May 2022 26 Min Read

The Story of The Audemars Piguet Star Wheel

By A Collected Man

As with many stories in the watch industry, we find the origins of this one in the Quartz Crisis. While smaller watchmakers withered away, the bigger houses questioned how much of their identity, so inextricably tied to mechanical watchmaking, they would risk losing by adopting this new technology. Many were forced to rethink their purpose on an even deeper level, now that accuracy was no longer a pillar they could lean on.

Audemars Piguet approached the situation from two directions. On the one hand, it unveiled an industrial design by Gérald Genta in stainless steel, totally reimagining what a luxury watch could be. The Royal Oak presented a distinct new epoch for what was one of Switzerland’s most traditional brands. On the other, the watchmakers in Le Brassus invested in developing ultra-thin automatic perpetual calendars, housed in slim, precious-metal cases of the kind customers expected from the brand. The reference 5548 is a good example of this. Released in 1978, it featured the thinnest self-winding perpetual calendar calibre.

The Royal Oak 5402, Quantìeme Perpetual 5548 and the Star Wheel 25720, three pieces that share a deep connection.

Then, there was the Star Wheel. While neither as radical nor complicated as the two watches we just mentioned, we think it incorporated the essence of both. It was at once classical and bold and, when it was first unveiled in 1991, totally unexpected from a brand that had by then come to be closely linked to the Royal Oak’s luxury sport watch aesthetic. While traditional in its profile, it featured a display of the sort that demanded a double-take.

Inspired by a 17th-century papal clock, the Star Wheel was unusual and, produced in small numbers, was never expected to rival the Royal Oak for popularity. It never came close to it, either, and was discontinued within five years of its launch. However, the brand’s unique take on the wandering-hours display kept showing up sporadically in its more unusual lines, usually produced in limited numbers, all the way until 2000, the year the Le Brassus watchmakers celebrated 125 years of business.

The Star Wheel 25720, Quantìeme Perpetual 5548, and the Dual Time 25685, which feature the same case.

In this article, we look at the Renaissance-era history that birthed the Star Wheel, the challenges of such a wandering-hour display and how, although short-lived, pieces featuring it have a niche but growing following among neo-vintage collectors. However, by virtue of it being such a brief and relatively under-reported chapter of Audemars Piguet’s history, the task of compiling an exhaustive history of the Star Wheel is a tricky proposition. We have found pieces whose lineage is hard to establish. Instead of trying to put together an exhaustive study of every reference, we thought it a more useful exercise to consider the mark the Star Wheel left on the wandering-hours display long after Audemars Piguet stopped making them.

A Discovery Centuries In the Making

The story goes back to the mid 17th century when the Pope was believed to have been struggling to sleep. Pope Alexander VII, newly appointed to the position in 1655, was complaining to his trusted aide, Cardinal Barberini, that the tick-tocks of the clock in his living quarters in the Vatican – seemingly louder in the dead of the night – meant he could not get a wink of sleep. What was worse, he told Barberini, was that lying there awake, he could not even check the time in the dark.

Barberini is said to have approached Rome-based clockmakers the Campani brothers, run by Giuseppe, Matteo, and Pietro Tomasso, with the dual problem. They took on the challenge and their solution for the tick-tock was to design a whole new escapement called a ‘silent crank’. It linked a short pendulum to the escapement in a way that allowed it to rotate continuously without interruption, something that eliminated the ‘tick-tock’ and made the whole arrangement a lot quieter. But it is the elegant solution to the problem of reading the time in the dead of the night that we are most interested in for the purposes of this piece.

A night clock by the Campani brothers, very similar to the one designed for Pope Alexander VII, courtesy of The British Museum.

The clockmakers, inspired by the new theory of planetary motion (it was proposed only earlier in the century by astronomer Johannes Kepler), set about designing a time-telling device unlike any other. The copper dial, decorated with ornate artwork depicting the four stages of life, featured a semi-circular window across which the hour was equally divided, each quarter-hour denoted by an open-work Roman numeral. Disks denoting the hour of the day, also open-work Roman numerals, traversed the semi-circular window over the course of the hour. This was the first time anyone had seen the design that was referred to, rather romantically, as the wandering hours.

