Swiss Patek Philippe didn’t grab the headlines at Baselworld this year, which, to me at least, was a relief. The reason is very simple: I much prefer Patek Philippe when it keeps things a little conservative. This, after all, is the brand that prefers not to show tourbillons through the dial for fear that the light let in will unnecessarily degrade the lubricants.
The aviator watch (the 5524 Pilot’s Travel Time) might well be a rip-roaring success with waiting lists long enough that it actually will be the next generation that owns the watch, but Patek is better when it disdains such things. That, however, doesn’t mean Patek shouldn’t innovate or embrace the avant-garde – the 5960-1/A-010, also shown at Basel this year, managed
to be both absolutely contemporary and completely within the tradition.
If the design wasn’t headline it allowed the focus to concentrate on what makes Patek truly exceptional: the sheer quality of execution that goes into the watches (and even the Aviator watch was beautifully done and that doesn’t happen by accident).
Allied to that quality of execution Patek Philippe men’s watch does quality of conception, which is where the Advanced Research department comes into play. It’s easy to find brands that look more innovative than Patek in terms of watchmaking technology, but that’s because the company can afford to take more time over validating new concepts (and has to, given the expectations of its client base).
But if you look at the significant advances of the last century, Patek have been directly involved in the development or quick to adopt in almost all of them from self-winding watches to silicon via quartz. In truth, it’s more a project than a department; Patek Philippe Advanced Research covers internal research, work with academic institutions (Patek funds a chair at Lausanne’s CSEM) and collaborative projects with the likes of Rolex and the Swatch Group.
The latest fruits of the research were presented at Baselworld in the form of a slightly strange looking Aquanaut Travel Time 5960G. Part of the dial is cut away to reveal one of the two innovations that were being shown: a new geometry for the levers that activate changes to the local time displayed, of which more below.
The other innovation is an enhancement of the Oscillomax escapement assembly that Patel Philippe has been working on over the last decade or more. The assembly is designed around Silinvar, which was developed with Rolex and the Swatch Group and has an oxidised outer layer that improves stability over a wide range of temperature.
The balance spring part (“GyromaxSi” in Patek parlance) has now been given a further enhancement, a second terminal curve. Essentially this is a twist to the end of the spring that helps it expand and recoil with better precision. Adding a twist to the outer end of the spring (sometimes known as Breguet overcoil) is an idea that’s been around for 200 years. Patek is the first to change the geometry of the inner part of the spring.