 12 o’clock position. A Patek piece unique with ‘The Only One’ written on the dial is quite the showstopper.

Highest Water Resistance Watch: Rolex Deepsea Challenge

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge

This category for world records is a bit fickle. On the surface of it the Rolex Deepsea Challenge holds the record for the watch which can withstand the greatest depths. It has been tested to withstand pressure equivalent to 11,000m (39,060 feet). At this depth the pressure is over 16,000 PSI or to put it another way the pressure is equivalent to 1,130 kilograms per square centimetre. At this depth even submarines would be crushed so for a watch to survive is more than impressive.

The Deepsea Challenge indisputably holds the record for ‘production watch with the highest water resistance rating’. Where depth records can get tricky is the Rolex Deepsea Challenge has only been lab tested to these depths. That’s to say it’s not actually been down to 11,000 metres.

James Cameron Rolex Deepsea Challenge

Film director James Cameron with a Rolex Deepsea Challenge during his 2012 dive

The record for a watch that has been the deepest is a whole other story. Whilst no watch has reached 11,000m Rolex have come close on two occasions. Most recently, James Cameron’s dive to the Mariana Trench in 2012 included an experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge as he plummeted to a depth of 10,908m. This was only the second time any human had ever been to this depth. The first was back in the 1960’s when as part of the Trieste Bathyscape dive a prototype Rolex Deep Sea Special went to 10,916m.

Omega Seamaster Ultra Deep

Omega Seamaster Ultra Deep

To this point Rolex were the undisputed captains of the deep sea having taken watches to the Pacific Ocean’s deepest point on two separate occasions. However, Omega weren’t resting on their yachts and had their own deep sea exploration in the works.

Roll around to 2019 and Omega launched their own attempt to snatch the depth record from Rolex. American Victor Vescovo set off on the first manned expedition to the very bottom of the Mariana Trench. With him he took an Omega Seamaster, eventually reaching a depth of 10,935 metres. They beat the Rolex record by 19 metres, less than the length of a tennis court.

Worlds Most Complicated Watch: Vacheron Constantin Berkley Grand Complication

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers The Berkley Grand Complication

You might recall the most expensive watch from this list was the Patek Grandmaster Chime with an impressive 20 complications. Ask any watch enthusiast and they would be hard pressed to reel off the names of 20 complications. Imagine then a watch that contains a total of 63 complications!

Vacheron Constantin Berkley Grand Complication

This world record for most complicated watch ever made is held by Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers Berkley Grand Complication unveiled this spring and it’s actually a pocket watch. The 63 complications are too many to name here but as well every complication you can currently think of some of the highlights include: a Chinese perpetual calendar, a Hebrew calendar, sunrise and sunset indicators and a triple axis tourbillon.

Much like the Grandmaster Chime the pocket watch has two sides which are much needed to display the complications, subdials and 31 hands.

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers The Berkley Grand Complication

In total the watch contains 2,877 individual components and was produced by the same team who made the ref. 57260 which first claimed the title of most complicated in 2015 with its 57 complications after 8 years of development.

The person who commissioned the new Berkley Grand Complication has remained anonymous (except that it is confirmed Berkley is their name) so the price has not been disclosed and we can only speculate about its value. I just hope the collector keeps the watch wound otherwise it might take another 8 years just to set it.

2 Comments

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  • No comment just a question. I read, somewhere, recently that a Tourbillon is not considered a complication. Can’t remember where I read that. Now I’m curious. Is that true or not?

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your message. A complication typically refers to a device or mechanism that adds an additional function to the watch, so in relation to tourbillons the answer is “it depends”. The primary job of a tourbillon (reducing the effects of gravity on the accuracy and reliability of the movement) probably wouldn’t be considered a function as it doesn’t provide an extra measurement or informational output to the watch. However, lots of tourbillons (but not every one) rotate at a rate of once every 60-seconds and in this manner serve to replace the function of a seconds indicator. In this situation, I think it would be correct to describe it as a complication. On a vocabulary level, the term probably gets used for tourbillons that it shouldn’t apply to by brands and journalists in order to highlight the tourbillon’s significance due to their popularity among collectors – I expect I am probably guilty of this as well.

      I hope this helps!

      Best,
      Michael

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About the author

James Lamburn

James' love affair with watches started when his grandad left him a two tone Tissot. From that moment he was hooked and he’s been daydreaming about watches ever since. Over the years his passion for watches has expanded beyond collecting and dinner party conversation. James now operates as a freelance writer covering all things watches and horology.