The business of illuminating the clock face was done simply by incorporating an oil lamp into the case with a dedicated ventilation system for the smoke and heat. In the dark, the flame from the lamp acted as a backlight, projecting the hour of the day onto a wall. It was a novel solution, and the Pope was a happy customer. As a reward for their efforts, he is reported to have granted the Campani brothers Papal privileges, something that then enabled them to create similar ‘night clocks’ for monarchs across Europe. Several examples still exist, with one on display at The British Museum in London.

The Breguet no. 1285 featuring the Robert Cart patented Heures Sautantes module, courtesy of Hodinkee.

The unusual wandering-hours dial layout found limited favour with timepieces of the era. However, the first few decades of the 20th century saw renewed interest, thanks to the efforts of Robert Cart, a watchmaker in Le Locle whose eponymous manufacture had come to be known for slim but complicated movements. Among other innovations, Cart pioneered a variation of the wandering hours dial layout, a patented complication he called Heures Sautantes, or jumping hours. As the name suggests, it combined the wandering hours arrangement with a jump hour. The hours of the day were displayed through a window at the turn of the hour. That hour window then rotated around the watch face, indicating the minutes. This dial layout was deployed by Breguet as well as Vacheron Constantin and featured in several of the brands’ pocket watches from the early 1920s and 1930s.

1991: Resurrecting the Wandering Hours

It wouldn’t be until the decade just preceding the new millennium that a watchmaker would give the wandering hours display another shot. By Audemars Piguet’s own admission, its watchmakers only chanced upon an horloge à guichet, or a ‘window clock’, in an obscure Swiss watch journal from the turn of the 20th century. Intrigued by the idea of a ‘watch with no hands’, they set about designing a prototype, carefully studying past attempts to make an iteration that would put the brand’s very own stamp on the wandering hours layout.

The result of their efforts came almost two years later. The reference 25720 featured a classically proportioned, slim 36mm precious-metal case, a double-stepped bezel, and short, down-turned lugs. It was a case those familiar with Audemars Piguet’s from the era recognised. After all, as Tom Chng of Singapore Watch Club and Pygmalion Gallery points out, the aesthetic formula was almost identical to the one used for the ultra-thin automatic perpetual calendar. The crown was unsigned, and the case wore the precious metal hallmark sometimes on the flank and other times in between the lugs.

The similarities of the cases of the Star Wheel 25720 and Quantìeme Perpetual 5548 are clear to most.

On the dial side, the reference 25720 was semi-open. The top portion was smooth eggshell white, with the minutes of the hour printed on a quadrant between the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. Such an arrangement is referred to as a sexagesimal graduation. The rest of the dial was adorned with barley-corn guilloché on a metal that corresponded to the case. The classic Audemars Piguet marque was applied at 6 o’clock.

Technical drawings of the Star Wheel dial, that interestingly features a different style minute track than any model produced, courtesy of Audemars Piguet.

Contained within the slightly recessed centre of the dial was the main attraction – the wandering-hours display. Three rotating sapphire disks (each with four Arabic numerals printed on them) were fixed on to a central rotor wheel, which rotated about on a graduated axis. The disks were each attached to the rotor by eight-toothed star wheels, the very practical arrangement that lends the watch its romantic-sounding name. While the central rotor completed a revolution every three hours, the hour disks made a quarter (or 90-degree) turn every hour.

Historically, in timepieces with a wandering-hours dial, the inner workings would have been hidden from view, with the minute tracker offering the only window into the watch’s functioning. However, with the Star Wheel everything was put on show.

The Challenge of Hours That Wander

Any jumping display represents a burden to the mainspring, the source of energy in a mechanical watch. This is true of day and date displays as well. However, while such complications need to ‘jump’ only once every 24 hours, the problem is amplified in a jumping or wandering-hour arrangement. The significant amount of energy required to make all three hour wheels ‘jump’ every hour could potentially come at the cost of linear timekeeping, especially in the immediate moments preceding the jump.

