Think Patek Philippe and inevitably images of classical, very traditional timepieces come to mind—and you would not be wrong. That is the quintessential appeal of the time-honoured Genevan manufacture and will continue to be for generations to come. But the truth is, Patek Philippe is a market leader in cutting-edge research and development. It is one of the first watch companies to embrace in its movements silicon which is a material that others have rejected as being untraditional.
Forming a consortium with Rolex and Swatch Group, Patek Philippe invested in the development at the Swiss Center For Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) of monocrystalline silicon in 2002. Supported by the Neuchatel Institute of Microengineering and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, they were the first brands in the world to sink their teeth into silicon as a viable watchmaking material, paving the way for others to follow.
This led the manufacture to establish a new department dedicated to finding modern solutions to age-old problems— inasmuch as mechanical watchmaking has been in existence for centuries, it is not without problems. The use of silicon components solved several of them. This department, named Advanced Research, worked steadily to demonstrate the benefits of the material in conventional watchmaking. That is to say, the core geometry of the components remained the same, only the material used to make them had changed.
The Patek Philippe Advanced Research division has produced five watches so far, the latest of which was Advanced Research Aquanaut Travel Time Ref 5650G introduced at Baselworld 2017. Of all the watches to emerge from this department, this model proved to be the most radical one in terms of design, the technique it premiered and the area of watchmaking it focused on.
For starters, Ref 5650 is the first Advanced Research model that comes in the Aquanaut case. And that’s not all. It’s the first Patek Philippe watch to have a semi-exposed dial for something other than the tourbillon. An irregular shaped aperture showcases a unique component fabricated using ultra-high precision manufacturing processes that controls the second time zone function. Called Compliant Mechanism, it reduced the number of components needed to move the second hour hand forwards or backwards. The standard travel time mechanism uses 37 individual components but here there is only 12.
Made of standard industry steel, which means it can be finished just like the movement plates and bridges, Compliant Mechanism uses neither gear wheels nor pivots but rather a pair of leaf springs that cross each other with a gap of merely 150 microns. These leaf springs flex and relax whenever the buttons are pushed so there is no friction, and hence the parts do not require oiling. This eradicates one of the biggest headaches of mechanical watchmaking.
Next, Ref 5650 also debuted a new and improved Spiromax balance spring made with Silinvar, a silicon alloy proprietary to Patek Philippe. What’s new and amazing about this balance spring is its shape which broadens at its two extremities for improved chronometry and regularity. With it, Ref 5650 is accurate to -1/+2 seconds per day and that is way superior to the COSC standard of -4/+6 seconds per day.
As a final flourish, this Advanced Research model is powered with the much celebrated Calibre 240 micro-rotor movement.
2008: Advanced Research Annual Calendar Ref 5450 As the movement’s regulatingdevice was of utmost importance to its overall timekeeping ability, Patek Philippe’s work would not be complete without overhauling the balance wheel. And so it did with the Ref 5450, againan annual calendar based on Calibre 324, premiering a new Gyromax balance wheel in addition to the Spiromax balance plus a new Pulsomax escapement. With improved geometry to the escape wheel and the lever, the Pulsomax escapement was 15 percentmore energy efficient. Its gorgeous salmon pink dial alsodeserves special mention.
2011: Advanced Research Perpetual Calendar Ref 5550It took Patek Philippe three years to come up with the next Advanced Research project, Ref 5550, which brought forth a completely new component to honour the 60th anniversaryof the original Gyromax balance. Called GyromaxSi,it has a Silinvar essential structure completed by two 24-carat gold weights with four poising screws on the outermost rim. This, along with the Silinvar balance spring and Pulsomax escapement, formed what Patek Philippe terms theOscillomax unit.
2005: Advanced Research Annual Calendar Ref 5250The first model in the Advanced Research series, thispiece introduced Silinvar as in Patek Philippe’s own words, the fabric of the future. Silinvar is a contraction of two words: silicon and invariable. Used to fabricate the movement escape wheel, it is lighter than steel and requires no oiling thanks to its ultra hard surface. Its surfaces are also extra smooth, so no friction is caused when the pallet fork engages its teeth, hence no pallet stones are required.
2006: Advanced Research Annual Calendar Ref 5350 Ref 5350 is also an annual calendar but this time based on the Calibre 324. The earlier model was made with Calibre 315. In addition to an escape wheel made of silicon alloy Silinvar, it has a balance springmade of the same material and using the same processes. Named the Spiromax balancespring, it was perfectly concentric; it replaced the traditional Breguet overcoil with the Patek Philippeterminal curve.