There’s something fun about and whimsical about a watch that challenges the standard two-hand format we’re used to seeing. Whenever I come across a new way of displaying the time, I inevitably wonder if the novel way is better than the traditional one. This Audemars Piguet Star Wheel reference 25720BA utilizes the wandering hours complication to display the hours and minutes in a way previously never seen in a wristwatch. However, even though it’s the first wristwatch to do so, the complication predates Audemars Piguet and pretty much any other watch company still in operation. Audemars Piguet invested almost two years of research in creating this piece, getting a patent in the process. The result is something that looks very original but has roots that go back to the 1700s and is packaged in a very classic wearable dress watch form factor.
The story goes that a Roman watchmaking family—the Campani brothers—created the wandering hours complication for use in a clock that would be used by Pope Alexander XII in 1656. It was invented to make telling the time with an oil lamp at night easy. The method never really caught on and was, of course, beaten out by the two hand format we’re all used to using on watches and clocks today. In 1989 Audemars Piguet came across the wandering time format and decided to take on the complication themselves and implement it into a wristwatch for the first time, releasing the Starwheel model in 1991.
This is a watch that can be intimidating at a glance but is actually quite intuitive once you know how to read it. The discs rotate as the time passes, with the hour lining up on the minute track and an arrow pointing to the minute in that hour. The only parts one needs to pay attention to is the large numeral under the minute track and the place on the minute track that the arrow is pointing to. For an easy example, in the image below the current time is 7:12. At a glance, one can instantly see what time it is without any sort of mental translation or math.
The time display’s unique look is balanced out with the classic guilloche gold finish on the rest of the dial and the classically styled case. The 18k yellow gold case has a simple rounded but stepped bezel with short lugs. Measuring 36mm in diameter and only 9mm thick, it has very classic dress watch proportions. With such a novel dial, the Star Wheel could be in danger of not being taken seriously, but I think AP does an excellent job with the other traditional elements to avoid this. This is a timepiece that will have no problems blending in with formal attire.
The movement which is visible through the display caseback is an Audemars Piguet caliber 2124. It’s rhodium-plated, with côtes de Genève and fausses-côtes finishing details, and is—despite what you see on the dial side—a fairly traditional mechanical movement. The self-winding caliber utilizes a straight lever escapement with a 21k gold rotor segment. It has a 48-hour power reserve, and is based on the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber 888, though heavily modified. Looking at the movement through the display caseback, you wouldn’t guess that it powers such an unconventional complication.
This is a watch whose production was quite limited, and its secondary market value is climbing accordingly—as is evident by some recent auction appearances. I can see that trend continuing and likely picking up steam. The heritage that’s built into this timepiece is too good to ignore. It’s a throwback to 17th-century watchmaking, reinvented by one of the greatest modern watch brands, and fitted in an easy-wearing package. It’s a unique, fun, and yet still elegant timepiece that stands out among more conventional dress watches, which sometimes have a knack for blending together.