The watchmakers at Audemars Piguet remedied this by attaching the star wheels to the central rotor by immovable jumper springs. This tension holds the disks firmly in place, but not so tightly that it takes up too much energy to make them jump, something that would also negatively impact timekeeping accuracy.

A square cases jump hour model by Audemars Piguet from 1921, courtesy of Rox Magazine.

Powering the Star Wheel was the calibre 2124, based on the Jaeger LeCoultre calibre 889, with the Star Wheel complication module designed in-house at Audemars Piguet. The ébauche was very popular in the 1990s and early 2000s with many, including Vacheron Constantin and IWC utilising it in several pieces. In the Star Wheel, the movement retained the base calibre’s hacking seconds, although the watch did not even feature a seconds hand. The outer edge of the self-winding rotor was made from 21kt gold.

The side of the Star Wheel that is seen less often, its automatic movement based off a Jaeger-LeCoultre ébauche.

It should be noted that when the Star Wheel was being developed, Audemars Piguet owned a 40 percent stake of Jaeger LeCoultre. They held on to this position until 2000 when they relinquished their stake to the Richemont group. The timing is crucial and, as you will find out later in the piece, may have played a part in the ultimate death of the Star Wheel.

A History Rich With Variety

While staying firmly within the realm of the precious metals traditionally favoured in watchmaking, the Star Wheel could be had in quite a few variations. “The watch was originally released in yellow gold and platinum, with two different dial finishes – engine turned or arabesque engraved,” says @ciaca1970, a collector of vintage and neo-vintage Audemars Piguet, based in Italy. “Later rose gold was available too. Dials were made in solid gold, yellow, rose, or white depending on the case material, with a tone variation in blue for the platinum one. I’ve also seen a burgundy dial and a ‘tiger eye’ dial but I’ve seen no official press release or catalogues showing them.”

Just some of the colourful iterations that can be found within the Star Wheel family, including factory set jewelled bezels and semi-precious dials, courtesy of Christie’s, Antiquorum, Singapore Watch Club and Van Rijk Jewellers.

Then, there are the more unusual gem-set examples. You could have the Star Wheel with a diamond-set bezel, although based on information we can find, no more than five were ever made. Last December, an iteration understood to be a piece unique went on auction in Hong Kong. It had a slightly bigger platinum case (38mm across), with 36 baguette-cut emeralds on the bezel. The minute track was printed on mother-of-pearl, while pavé diamonds adorned the rest of the dial. Unlike serially produced versions, the plate visible under the central rotor was also richly decorated with wave-pattern guilloche. The piece, which was expected to go for HKD 800,000, exceeded expectations and went to its new owner for HKD 1.375 million (£134,500). The same day, the auction house sold another piece unique with a similar stone bezel, this one with rubies, HKD 1 million (£97,860).

Other equally unusual, if not verifiably unique pieces, have also periodically come up for auction. Even serially produced examples of the reference 25720 have steadily appreciated in recent years. While the same auction house sold a yellow-gold example for around £6,200 in 2018, a comparable example sold for £20,000 in 2020. “If market performance can be considered a form of perception, the Star Wheel’s market price growth has also seemed to outperform some of its comparable neo-vintage cousin references. The original pieces have grown in price by over 500 percent from just three years ago,” says Chng.

The End of the Star Wheel

By 1996, the Star Wheel’s time was up, with the last one in the UK retailing for £11,450, says @ciaca1970. “It was a niche model, maybe not as fast-selling as some of the other models. It was unusual – a classical watch in a period when sport watches were already gaining most of the attention,” he says. “But it was so unique that it could have been turned into another great icon from the brand, along with the Royal Oak. After all, the Royal Oak wasn’t a runaway hit either – imagine if the executives of the time had decided to cancel it after five years.”

