AHEAD OF TIME

Patek Philippe’s 20thanniver­sary Aqua­naut re­veals novel ideas.

The Peak Selections: Timepieces - - Contents - TEXT SHER­WIN CHUA

When Patek Philippe chair­man Thierry Stern in early 2017 ad­vised Swiss watch­mak­ers to slow down, some might have felt that he was bow­ing to bleak new re­al­i­ties caused by an over­all de­cline in de­mand. How­ever, delve deeper and you’ll see the wis­dom of Stern’s mes­sage, as well as un­der­stand why the 166-year-old Swiss brand con­tin­ues to be one of the world’s most pres­ti­gious high-end watch man­u­fac­tures. “It is more im­por­tant to pre­serve rar­ity. Most brands had to rush... for us, it’s not the same,” he told Bloomberg.

As­sess­ing its track record over the last 12 years, the Geneva-based watch­maker has in­deed been walk­ing its talk, and steadily en­hanc­ing its tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In 2005, the Swiss horologer in­tro­duced the Ad­vanced Re­search pro­gramme, the com­pany’s horo­log­i­cal think tank. Over the next six years, this R&D project un­veiled four time­pieces fea­tur­ing a bevy of tech­ni­cal watch­mak­ing mile­stones, including a sil­i­con escape wheel (Sil­in­var) and sil­i­con bal­ance spring (Spiro­max), and an es­cape­ment that greatly op­ti­mised en­ergy trans­fer (Pul­so­max).

For 2017, the fam­ily-owned lux­ury Swiss brand has launched an­other tech­ni­cal watch­mak­ing marvel – the dual time­zone Aqua­naut Travel Time Ref. 5650G Ad­vanced Re­search. It is the fifth brain­child of the Patek Philippe Ad­vanced Re­search pro­gramme and marks 20 years since the launch of the Aqua­naut fam­ily.

Avail­able in a limited run of 500, the new Aqua­naut of­fers two sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal break­throughs in high-end watch­mak­ing. For the first in­no­va­tion, take a glance at the aper­ture lo­cated at the nine o’clock po­si­tion (this open dial, by the way, is a Patek first). You will no­tice a ver­ti­cally em­bed­ded crab-shaped “flex­i­ble mech­a­nism” that ad­justs the watch’s skele­tonised GMT hour-hand for­ward or back­ward when the push­ers on the left side of the case are pressed. This sin­gle-piece in­ven­tion pos­sesses sev­eral ad­van­tages over the con­ven­tional GMThour-hand switch­ing mech­a­nism em­ployed by Patek. Al­low­ing the watch’s dual time zone mech­a­nism to be com­posed of just 12 parts, com­pared to the usual 37, the wirethin, steel struc­ture en­hances dura­bil­ity and elim­i­nates the need for lu­bri­cants. This com­po­nent, ap­par­ently, taps on the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments used in tele­scopes for space re­search.

The sec­ond break­through, how­ever, is more nu­anced. Buried deep in­side its au­to­matic Cal­i­bre 324 S C FUS move­ment is an im­proved ver­sion of the brand’s Spiro­max bal­ance spring. To put it sim­ply, a watch is more ac­cu­rate when the sta­bil­ity of its bal­ance spring is en­hanced, and this is what Patek Philippe has achieved by adding a slight bulge to the in­ner­most coil of this new Spiro­max spring. The re­sult: bet­ter cen­tre of grav­ity for the new hair­spring, and a marked im­prove­ment in time­keep­ing ac­cu­racy, from a de­vi­a­tion rate of -3/+2 sec­onds per day to just -1/+2 sec­onds per day.

Cast in a white gold, square case with rounded edges, the Ref. 5650G sports a brushed and cham­fered bezel, which frames a gra­dated dark blue dial that in­cludes day/night in­di­ca­tors for two time zones. With a di­ag­o­nal case length of 40.8mm, this watch might not be the largest Aqua­naut to emerge this an­niver­sary year – that hon­our goes to the 42mm “Jumbo” Ref. 5168G – but as a sym­bol of Patek’s slow-but-steady phi­los­o­phy, it is prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant mem­ber of this sporty fam­ily to date.

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