Allow us to bring you back to the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition held in Singapore, late September of 2019. We’re in the thick of the exhibition. The formal speeches and unveiling of the space, as well as the announcements of the special edition watches issued for exhibition are all done and dusted.
Of the special editions announced, the 5303R was the last of the lot crowning jewel of the lot featuring two unusual firsts for Patek Philippe in that this was the first minute repeater from the maison to have its hammers and gongs, and as well its tourbillon mechanism, visible from the dial side.
For Revolution, our first encounter with the 5303 was in the hands of Philip Barat, Director of Watch Development at Patek Philippe — on September 28, 2019 to be specific — who shared saying, “For this exhibition we have launched a new model, this is the minute repeater tourbillon but here, — for the first time — we can see the whole mechanism of the minute repeater on the dial side.
“It’s an evolution of the traditional minute repeater calibre that we launched in 1989, but this since that time, we’ve never seen how our minute repeater mechanism works.” Mr Barat in this instance was referring to the ref. 3979 that was issued by the maison on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. The very same occasion at which the Calibre 89 pocket watch was unveiled.
“Now, our customers are asking us more and more to show details of our minute repeater mechanism,” continued Mr Barat, “to achieve this, we’ve relocated the gongs and hammers [of the minute repeater mechanism] and shifted them to the dial side. This was not complicated to do, because the axis of the hammer go through the baseplate. Therein, the challenge of relocating the mechanism was manageable for us.
“What is extraordinary is that you can see the whole mechanism — the grey parts, which are stainless steel — and we changed the color of the baseplate, which is normally rhodium plated and now it’s a rose gold plate with Côtes de Genève. We’ve also enlarged the baseplate to accommodate the hammers and we’ve opened [an aperture for] the tourbillon to be able to see it.” In fact, this is the first time that Patek Philippe has made the tourbillon visible from the front.
Says Mr Barat, “We’ve said [in the past] that we would never put a tourbillon on the dial face, because it’s not good for the accuracy of the watch. When we create a tourbillon [watch] we make it in a way to have accuracy that is as precise as possible — [deviating by] -1/+2 second per day, at a maximum.”
Mr Barat goes further to explain that the technical team at Patek Philippe is also concerned that exposure to sunlight on the dial side of a watch will cause the necessary lubrication on the tourbillon to dry up prematurely. With new technology, the maison has now applied a UV treatment on the sapphire crystal of the watch to fight this very phenomenon. Much like sunscreen, adds Mr Barat.
What is interesting is that going by Patek Philippe’s philosophy that for a tourbillon to be its most accurate it must be placed on the back of the watch — for the 5303, when looking through the tourbillon aperture on the dial side, what you are actually seeing is the underside of the tourbillon carriage. So, in order to see the face of the tourbillon that we are most familiar with, you would still have to turn the watch over.
At this point, as Mr Barat was explaining this matter to us, he causally whipped out a prototype of the 5303 from the pocket of his coat and proceeded activate it. You experience this very moment with us, recorded for the Revolution Podcast: Episode 14, just about at the 11 minute 40 second mark.
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When you meet with Mr Philip Barat of Patek Philippe, remember to always ask him what he has in the pockets of his jacket. - The proto 5303 in this instance. - The Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition Dates: 28th of September to 13th of October Location: Sands Theatre (Marina Bay Sands) - 📷: @thecleantone
Once the chime ended, Mr Barat reminded us that as this was a prototype, it didn’t haven’t have the seal of approval from the manufacture president, Mr Thierry Stern who otherwise personally approves the quality of every minute repeater’s chime before it leaves Patek Phillipe’s grounds.
We went on further to ask Mr Barat if his team had to take on special considerations in constructing a minute repeater mechanism on the dial side. “The minute repeater mechanism [is technically] always on the dial side,” starts Mr Barat, “it’s the gong and hammer assembly that is on the underside. On a regular minute repeater you have the gongs placed all around the movement. So to put now, the gongs, on the other side we have to put them above the baseplate [attached directly to the case, much like the World Time Minute Repeater ref. 5531]. These are no longer around the movement on the 5303 and the new space generated as a result, we’ve filled with the amphitheatre engraving on the sides of the case.
“The challenge, by chance, with the hammer just there, we didn’t have to change too much — we did have to change some of the components, some parts, from the previous minute repeater, but really nothing special. It was not too much, it was more of an animation for my team than a real challenge,” adds Mr Barat beaming with pride referring to his team’s knowhow.
Mr Barat then went further to explain that the 5303 shares a lot of its identity with the ref. 5104 and 5304, which had the same open dials but with a perpetual calendar mechanism. “We removed the perpetual calendar, we replaced the self-winding mechanism with the tourbillon mechanism, we shifted the hammers and gongs from the back to the dial side. But the case, is quite the same,” said Mr Barat.
Lastly, we asked Mr Barat if placing the gongs and hammers on the dial side posed an acoustic challenge with the 5303. He assured us that when making recordings of the 5303 in their special acoustic rooms, there was no difference noticed. We pressed then that surely some adjustments had to be made in order to ensure that no acoustic differences would be there as a result of the new placement of the gongs and hammers. To this, Mr Barat, again beaming with pride at the knowhow of his team, said, “you know we do have a little experience in minute repeaters. Of course, there are some tips we have [in place] to have good harmonics, but that’s — secret.”
And now, in 2020, Patek Philippe is making the 5303R part of its regular collection, powered by the same manual R TO 27 PS calibre, but slightly redesigned, to set it apart from the 12-piece limited edition that the watch was launched with at the Watch Art Grand Exhibition 2019.
Caliber R TO 27 PS, Manually wound mechanical movement, minute repeater, tourbillon and subsidiary seconds
18K rose gold 5N with inlays in 18K white gold, Sapphire-crystal case back, Case protected against moisture and dust, not water-resistant
Hour circle in black-lacquered sapphire-crystal with white printed minute scale and powdered rose-gold markers, Leaf-shaped hour and minute hands in 18K white gold, pierced and lacquered in black, Subsidiary seconds with leaf-shaped hand in 18K rose gold 5N
Alligator leather with large square scales, hand-stitched, shiny black, fold-over clasp in 18K rose gold 5N