The year 1996 did mark a shift for Audemars Piguet, with its new direction impacting more than just the Star Wheel. “It was also the year that the brand discontinued the whole lineup of classic models with the short lugs, stepped bezel, round 36mm cases that had been the base for all AP classic models since the late 1970s,” says @ciaca1970. “They chose to revamp the Classic line, with bolder and bigger case designs such the Jules Audemars and also the Millenary models – an unfortunate choice as it never delivered. It also completely wasted the family feeling of a case that had been the signature of the Audemars Piguet classic elegant watches for almost a decade.”

A change in direction for the brand that led to the production of the Millenary and Jules Audemars Audemars Huitieme, courtesy of Xupes and Subdial.

This new direction wasn’t exactly a surprise, though. Audemars Piguet had signalled its intentions as far back as 1993 when it had added watch designer Emmanuel Gueit’s upsized interpretation of the brand’s most popular watch, the Royal Oak, to its catalogue. By 1996, the brand had doubled down on the piece that the watchmakers at Audemars Piguet called ‘the Beast’ – it released the Offshore it in a rainbow of shades at that year’s Baselworld, while simultaneously dropping many of its classically proportioned watches.

The Star Wheel's Second Coming

Just one year before the Star Wheel was discontinued, the wandering hours found a home in an unlikely case shape from AP’s historic catalogue. Before we get into the story of what this particular piece looked like, it is worthwhile looking into the origins of the John Shaeffer Collection. The short-lived line, which was launched in the early 1990s and was discontinued before the end of the decade, traces its history back to a single minute repeater housed in a pendant watch with a coussin tortue-shaped, platinum and yellow gold case.

Sold initially in 1908, it was brought back to Audemars Piguet in 1923 to be transformed into a wristwatch, as was quite common in the era. The piece featured a yellow-gold repeater slide and caseback. The watch face was made from platinum and when Audemars Piguet added lugs in 1923, these were also made from the same precious metal. The watchmakers would see the piece again in 1927 when it came back to Le Brassus from the United States, this time because the owner at the time wanted to personalise it. But instead of just engraving the caseback with his initials (something the owner also did, by the way), he wanted the watch face to bear his mark too. The owner, John W. Shaeffer, was the vice-chairman of the Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation, an influential company that counted the automotive, oil and gas, and chemicals sectors as its clients. Shaeffer had noticed that he had 12 letters in his first and last name, exactly the number of markers on a watch face. So at his unusual request, Audemars Piguet replaced the hour markers with the letters of his name and this is how the mythical John Shaeffer watch was born.

“The Star Wheel presents a medium of self-expression. It represents an elegant choice to colour outside the lines … It is almost like a secret code word of the horology circle; if you know how to read it, you’re a pretty serious watch guy.”

Tom Chng

According to the brand, when it acquired this historic piece and exhibited it at the original iteration of its museum in 1992, it garnered such a reaction from enthusiasts as well as its own watch designers that the decision was made to spin it off into a whole new line. This resulted in 1995 in the John Shaeffer Collection. The watches, available in an array of dial options and complications, featured a square, 33mm cushion case in precious metals such as platinum and yellow or rose gold. Powering the watches were manually wound calibres, finished to a high degree and visible through exhibition caseback. While the case closely resembled the original, a few design flourishes, such as a stepped bezel, were added. The other thing that all the iterations had in common was that they were made in very small numbers. Many of them featured minute repeater complications.

In its simplest form, a John Shaeffer could be had as an uncomplicated three-hander (with a sub-seconds’ register) with traditional, printed numerals. Some with a similar dial layout incorporated a minute repeater, while other examples could be had with a triple-date and moonphase complication. A few examples had open-face dials, while others featured jump-hour displays. This brings us to the reason we are talking about this collection, interesting as it is, in the context of this feature on Star Wheel.

The square cases of the John Shaeffer edition Star Wheels certainly make them distinctive, courtesy of Christie’s.

