AHEAD OF TIME
Patek Philippe’s 20thanniversary Aquanaut reveals novel ideas.
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.