15 July 2020
ad Baselworld – the ill-fated, former world’s-largest watch show – gone ahead in early May as pre-Covid19 scheduling had planned, there’s a pretty good chance that one wristwatch would have received more attention than the thousands of others decorating the walkways of the city's cavernous Congress Centre.
While the accolade for most-talked-about timepiece invariably goes to some sparkly new lust-item from either Patek Philippe or Rolex, formerly the trade fair’s two largest and most important brands, this year show-goers would have had something to go genuinely gooey-eyed and weak-at-the-knees over – an open-worked, tourbillon-fitted minute-repeater from Patek Philippe.
Best known for its conservative dress watches, it’s not the first time in recent years that Patek Philippe has wowed watch followers with a contemporary take on a grand complication. In 2014, watch-heads had a stainless steel, annual-calendar-chronograph Nautilus to lose their minds over; the following year, Patek launched of the resolutely un-Patek-like Calatrava Pilot’s watch.
In 2018 came the orange-accentuated Aquanaut – a genuine, off-the-charts, holy-grail wrist-rocket that set Instagram alight (a coincidence, perhaps, that Patek Philippe had joined the photo-sharing platform just four days before the Baselworld of that year). Still, none of those earlier crowd-pleasers, one might argue, possess quite the same wow-factor, the same sprezzatura, as this year’s Ref. 5303R-001 – a rose-gold minute repeater that, in a first for Patek Philippe, displays its striking mechanism dial-side up.
After rumours suggested that it wouldn’t be launching any new watches in 2020, last month saw Patek Philippe drop a limited-edition Calatrava in celebration of the completion of its new, 10-storey headquarters in Geneva. Alongside its new minute repeater, the brand has now anounced another two new models. Details of all three can be found below.
Ref. 5303R-001 Minute Repeater
A repeating watch is a watch that chimes the time on demand – unlike a sonnerie, which chimes the time in passing, the way a mantel clock might. Typically, minute repeaters are activated by pushing a sliding lever, usually located at 10 o’clock. Once the slide lever is pushed, mechanical ‘feelers’ read the time from the position of gears. Two hammers then strike the time on two differently-tuned gongs; hours are most-often signalled by a low tone, quarter-hours by a sequence of two tones, and minutes by a high tone.
Patek Philippe resumed regular production of its striking watches in 1992. It now makes more minute repeaters than any other watchmaker. Until now, however, every minute repeater that Patek had made had a solid dial. That meant you had to take the watch off and show off its see-through case-back, if it had one, in order to display to anyone the hypnotic motion of the chiming mechanism in action. Not anymore.
The Ref. 5303R-001 started life as a limited run of 12 watches that debuted at last year’s Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore. A modified version now becomes part of Patek Philippe’s main collection. As well as the exposed gongs, the backside of a tourbillon cage can be seen at six o’clock. Contrasting, beautifully, against a rose-gold case is a black-lacquered, sapphire-crystal hour rim with powdered rose-gold markers. Every Patek Philippe minute repeater is personally sound tested by company president Thierry Stern. This one costs CHF600,000, or around £566,000 depending on what the exchange rate is up to.
Ref. 5370P-011 Split-Seconds Chronograph
To continue with the Horology 101, a split-second chronograph, or rattrapante in French, is, essentially, a timepiece with a stopwatch function that has two, rather than one, sweeping seconds hands. Activate a pusher and both hands begin sweeping around the dial together. Activate another, and one hand stops while the other continues. Press the first pusher again, and the stationary hand jumps to catch up with the moving hand. And so on. The result is the ability to record different periods of elapsed time, or events that begin but do not end together, simultaneously. Handy if you’re tracking athletes running around a track, for instance.
The Ref. 5370 isn’t new. It appeared in 2015 with a platinum case and black enamel dial. Now, however, it’s available with a glossy blue dial – or, to be precise, a glossy blue Grand Feu enamel dial.
Created by fusing glass with metal in extremely hot ovens, enamel dials are some of the most time-consuming, ergo expensive, dials in watchmaking. Grand feu dials, which are created by layering sheets of enamel on top of each other, are the most painstaking of all enamel dials to manufacture.
Hours and minutes on the new Ref. 5370P-001 are tracked by slender leaf-shaped hands with luminous coatings and applied Breguet numerals in white gold. The sweep chronograph and rattrapante hands are likewise made of white gold in order to contrast against the blue dial.
Ref. 5270J-001 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Likewise, the Ref. 5270 isn’t a new watch. Since 2018 it’s been on offer in platinum with a golden opaline dial, and as a rose-gold version with a gold bracelet. The movement inside, enabling the watch’s chronograph and perpetual calendar functions, dates back to 2011. Now, though, Patek Philippe has added a yellow-gold edition to your list of options.
The yellow-gold case weighs against a silvery opaline dial, on which you’ll find an analogue date at six o'clock and a double aperture for the day and month at 12 o'clock. Two other small round apertures between four and five, and seven and eight o’clock, will tell you, respectively, how far through the leap year cycle we are, and, something you could probably gauge from looking out the window yourself, whether it’s day or night. Still, handy if you’re ever in the Arctic circle.
Ref. 5303R-001, CHF600,000 (approximate retail price £566,000), Ref. 5370P-011, £201,390, Ref. 5270J-001, £129,350, patek.com