Minute repeaters and the World Time function play a pivotal role in the portfolio of Patek Philippe’s complicated timepieces. With its chiming watches, the Genevan manufacture has defined the benchmark for decades, as evidenced by their exceptional acoustic quality, the broad range of models and variations, and the interesting combinations with other complications. Patek Philippe’s World Time watches with cloisonné enameled dials are legendary as well; they rank among the most coveted timepieces at auctions worldwide.
In the Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater, the master watchmakers in Geneva merged these two complications for the first time in Patek Philippe’s history – and also in an unprecedented way: the time is always struck as indicated by the hour and minute hands for the time zone represented by the city aligned with the 12 o’clock position. This sonorous universal timekeeping instrument has its debut with two 5-watch limited editions themed “New York by Day” and “New York by Night”.
Patek Philippe’s master watchmakers can take on any horological challenge, including the development of innovative complications – as in the Grandmaster Chime – or combinations of functions never before attempted. This applies especially when the issue is to integrate functional mechanisms into one another. They confronted this challenge in creating the Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater. To this very day, minute repeaters with universal time functionality systematically strike home time even if their owners are far away from home. Conversely, the new Ref. 5531 always strikes local time.
For over 70 years, Patek Philippe World Time wristwatches have been mainstays in haute horlogerie
The manufacture instantly recognized the potential of Louis Cottier’s idea. In the 1930s, the Genevan master watchmaker invented an ingenious system that could display the time in all 24 time zones using reference cities printed on the dial or engraved in the bezel. In 1999, the manufacture fundamentally improved the functionality of its World Time watches by combining the World Time mechanism with the Travel Time mechanism. When moving from one time zone to another, this exclusive patented solution allows all three time-zone indications to be corrected with a single pusher. One actuation synchronously adjusts the city disk, the 24-hour disk and the hour hand in steps of one hour without influencing the rate accuracy of the movement. Now, the challenge was to join this mechanism with a minute repeater in a way that would best address the purpose of such a watch. The result is Patek Philippe’s new self-winding caliber R 27 HU movement with the World Time function and a minute repeater.
The owners of a World Time Minute Repeater want more than to see the time in all of the world’s 24 time zones at a glance. They also want a highly legible reading of the time at their current location, on demand also acoustically with the incomparable sound of a Patek Philippe minute repeater. This goal has now been achieved by the manufacture for the first time in horological history. Until now, minute repeaters with the World Time function were only able to chime home time as previously defined with the crown – because the two complications operated independently from one another. An acoustic local time indication requires the World Time display with the rotatable city and 24- hour disks to be mechanically coupled with the chiming mechanism. This is easier to understand by first looking at a conventional minute repeater: The heart of its mechanism consists of three cams, referred to as snails: the hour snail with twelve steps, the quarter snail with four steps, and the minute snail that has four segments with 14 steps each. At any given point in time, these snails are in clearly defined positions. The minute snail is firmly connected with the quarter snail; it has a pin which advances the 12-hour star with the hour snail by one increment after each full revolution. As soon as the minute repeater has been activated with the slide in the case flank, the steps of the different snails are consecutively sampled. Each passage from one step to another triggers a strike on a given gong. If the chiming mechanism is activated at 5:37, the hour beak slides across five steps, causing the lower-pitched gong to be struck five times. Then, the quarter feeler glides across two steps and triggers two high-low double strikes on both gongs to indicate two quarter hours. Finally, the minute feeler samples 7 steps of the third segment of the minute snail, triggering 7 strikes on the high-pitched gong: 7 minutes. The time is 5:37. All this takes place in tiny dimensions with millimeter-size parts of complex shapes that are only a few tenths of a millimeter thick and microscopically small pins as well as filigreed steel springs which are difficult to recognize as such by the naked eye. Only the best among all master watchmakers can navigate with confidence in this microcosm.
The Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater is remarkably thin from other Patek Philippe watches
In the caliber R 27 HU of the Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater, this mechanism features fundamental changes with new designs and new components for which patent applications have been filed. While the minute and quarter snails remain interconnected on the cannon pinion, the hour snail is now continuously moved by the time-zone wheel of the World Time mechanism rather than being controlled by the quarter snail. Here, the patented solution with the continuously rotating World Time function makes it possible to advance the 12-hour star with the hour snail with one-second accuracy. In Patek Philippe minute repeaters, the time window from one hour strike to the next is merely one second. An example: Until 5:59:49, the acoustic time indication for 5:59 is 5 hour strikes, 3 double strikes for three quarter hours, and 14 minute strikes for a total of 25 strikes. Only one second later – at 5:59:50 – the watch strikes 6 o’clock (6 hour strikes). Once the 10 seconds have elapsed, the hands show exactly 6 o’clock when the last minute strike is completed. This outcome is much more difficult to implement with the detour via the World Time mechanism, but with the patented solution, the problem was solved very precisely and with extraordinary elegance. Once again, the manufacture delivers proof that it masters the technology of chiming watches and the integration of additional complications. As soon as the minute repeater is actuated with the slide in the left-hand case flank, the mechanisms that execute the hour, quarter, and minute strikes briefly interact to sound the melody of time with the acoustic quality and rhythmic harmony that is characteristic of Patek Philippe strikework masterpieces. Concurrently, the World Time mechanism is blocked so that for the duration of the time strike – while the delicate snails, racks, wheels, and levers are engaged – no time zone adjustments can take place. And as is the case with all Patek Philippe World Time watches, an adjustment of local time with the pusher at 2 o’clock does not have a negative influence on the rate of the movement.
