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In Detail: What is the Retrograde function in a watch

Watch collectors love amassing watches for a variety of reasons from the appreciation of a watch's aesthetics to its intricate movements. Aside from the watch design, complications in watch movements are often prized by watch purist. Today, we explain what "retrograde" function is and showcase some of the watches with such feature.


The history of retrograde movement dates back to the late seventeenth century, where some pocket watches' hour hand would sweep a segment of a circle for half the day then return to its starting point to begin all over again. Abraham-Louis Breguet used this type of "retrograde" mechanism in the late eighteenth century for functions such as the date or the equation of time. It was only in the late twentieth-century that retrograde displays returned to the spotlight and became a popular addition to the wristwatch.

Retrograde function

So what is a retrograde function? In short, Retrograde is an indication where the corresponding hand moves backwards or counterclockwise. A retrograde display therefore does not need to indicate anything (day, date, month or time) in a circular fashion but can do so in an arc because of the indicator hand's ability to bounce (or “jump”) back to the beginning when it has finished the sequence.

The day indicator jumps anticlockwise from Sunday to Monday on the Claude Bernard Retrograde Day Date (while the date change happens at 12 midnight, the day change only happenes at 1am as illustrated in the gif above)

So what kind of role does this function play in a watch’s design? Some watches like the Claude Bernard Retrograde Day Date employ the retrograde complication to display the day of the week. Other watches in the market feature the retrograde more prominently, with the Claude Bernard Chronograph Retrograde employing it in its chronograph (stopwatch) function.

Claude Bernard Chronograph Retrograde

Because of the distinct functionality of the retrograde complication in general, its movement can be used to create fresh and interesting dial designs, making it one of the more unique complications found in watches today. Stay tuned as we explore each watch in detail.

Claude Bernard watches are available at Timepiece Atelier, Robinsons The Heeren Level 4 and other retailers

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