If you attended the Watch Art Grand Exhibition in Singapore in 2019 at Marina Bay Sands, you must remember the limited edition pieces that were released. Among those, the most complicated model was a brand new reference, the Ref. 5303R. The Head of Watch Development at Patek Philippe, Philip Barat, kept the gem in his pocket while explaining the rationale for the new design.
As Mr Barat explained, customers have long been clamouring for a more visual experience with the minute repeater. As a result, the brand determined to develop this new model, which has its roots in the Ref. 3979 to some extent. But the Ref. 5303R shares a deeper design relationship with Patek Philippe’s past perpetual calendar minute repeaters such as the Ref. 5104 and Ref. 5304.
With the Ref. 5303, however, Patek Philippe has embraced a first: having a tourbillon visible from the dial side of the movement. It’s also the first time that the hammer and gongs of the repeater mechanism is located on the front of the dial, instead of the reverse.
Tweaking the Calibre R27 for the Ref. 5303R
For those familiar with the design of the minute repeater, the minute repeater’s racks, gears and cams are not, as most think, on the back of the movement. In fact, they are on the front. That makes creating a dial-side repeater a simpler configuration than imagined. However, the gongs which are usually arranged around the movement, are now attached directly to the case.
As a result, the dial display which is really the skeletonised movement is set deeper into the case than usual, to make space for the gongs. It also provides a larger arena for the repeater’s chimes to reverberate, delivering a sound experience that’s equal to typical Patek Philippe minute repeaters.
Of course, like all Patek Philippe minute repeaters, these are personally approved by Mr Thierry Stern before leaving the manufacture. While technically it isn’t difficult to move the gongs and hammers from the back of the movement to the front, some accommodations did have to be made.
20 additional components are needed, along with a larger base plate, which is gilded in rose gold as it also doubles as the display of the watch. The gilding serves to both highlight the minute repeater components as well as fit the design of the watch.
On the reverse, the movement itself is significantly smaller than the case size. Patek Philippe has used a decorative pattern to fill the back of the movement, offering stability and aesthetics in one fell swoop. The same pattern is seen on the case middle and lugs as well.
The Patek Philippe Tourbillon
Patek Philippe’s tourbillons are some of the most revered in the industry. While many brands took the device to new aesthetic heights on the dial, Patek Philippe kept it on the back of the movement. Why? Because the tourbillon is ultimately a timekeeping mechanism. It has moving parts and lubricants that are sensitive to shock and light exposure respectively. So, it should not be moved from its position on the movement just for aesthetic purposes.
With the Ref. 5303, even though the tourbillon is visible from the dial side, it isn’t shifted from its traditional position on the movement. Instead, Patek Philippe simply opened an aperture so collectors could admire the rotating escapement.
One great concern about exposing the tourbillon to light was exposure to UV rays which could dry up lubricants used in the escapement and therefore affect isochronism. As such, the sapphire crystals (front and back) of the Ref. 5303R are coated with a UV-reflecting layer, that ensures the watch maintains its performance. According to Patek Philippe Seal requirements, tourbillons must maintain a -2/+1 seconds a day accuracy.
The open display means you can admire the tourbillon from both sides, and it’s just as beautiful to admire on the front and back. A small seconds hand in rose gold 5N runs over the tourbillon, with a printed display on the crystal. The hour and minute hands are skeletonised and in black oxidised gold, matching the minute track in black on the inner bezel.
Of course, getting your hands on this watch will take both time, patience and plenty of goodwill with Patek Philippe. But owning it will be a milestone: this is the first dial-side repeater and tourbillon, but it surely won’t be the last.
Written by Darren Ho
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