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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong
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Patek Philippe unveils Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater, New York 2017 special edition

It's the global debut of a totally new grand complication.

For the very first time, a minute repeater plays the melody of time for any location in the USA. And in the whole world.

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 will debut in July 2017 with two 5-watch limited editions themed “New York by Day” and “New York by Night”. The timing is perfect, coinciding with the grand exhibition entitled “Patek Philippe – The Art of Watches”. It is open from July 13 to 23, 2017, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York.
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.

The whole world’s time at a glance

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 melody of time for any place in the USA and the entire world

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.

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.
 

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