How do you treat your father for a milestone birthday? Well, if you happen to lead the world’s most prestigious watch manufacture which has flourished under his reign and are the patron of a team with outstanding watchmakers, engineers, and artisans that posses an unparalleled technical prowess you might consider a bespoke watch.
Well, in the case of Philippe and Thierry Stern of Patek Philippe it goes without saying that this timepiece had to be a grand complication, with a highly sophisticated minute repeater, finished to the highest standards and with mesmerizing details brought to life by rare handcraft techniques, as the refined chiming watches of the Genevan manufacture are among the most sought-after timepieces by collectors and connoisseurs. In fact, Patek Philippe has been crucial in reviving this watch type in the wake of the new interest in high-end mechanical watches, following the end of the quartz crisis in the 1980s.
To mark the company’s 150th anniversary in 1989, Philippe Stern reintroduced it into the brand’s collection of wristwatches, with the limited edition Reference 3960 being the first wristwatch chiming the hours, quarters, and minutes. Until today, this genre represents the paragon of high horology and challenges the watchmakers to the ultimate degree. According to Patek Philippe, the assembly of a single minute repeater takes 200 to 300 hours work and requires decades of experience as well as a very rare talent.
A grand complication for a grand visionary of modern haute horlogerie
So it seems more than fitting, that Thierry Stern honors his father with his favorite complication watch, and, since we are talking about Patek Philippe, an added function, aka an alarm chiming a programed time. This complex mechanism was one of the five acoustic functions and one of the two patented world firsts unveiled in 2014 for the manufacture’s 175th anniversary in the Grandmaster Chime Reference 5175, with 20 complications the most complex Patek Philippe wristwatch ever. Joining the regular collection in 2016 as Reference 6300, the Grandmaster Chime unites a grande sonnerie, a petite sonnerie, a minute repeater, a date repeater chiming the date on demand and an alarm chiming the programmed time. So much to the unparalleled prowess of Patek Philippe on this field of musical timekeepers.
Naturally, the new Reference 1938P (the number refers to the birth year of the honorary president) is endowed with a completely new and exclusive movement, the self-winding caliber R AL 27 PS, and enriched with further refinements and finished and decorated in accordance with the Patek Philippe Seal. This state of the art movement has four patents pending.
The challenge was to create a watch in which the minute repeater and the alarm chime on the same two classic gongs while retaining the system of a slide piece set into the left flank of the case, a hallmark feature of Patek Philippe minute repeaters. This required that upon actuation of the slide, the movement be capable either of instantly striking the time displayed on the dial (in minute-repeater mode) or of putting the strike on hold until the time displayed corresponds to the programed time (in alarm mode). Contrary to classic minute repeaters, where winding by means of the slide instantly releases the striking-work, the addition of an alarm system made it necessary to be able to disengage the strike-work barrel from the strike train (the quarter rack, the minute rack, the hour beak).
All these technical constraints called for the addition of 227 parts, including a lever and column wheel for selecting the chiming mode and a fusee device with a strike-work detent mechanism that temporarily disconnects the power source (the strike-work barrel drum) from the striking mechanism, a design usually reserved for grande sonnerie watches. When developing the caliber R AL 27 PS its designers filed four new patents for mechanisms making it possible, notably, to switch with complete safety from one chiming mode to the other; to delay the alarm strike until the right moment; to ensure–in every case–the correct strike sequence of “hours, quarters and minutes”; and to guarantee that the strike-work barrel is always fully armed with each actuation of the slide so that the watch can always, if necessary, sound up to 31 strikes for the alarm (12:58). Furthermore, the strike-work barrel was fitted with a slip bridle to avoid any excessive tension in the spring.
Here, as in all Patek Philippe complicated watches, technical complexity is combined with ease of operation in mind. The push-piece integrated into the crown serves to select the chiming mode, which is displayed in a small bell-shaped aperture at 3 o’clock. When the watch is in minute-repeater mode (black bell) the user can actuate the repeater slide at any time to hear the chimes of the hours, quarters and minutes elapsed since the last quarter. When the watch is in alarm mode (red bell) the slide must be actuated again to wind the alarm (the bell changes from red to white). When the alarm has been actuated but has not yet sounded (white bell) it is possible to return to minute-repeater mode by pressing on the push-piece without this releasing the strike.
The 12-hour programable alarm time is set from one quarter-hour to the next by means of the crown pulled out to the middle position and the Breguet-style center alarm hand in rose gold pointing to the scale in powdered rose gold on the periphery of the dial. To allow the maximum number of chimes to be heard, the alarm always strikes two minutes before the programed time. Accordingly, if the alarm has been set for 3 o’clock, instead of three low-pitched strikes (which could easily go unnoticed) the watch will sound two low-pitched strikes, three double high-low strikes and 13 high-pitched strikes, making 21 strikes in total.
The sapphire crystal, protected by a hinged dust cover bearing the hand-engraved inscription “A mon père, 85 ans de passion horlogère” (“To my father, 85 years of watchmaking passion”), provides an unobstructed view of the particularly painstaking finish of the movement. The chamfered edges of the bridges and hammers are gilded. The 22K yellow-gold mini-rotor is rhodium plated with yellow-gold edges and adorned with a black-lacquered hand engraving reproducing Philippe Stern’s signature.
The homage to Monsieur Stern is further continued on the 18K gold dial, featuring his portrait rendered in Grand Feu white and gray miniature painting on enamel against a backdrop of Grand Feu black enamel. This little art work is meticulously crafted through delicate strokes, showcasing one of the precious rare handcrafts that the honorary president of the manufacture has been dedicated to preserving. Applied Breguet-style numerals and Breguet-style hour and minute hands, all in white gold, contrast with the rose gold of the alarm hand and scale.
The Officer’s style platinum case measures 41mm in diameter and is entirely hand polished. With its straight lugs and screwed-in strap bars, it recalls the aforementioned commemorative piece launched to celebrate the 150th company anniversary. Like all Patek Philippe watches in platinum, the Reference 1938P-001 has a diamond set into the caseband at 6 o’clock.
The edition is limited to 30 pieces, with a price tag of CHF 890,000. However, legend has it that it is already sold out.
If you want to listen to its charming chimes and learn more about this exceptional timepiece, visit Patek Philippe, here.