By Audemars Piguet’s estimates, the various iterations of the Répétition Minutes Star Wheel ‘John Shaeffer’ featuring the star-wheel display, numbered in the 10s. Of these, the ones wearing the reference number 25881 were produced starting in 1995 in a range of precious metals, including yellow and rose gold, and platinum. As the name suggests, they featured minute repeaters and were powered by the manually wound in-house calibre 2867.

While the basic dial layout was identical to the original Star Wheel, in this reference, the brand’s designers eschewed all visual texture. The sexagesimal graduated hour remained in the top half with the Audemars Piguet mark at 6 o’clock. In the case of the John Shaeffer watches, the central rotor was made from the same metal as the case. A limited edition of no more than 10 pieces were made in platinum with a rich purple dial. Identical in layout otherwise, the minute track as well as the brand’s marque were printed in high contrast white, for ease of reading.

Something not often seen, a closed dial John Shaeffer Collection piece, courtesy of Analog Shift.

Another notable iteration of the John Shaeffer star-wheel pieces was more faithful to wandering hours pocket watches from the previous century. While housed in similar cases of precious metals (and there are just three examples in titanium), the only window into the workings of the watch was the arc across which the minutes of the hour were printed. The rest of the dial was closed off from view, covered in a vertical brushed finishing. The Audemars Piguet mark, etched on to a high-polished bar, stood out in contrast at the 6 o’clock position.

Third Iteration: The Anniversary Celebrations

Four years after the Star Wheel line was discontinued, the wandering hours display made another brief appearance, this time as part of a milestone celebration for Audemars Piguet. The year 2000 marked the 125th anniversary of the watchmaking enterprise that had brought Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet together. As part of the celebrations, the brand released a number of commemorative pieces. Among them was the Millenary Star Wheel.

One-hundred-and-twenty-five pieces were produced in stainless steel, 50 in yellow gold, and another 75 in rose gold. The Star Wheel dial layout was adjusted to deal with the practicalities of housing it in the Millenary’s elliptical case shape. The sexagesimal graduated hour was moved from the top quadrant of the dial to the right-hand side – between the 1 and 5 o’clock positions. Gone were the different dial textures, with the Millenary Star Wheel taking a more graphic approach. The Audemars Piguet mark was printed on the left-hand side of the dial and, for the first time, the Star Wheel name was actually printed on the watch face, at 6 o’clock.

Two rare iterations of the Star Wheel, one with a Tiger’s Eye dial and another made in a stainless steel Millinery case for the brand’s 125th anniversary, courtesy of Tom Chng.

The sexagesimal graduation, depending on the dial colour, was printed in the same high contrast print for the sake of legibility. For instance, yellow-gold examples featured eggshell dials with printing in dark grey, while rose-gold cases came with grey dials with white printing on them. The stainless-steel pieces featured twilight-blue dials with the minute track as well as the brand and model mark printed in crisp white. As far as we can tell, these were also the only examples that featured three silver star motifs on the dial; the only time they made such an overt symbolic reference to the watch’s evocative name. The Millenary Star Wheel featured vertical brushed finishing on the flanks while all the surfaces that the wearer would see when looking at the watch face were mirror-polished. The lugs, curving downwards, also featured alternating mirror and brushed finishing. Inside was the self-winding calibre 2224 (again based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre 889), although, unlike in its predecessors, the caseback on the Millenary was closed.

“Collectors who have interest in vintage AP are usually fairly seasoned ones, they know what they’re doing,” says Chng. “Very quickly the interest spilled over to the John Shaeffer and Millenary lines, but so few pieces come to market anyway. Shaeffer Star Wheels are truly grails, plain and simple.”

Another piece that was released as part of the celebration was the Jules Audemars Star Wheel de Poche or the Star Wheel Two Faces pocket watch. Bearing the reference 25913, it was a 48mm pocket watch forged from platinum. The crown at 12 o’clock wore a cabochon, as did the two screws along which the bow pivoted. The front face was a traditional affair – the blue enamel dial featured printed numerals in crisp, contrasting white. The outermost chapter was a railroad-style minute tracker followed by a ring of Roman numerals for the hours.

