Patek Philippe 5303R-001 Minute Repeater Tourbillon
The Patek Philippe 5303R-001 Minute Repeater Tourbillon pairs two high complications as its name suggests. Unusually, the hammers and gongs are positioned dial-side, allowing the wearer to view the animated spectacle that accompanies the chiming sequence. Angus Davies provides a brief insight into what makes the minute repeater the most challenging complication to execute.
Chat to most master watchmakers and they will cite the minute repeater as the most challenging complication to execute. The minute repeater can trace its origins to a time pre-dating street lighting. Often unable to read the time at night, the wearer could activate the ‘slide’ on his pocket watch and hear the prevailing time.
The time on a pocket watch is imparted using a sequence of chimes in the following order: hours with the first hammer and gong (low tone), quarters with both hammers and gongs (two tones) and, lastly, minutes with the second hammer and gong (high tone). When the quarters are struck, there is a small gap between both hammers striking, augmenting the charm of this complication.
Normally, the gongs are formed of steel and struck with hammers. The strike mechanism is highly complex involving the use of shaped racks, snails, cams and wheels. The most challenging part of making a minute repeater relates to the gongs. Steel wire is shaped, usually into a circular form, following the contours of a circular watch case. The gongs are repeatedly heated to harden the metal and then subsequently quenched. Incidentally, the inside of the case is designed to optimise the sound of the chiming sequence.
For many years, Patek Philippe sourced its gongs from Henri-Daniel Piguet, a specialist based in the Vallée de Joux, a region renowned for making chiming watches. Piguet would quench his gongs in cold water which had passed through equine pastures and springs near paddocks. This water inevitably contained horse urine which was said to enhance the quality of Patek’s gongs. The Maison continues to have a production facility in the region.
Once both gongs have been produced they have to be tuned. This necessitates removing literally microns from the surface of the steel. Great care must be exercised when performing this task as the gongs will have already taken many days to produce. Should too much material be removed, the gongs would have to be discarded. When both gongs are completed they are affixed to the base movement and the case with a ‘plot’. This holds both gongs in position, ensuring they never touch.
Look closely at the movement of the new Patek Philippe 5303R-001 Minute Repeater Tourbillon and you will note the brand’s Calatrava logo which sits atop a centrifugal governor, ensuring all the strikes of the gong are of equal duration.
Lastly, the Patek Philippe 5303R-001 Minute Repeater Tourbillon, as its name suggests, includes a tourbillon, another high complication. This device mitigates the adverse influence of gravity on the regulating organ and, as such, enhances precision. This incredible timepiece perfectly demonstrates the remarkable savoir-faire of this historical Maison.
The brand’s press release (July 2020)
Since it made its first pocket watch with a minute repeater (1845), Patek Philippe has established itself as one of the gifted interpreters of the music of time. This remarkable know-how comes to the fore even in the most extraordinary creations, such as the Sky Moon Tourbillon wristwatch featuring a minute repeater with cathedral gongs or the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime with five chiming functions including two patented global debuts. The manufacture also offers the broadest selection of regularly produced minute repeaters, watches with classic or cathedral gongs and models featuring a minute repeater with or without additional complications (perpetual calendar, tourbillon, World Time, chronograph). But never before had Patek Philippe crafted a minute repeater with a striking mechanism that was visible on the dial side.
The Ref. 5303 was unveiled in 2019 in a limited edition of 12 watches as a world debut on the occasion of the “Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019”.
Now, a slightly modified version of the Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon has become part of the current Patek Philippe collection. This new complication for enthusiasts of repeater timepieces stands out with its open architecture without a conventional dial. The repeater mechanism – for the first time with the hammers and gongs – can be admired in action without removing the watch from the wrist. This is a further expression of Patek Philippe’s customer-centric development philosophy. The transparency aspect also applies to the tourbillon: the back side of its cage can be seen beneath the seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. In this veritably perfect composition, the filigreed steel parts glisten against the backdrop of the rose gilt plate.
The aesthetic of the manually wound calibre R TO 27 PS was subtly reworked to emphasize its appeal. For instance, certain components were pierced, as is common for skeletonized movements. Of course, Patek Philippe also mobilized its heritage in the manual finissage of movement parts: it decorated the plate with Genevan circular graining, applied a delicate perlage to the recesses, and decorated the hammers with a circular satin finish.
The inimitable rose-gold case sports a wide, cambered and polished bezel as well as white- gold inlays with foliage engravings that grace the caseband and the strap lugs. The white-gold slide in the left-hand case flank that activates the minute repeater features the same motif. The hour circle is black-lacquered sapphire-crystal rim with powdered rose-gold markers. The movement can be admired through the sapphire-crystal case back and is framed by a white- gold rim. Its open-worked decoration echoes the case inlays and the repeater slide.
This fantastic lesson in watchmaking artistry, elegance, and manual finissage is complemented with the unique sound that is typical of Patek Philippe repeater timepieces. As is the case for every Patek Philippe minute repeater, this melody of time is personally rated with great care by manufacture president Thierry Stern.