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Last summer, famed Geneva watch manufacturer Patek Philippe opened the doors to its historic Art of Watches Grand Exhibition, held at Cipriani in New York. To mark the momentous occasion, the Swiss brand unveiled several limited-edition models created specifically for the US market, including the absolutely breathtaking Patek Phillippe Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater, New York 2017 Special Edition. Offering a first-of-its-kind complication, we are pleased to inform you that a second edition of this grand complication timepiece made its debut in Patek Philippe’s current collection at Baselworld 2018. Read on to learn more about the new Ref. 5531R-001.
The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition, New York
In 2017 Patek Philippe did something very special when it took over the entire historic bank building on 42nd Street, NYC to house a 10-day exhibition free to the public. Within the bank they built a two-storey museum and brought in hundreds of timepieces, including some of the brand’s most coveted high complications and rare handcrafts - many one-of-a-kind (watchmakers and artisans at work were also on show). It was here that the Patek Phillippe Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater, New York 2017 Special Edition made its debut, in a limited edition of 10 pieces - five showing the New York skyline by day, and five by night.
A World First
So, what makes this model so special? Well, as you might know already, minute repeaters and world time complications have been combined before, but previously the Minute Repeaters were only capable of striking home time (even when their owners were located in another part of the world). The Patek Philippe 5531R is the “first minute repeater that always strikes local time everywhere”. That means the watch will chime the time of whichever time-zone is represented by the city at 12 o’clock, which is also the time indicated by the central hour and minute hands. It sounds simple enough, but in reality it took years of research and development to achieve and so it’s not surprising that the new movement developed for the 5531R houses other innovations too. But before we get to the engineering of this timepiece, let’s first marvel at its artistic value.
In creating this masterpiece, every little detail on the new Patek Philippe 5531R-001 has been considered. The round case, crafted from 18k rose gold and measuring 40.2mm diameter x 11.49mm high, features a delicate hand-guilloched hobnail-patterning – as does the slide mechanism for the minute repeater - and skeletonised lugs. The exquisite dial, a miniature piece of artwork in its own right, displays a cloisonné enamel centre depicting the Lavaux vineyard terraces on the shores of Lake Geneva (a UNESCO world heritage site).
Almost a lost art, cloisonné enameling is now the preserve of a select few manufacturers and this model once again demonstrates Patek Philippe’s mastery of rare handcrafts. Each dial takes a single enamel artist approximately two weeks of work to create and involves multiple firings in a kiln at about 850 degrees centigrade, any one of which could potentially damage the delicate enamel. This is only the second time that Patek Philippe has created a minute repeater with a cloisonne enamel dial (the first being last year’s limited-edition models).
The scene is displayed on an 18k gold dial plate and surrounded by a 24-hour ring, and a maillechort (German silver) city disc. Completing the design is a shiny chocolate brown alligator strap with square scales, and fold-over clasp in matching 18k rose gold. The Ref. 5531R also comes with a full back and sapphire-crystal case back, which are interchangeable upon request. Our recommendation is definitely for the latter, considering the exceptional movement on show.
Minute repeaters are the magnum opus of complications revered for their beauty and the mastery required to construct one. Pressing a slide lever or button causes the complication to audibly sound the time by chiming the hour, quarter-hour, and minutes past the quarter hour, in Big Ben-fashion (quite handy in the dark, before the light switch had been invented).
However, while church tower clocks have large bells to ring out the time, producing a sound that is both audible and pleasing from the inside of a wristwatch is no easy feat (and one that requires around 100 additional components). The first repeaters sounded by striking a hammer on the pocket watch case itself - this was improved to strike a set of wire coils, known as gongs. With the development of its new movement, the R 27 HU, this marks the first Patek Philippe minute repeater to feature gongs attached to the case band, rather than the movement plate - done to give better and louder tones.
R 27 HU
Five years of research and development went into the production of this new self-winding caliber that allows the wearer to select the local time via the city disc, which the minute repeater can then chime on demand. Without wanting to oversimplify things, this world-first is achieved by having the hour snail (a cam with 12 steps that controls the number of hours struck) driven by the time-zone wheel of the world time complication. Fundamental changes to the movement architecture, along with the development of completely new components, were required to make this possible, resulting in several patents pending. There are also safety mechanisms to prevent accidental damage (for instance, while the minute repeater is active, it’s impossible to adjust local time).
Containing 462 parts (including 45 jewels, Gyromax® balance and Spiromax® balance spring), R 27 HU remains quite thin at 8.5mm. Minute repeaters are some of the most satisfying movements to look at, and the R 27 HU is an exceptional example of why - gold is tastefully used amongst the brushed and polished components, such as the Calatrava cross that acts as an upper bridge for the fly governor (that controls the speed of the strikes). The 43-hour min.- 48-hour max power reserve is wound by a 22k gold mini-rotor. R 27 HU carries the hallmark Patek Philippe Seal (that relates to the timepiece in its entirety and covers service for the lifetime of the wristwatch).
Owning a Patek Philippe Grand Complication is an unparalleled experience for extremely discerning individuals. If you are privileged enough to treat yourself to the crème de la crème of luxury mechanical wristwatches, please contact us to arrange a private appointment at our Norwich boutique.