The centre of the dial featured wave-pattern guilloche with the Star Wheel Two Faces and Audemars Piguet marques printed on. Cathedral-style hour and minute hands and the sub second hands at 6 o’clock completed the classical styling of the piece.

The complex, two-faced Star Wheel pocket watch ref. 25913, courtesy of Christie’s.

Turning it over revealed the star-wheel calendar. The place where the sexagesimal graduated hours of the day would be was instead divided up into 31 days of the month. The rest of the dial was open face, which, combined with the transparent sapphire star-wheel disks, let the owner enjoy a near uninterrupted view of the inner workings of the calibre. The three disks, instead of featuring the hours of the day, had four months of the year printed on each of them. It worked the same way as any other star-wheel displays – the month of the year entered the date window on the left, traversing it over the course of the calendar month, before exiting on the right. At which point, the next month wheel sprung into the date window. Owing to the nature of the application, with the wheels turning just once a day, this star-wheel display made much more judicious use of energy from the calibre’s powertrain.

However, the year 2000 would be the last time Audemars Piguet made any star wheel display. Chng has a theory why this may have happened. “I think it was AP’s progression to pursue and rely on their manufacture movements that led to the pause in the Star Wheel line. The Star Wheel runs on a Jaeger-LeCoultre 889 base calibre. The sale of Jaeger-LeCoultre to Richemont in 2000 coincides with the final production of the Star Wheel, in the form of the 125th-anniversary edition Star Wheel Millenary. Three years later, the manufacture base calibre 3120 was put into serial production and not one production Star Wheel has been produced since,” he says.

The Star Wheel Effect

While Audemars Piguet decided to draw a line under its Star Wheel story in 2000, it had presented a template for an unusual time display with a rare quality. “The Star Wheel is an alternative time-display that actually works better,” says Chng. “Some of the other quirky time displays are purely for creative or artistry reasons and contribute little to legibility. Not the Star Wheel. Once you get used to how to read it, it’s a breeze and a joy to wear.”

It is small wonder then that the dial layout has since found favour with several watchmakers, but none as much as independent brand Urwerk. “The Star Wheel was Urwerk before there ever was a Urwerk,” says @watchlover1129, a watch collector from Hong Kong who was drawn to the hobby by the kind of innovation independent watchmaking represented. His platinum and yellow-gold Star Wheels stand out in a collection that is almost exclusively populated by pieces from independent houses. When we spoke to him, he held up his Urwerk UR-100 next to his Star Wheel to make his point. “The Star Wheel represented a moment of independent-minded entrepreneurial spirit from what is one of watchmaking’s most traditional houses. Audemars Piguet, like many others in Switzerland, were coming out of the shadow of the Quartz Crisis with a willingness to try new and interesting things,” he says.

A UR-102 with its distinctive wandering hours display, closed off inside a ceramicised aluminium case.

Chng agrees with this sentiment, which is fairly common within the community of Star Wheel enthusiasts. “I think the Star Wheel gave Urwerk a canvas and framework to really experiment with [the] nuances of AP’s wandering hours concept,” says Chng. Chronologically, it is undeniable that the Star Wheel came before Urwerk, which was founded in 1997 when third-generation master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner joined forces with Martin Frei, a graphic and industrial designer.

Baumgartner’s father used to own a workshop, believed to be inside the family’s Schaffhausen home, adjacent to the young Felix’s bedroom. Here his father restored historical clocks, including one whose story is closely tied to that of the wandering hour display. Speaking to us, Baumgartner said, “He had the opportunity to work on a Campanus night clock and so he was quite excited to show me this rare and really special timepiece. A clock without hands, related to the Pope, was almost a fairytale for us. When I was a kid this Campanus clock was as exciting as a magic trick. I could not understand how it was working but wow, I could not [take] my eyes off it.”

Two interpretations of a complication that few have adopted, but here represented in both a classical and modern manner.