A further patented modification distinguishes the Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater from other Patek Philippe watches: its two gongs (one high-pitched, the other low-pitched) are attached to the caseband instead of to the plate of the movement. This complicates the assembly process for the watchmaker. But for Patek Philippe’s president Thierry Stern who personally assesses the sonority of each minute repeater before it is released for delivery, the extra effort is worth it, because “the acoustic experience of this new and truly extraordinary grand complication is perceptibly better.” It takes 462 individual parts crafted to the highest degree of precision, carefully finished in compliance with the directives of the Patek Philippe Seal and assembled with a steady hand for the caliber R 27 HU to perform its functions dependably, sonorously, and precisely. Of course, it also fulfills the rate accuracy benchmark of -3 to +2 seconds per day as stipulated by the Patek Philippe Seal. As an additional complexity, the caliber R 27 HU movement is self-winding. Its 22K gold minirotor is fully recessed in the bridge plane. This is why the movement, although elaborate, is remarkably thin: only 8.5 mm at its thickest point.
With its new Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater, Patek Philippe reasserts its expertise in design and casemaking. Despite its height of 11 mm, the silhouette of the 18K rose-gold case is exceptionally svelte and elegant. This is due to the generously skeletonized lugs, the sharply slanted bezel, and the shape of the glass. All three features make the watch appear less voluminous. The hand-guilloched hobnail pattern, typical for Patek Philippe, underscores the elegance of the timepiece. The same motif adorns the slide in the left-hand case flank for actuating the minute repeater, assuring consistency of style. In contrast, the pathway of the slide is horizontally satin-finished. As an attractive glossy accent, the time-zone pusher at 2 o’clock is polished. The case is fitted with a sapphire-crystal display back as a show window for true watchmaking artistry: it reveals the chamfered bridges with Geneva striping, the guilloched minirotor in 22 gold, and the gold-plated Calatrava cross cover on the centrifugal governor of the chiming mechanism. This view remains unforgettable, even when the interchangeable solid-gold case back is mounted. Both case backs of the special-edition Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater are engraved with “PATEK PHILIPPE NEW YORK 2017”.
The limited edition watch Ref. 5531 is a sonorous, mechanically ingenious, and aesthetically appealing manifestation by Patek Philippe
Extensive work is involved in endowing the 18K gold and German silver dial with the city disk, the 24-hour disk, and the artistically adorned center with its captivating countenance. As always at Patek Philippe, the premise is that aesthetic immaculacy must be paired with superb legibility. The city disk is lacquered in opaline silvery white and features black printed place names. On its day half (7 am to 6 pm) with the engraved sun symbol, the numerals of the rose-gold 24-hour disk are engraved and tinted brown. The night half (7 pm to 6 am) is brown, highlighting the rose gold glow of the engraved numerals and moon symbol. A little cloisonné enamel masterpiece stands out in the middle of the dial. It depicts the skyline of New York City, one in bright daylight colors, the other showing the nocturnal color palette of a city that never sleeps. For each of the ten dials (five times New York by day, five times New York by night), the enamel artist invests almost two weeks of work to create the spellbinding image with its many polychrome nuances. First, he must shape the individual compartments (cloisons) of the motif with fine flattened gold wire strips that are affixed to the gold substrate on their edges. Then, he begins to fill the cloisons with enamel paint. After each filling, the dial must be fired in a special kiln at about 850°C. The artist has to anticipate how the high temperatures will alter the color of the enamel. Thus, opaque, translucent and transparent enamel mixtures are applied coat after coat and consecutively fired until the miniature work of art is finished: the skyline of Manhattan with a diameter of 17.1 mm. Incidentally, the Ref. 5531 is the first Patek Philippe minute repeater decorated with cloisonné enamel. The 18K rose-gold hour and minute hands hover above the cityscape. Both are lapped and feature a sharp center ridge. The shape of the hour hand is reserved for World Time watches. Carefully pierced, it traces the silhouette of the “Southern Cross” constellation. The watch is worn on a hand-stitched shiny chocolate brown alligator leather strap with large square scales, secured with an 18K rose-gold fold-over clasp. With its Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater, Patek Philippe is again presenting a genuine global debut with a mechanical complication never before implemented in this way. The watch comes in a rose-gold case with a dial that seductively pairs technical innovation with an authentic Genevan tradition. It celebrated its international première in two 5-watch limited editions – “New York by Day” and “New York by Night”. The Ref. 5531 is a sonorous, mechanically ingenious, and aesthetically appealing manifestation of top-tier watchmaking artistry as upheld by Patek Philippe.