The Patek Philippe 5531R was born with the perfect pedigree to become a cult watch. Combining for the first time two of the most iconic complications from Patek Philippe, it is both a world time watch and a minute repeater. This remarkable timepiece was premiered at the Patek Philippe Art of Watches exhibition (New York – 2017), before entering the regular collection as of Baselworld 2018. Today, we have the chance to review this exclusive watch that few would have the privilege to even spot on a wrist once.
Patek Philippe world time watches and Louis Cottier
Patek Philippe’s World Time watches have for a long time achieved cult status, which was confirmed at Phillips May 2016 auction, when a rare Patek 2523/1 from 1954 achieved USD 2.5 million.
Their story is indissolubly linked to Louis Cottier. The son of a watchmaker, Cottier earned horological fame for developing mechanisms indicating the time for our 24 time zones on a single dial. From the 1930s onward, Cottier manufactured such watches for prestigious clients like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex or Agassiz. The earliest examples at Patek Philippe were delivered in 1937 (reference 96 HU and 515, both with a fixed bezel).
In 1950, he created the first world time watch with two crowns allowing to change the reference city when travelling. This practical innovation was presented to Patek Philippe, inspiring the cult 2523 series manufactured from 1953. In 1999, the launch of the Patek Philippe reference 5110 (followed by several models with world time indication) marked the revival for World Time watches.
The centre of the dial is a superb cloisonné enamel decoration showing a boat sailing on the Lake Geneva, off the Lavaux region whose terraced wine-growing slopes stretch over 30 kilometres above the lake offering magnificent views. Enamel dials are part of the Patek Philippe world time tradition. These are rare, highly complex to craft, and from an aesthetic point of view, simply captivating: miniature works of art for the wrist. The four delicate gold quarter-hour markers, delicately applied onto the dial, are a delightful touch.
For the first time, the city disc features compartments framing each of the 24 time zones, creating a discreet and elegant pattern. The 24-hour disc is fashioned out of gold with a dark PVD coating. The hands are similar to those used for the reference 5230. The shape of the hour hand is a reference to the southern constellation while the minute hand has a more traditional lozenge-shaped contour. These are nicely facetted and crafted in rose gold.
Despite this complex mechanism, the Patek Philippe World Time Minute Repeater 5531R is user-friendly. The crown has two positions to wind the movement and set the time. The pusher at 2 o’clock allows to set the city chosen for the local time (one hour increments). Last, the slide for the minute repeater is at 9 o’clock.
The Calatrava case is remarkably crafted and does deserve a closer look. Its complex construction features openworked lugs. The caseband is fully decorated with a hand-guilloché hobnail motif creating superb reflections of light. Therefore, the lugs are crafted separately and then affixed to the case. On the wrist, the case wears elegantly, and smaller than the 42mm diameter of this 5531R suggests.
Turning the watch over, the exhibition caseback offers a breathtaking view of the calibre R27 HU (there is also a solid caseback option but it would be a shame to hide this superb mechanism). The base calibre is an automatic minute repeater movement with traditional gongs (the R27 calibre that was launched in 1989 for the 150th anniversary of the company). The world time mechanism is built on top of it. Despite its complexity, the calibre R27 HU is just 8.5mm thick with a 32mm diameter – this allows the Patek Philippe World Time Minute Repeater 5531R to remain thin, at only 11.49mm.
One of the main challenges for Patek Philippe’s watchmakers was to chime the local time, that of the city displayed at 12 o’clock. In traditional repeater watches, the hour snail cam (this gear determines how many times the hammers strikes and needs to be kept in sync with the current time) is switched every hour by a pin in the hour wheel arbor. For the reference 5531, the hour snail is continuously driven by the world time mechanism. Similarly, when the city disc is changed the hour snail needs to jump in one-hour steps.
The calibre R27 HU incorporates several safety mechanisms. In particular, an isolator ring blocks the city selector, which is crucial to avoid breakage when the striking mechanism is activated. When the minute repeater slide is used, it rotates the isolator ring to prevent the city selector from being actuated. As the strike sequence ends, the isolator ring and the isolator ring return to their original position.
The gongs are not attached to the movement but to the caseband, in order to magnify the intensity of the vibrations (hence, the sound) emitted outside the case. Patek Philippe tested both the traditional configuration (gongs attached to the plate) and this new one. The latter proved to sound louder and longer. If you are fortunate enough to hear the Patek Philippe 5531, its sound (volume and tempo) is magnificent…
But this construction brings extra complexity as the watchmakers usually tune the gongs on the movement before casing it. The gongs need to be filed to achieve the right sound. The hammers must strike these in an optimal way, with the right tempo. The crucial process, therefore, results more delicate and time-consuming in this configuration.
As you would expect, the movement finishing is top notch. The 462 parts are decorated in compliance with the Patek Philippe Seal. The bridges are decorated with Geneva stripes and the gold micro-rotor is guilloché. The hammers are black polished. Two of the jewels are set in a gold chatons. As for all Patek Philippe’s repeaters, the centrifugal governor cover is shaped like a Calatrava cross.
The Patek Philippe 5531R is worn on a brown alligator strap closed by a folding buckle. Price is set at CHF 495.000. For more information, please visit www.patek.com.