Baumgartner has often linked his experience with this particular clock to Urwerk’s story, rather than the impact the Star Wheel had on the industry. “The Star Wheel is a beautiful watch, but it was not our source of inspiration. It is definitely the original story that captivated me and also the beauty of this very romantic and also functional indication. It’s rare in a lifetime to find these two qualities in one object,” Baumgartner added.

It is true that Baumgartner and Frei’s first attempts, the UR-101 ‘Millennium Falcon’ and UR-102 ‘Sputnik’, were closer in appearance to the Campani night clock than to AP’s Star Wheel. They both featured minimal closed dials, with just the Arabic digit of the hour making its way across the 180-degree arc of the minute tracker. However, there is evidence that the Star Wheel provided the base that Urwerk built on top of when designing their very first calibres.

The story goes that Baumgartner initially created a very similar wandering-hours arrangement as the Star Wheel, but concluded that its immovable jumper springs generated too much friction – something that made the arrangement less efficient and impacted the calibre’s power reserve.

“We opted for the Maltese cross that is 100 percent reliable and ‘consumes’ less energy than the stars – a real bingo moment for us,” says Baumgartner. The iterative improvement generated less friction and also made the business of adjusting the time on the watch a more precise one. Still, it is hard to miss the architectural similarities with the Star Wheel. However, it is equally true that Urwerk has since left its own indelible mark on the wandering hours display.

Another classical rendition of the wandering hours complication in the form of the Parmigiani Fleurier’s Toric Capitole ‘Waves’, courtesy of Hodinkee.

While no other brand has made the wandering hours display such an integral part of itsidentity as Urwerk, several have experimented with it from time to time, mostly in limited numbers. Parmigiani Fleurier’s Toric Capitole, as well as the closed dial ‘wave’ iteration, were both unique pieces. The inspiration for the watches came from an early 19th-century Perrin Frères pocket watch, currently in the possession of the Sandoz Family Foundation, Parmigiani Fleurier’s parent entity.

In 2007, Vacheron Constantin, an early adopter of Cart’s patented wandering-hours display, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first earthly satellite, with a limited 10-piece run of the white-gold watch. The movement was visible through a blue-hued open dial. The brand’s Métiers d’Art collection currently has three variants of the Tribute to Great Explorers series that feature more traditional, closed-dial wandering-hours displays.

One of the more recent wandering-hour displays to bear a close resemblance to the Star Wheel has to be the Arnold & Son Golden Wheel. Released in 2016, the watch – limited to just 125 pieces – featured an eight-toothed star wheel display with the brand’s signature dead-beat second complication added to it.

A minimalist take on this novel way of reading the time, from H. Moser & Cie, the Endeavour Flying Hours, courtesy of H. Moser & Cie.

Star Wheel Today

For many, the Star Wheel and its many original iterations represented a bit of an anomaly. In a time when Audemars Piguet was increasingly relying on stainless-steel sports watches such as the Royal Oak and the Offshore, it was a bit of a wonder that the Star Wheel ever even saw the light of day. Those who appreciated its novelty, and the classic proportions of its case, were fast becoming a minority. Many of those who continue to appreciate the brand’s take on this curious wandering-hours display seem to be of the opinion that Audemars Piguet never really gave Star Wheel the opportunity to become a mainstay of its offering. Others lament that it came at a time just when the company was adapting to fundamental shifts in tastes.

Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) its limited run, it is becoming increasingly sought after, as evidenced by its growing value. Its legacy is also a rich one, and is testament to a design that has stood the test of time.

Our thanks to the Audemars Piguet Archives, Felix Baumgartner, Tom Chng, @ciaca1970 and @watchlover1129  for sharing their expertise on the Star Wheel and the history of the wandering hour display.

This piece is not an exhaustive study. For instance, we have seen examples of pocket watches from the line’s initial run between 1991 and 1996 featuring Star Wheel displays. However, we have found almost no information on them. If you have any intelligence on these or any other Star Wheel watch, please email us at journal@acollectedman.com.