‘As some soft chime had stroked the air; And though the sound had parted thence, Still left an echo in the sense’ – Introducing the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001
Often in darkness, seldom in view, is the minute repeater complication. It is one mechanism that best caters to the sense of hearing, caressing the sound waves as it goes on about its business. Patek for the first time in its long history of creating minute repeaters, now bares open this mechanism on its dial face for the world to see. Meet the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001, bringing out into the light from the darkness of an enclosed watch case a complication that’s destined to create the perfect blend of melodic and visual pleasure.
Benjamin Jonson, an English playwright and poet once said: “The voice so sweet, the words so fair, As some soft chime had stroked the air; And though the sound had parted thence, Still left an echo in the sense”. To me, there is something magical and poetic about the sound of chime coming from a mechanical timepiece. Wearing a watch that chimes, like the quotation, even after it has stopped chiming for the moment, leaves an everlasting echo and a sublime feeling.
Maybe it’s just me, but I am a fan of minute repeater watches. Or alarm watches. Simply put, any timepiece that can create sounds is worthy of praise. I remember reviewing the Patek 5078G-010 and asking ‘could this Patek Philippe 5078 be the best minute repeater around?’. I remember last month being excited and sounding the alarm while reviewing the beat of the two new Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watches. There is something so divine about listening to a mechanical object beat away to glory. As a matter of fact one of the things I consider while buying a new watch is how crisp the sound of the crown and the winding stem is and how does it tick if I place it right next to my ear. For me, mechanical watches are all about breathing — the ticking that is — and to be able to put a sound to the mix is like giving the watch’s soul a voice. While until now Patek’s minute repeaters were a treat for the ears only, now they are also a feast for the eyes.
Yes, I am a fan of watches that sound, and particularly of Patek’s minute repeaters for since 1845 they have been in a class of their own. Patek in general is in a class of its own, creating timepieces that are not only beautifully finished but also accommodate an ever increasing number of technical complexities in minimalistic of case dimensions.
In that, each Patek Philippe Grand Complication watch is essentially art for your wrist. Coveted, yes. Unique, yes. Extraordinary, yes.
A Brief Context
Like I said above, I am an admirer of the 2019 Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5078G-010 that is a part of the brand’s rare handcrafts collection. It’s fine watchmaking at its best, and follows a grand tradition of creating pieces that stand out from the herd. And while Patek introduced the first minute repeater as part of its rare handcrafts collection in 2005, their mastery began all the way back on their inception. In 1839, when the company was founded, one of the first timepieces crafted in the manufacture was a quarter repeater that can now be admired at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
In 1839, the foundations for the brand were laid when Antoine Norbert de Patek collaborated with François Czapek to establish Patek, Czapek & Cie. And in 1851, the brand changed its name to Patek, Philippe & Cie. In 1916 Patek Philippe produced the first complicated ladies’ wristwatch with a five-minute repeater (No. 174 603) and 2011 saw the launch of the Ladies First Minute Repeater (Ref. 7000R).
By the way, just a side note: even though we have previously talked about this here, allow me to summarise what a minute repeater complication is. A minute repeater is a mechanical watch complication — think grandfather clocks of the yore — that chimes the hours and often minutes at the press of a button. Like most things horological, Abraham-Louis Breguet is again to be credited for designing a mechanism that would strike the hours, quarters and minutes. According to Patek, ‘assembling a minute repeater will take a watchmaker 200 to 300 hours of work, only possible after decades of experience required to reach a sufficient level of horological skill to do such work’.
Coming back to the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001, it has been in the making for 175 years for in 1845 Patek made its first pocket watch with a minute repeater. In 1989, the brand decided to relaunch this art to mark the company’s 150th anniversary.
Not having looked back since, the Maison has created such impressive timepieces as the Sky Moon Tourbillon wristwatch featuring a minute repeater with cathedral gongs or the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime with five chiming functions including two patented global debuts. Not only do they offer minute repeaters, they also offer them often with added complications such as a perpetual calendar, tourbillon, World Timer, or a chronograph.
So when they reveal on the dial side for the first time this complication they have mastered, it is truly a watch that’s worth your time.
The Immediate Precedence – Singapore Edition
The new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001 in itself not without precedence though: last year on the occasion of the “Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019” the Maison released in very limited numbers of 12 pieces only the Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon. It was a bit more colourful — red thrown in at a couple of places — but essentially the same timepiece with the same movement, the manually wound calibre R 27 TO PS. There were a few subtle differences that were a result of paying tribute to Singapore. Like I mentioned, the hour circle was a red-lacquered sapphire-crystal ring decorated with white stars that recalled Singapore’s flag. The shiny black alligator leather strap featured red decorative stitching colour-coordinated with the hour circle. Last but not the least, the hand at 6’o clock was also red. Being a limited edition, the sapphire-crystal case back was engraved with the inscription “PATEK PHILIPPE SINGAPORE 2019”.
The new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001 is an interpretation of this very watch.
The Movement Side Of Things
When it comes to Patek’s chiming watch offerings, there is a classic watch, the reference 3939 that’s a landmark watch for the brand. I remember that the 2011 Only Watch auction saw the reference 3939HA-010 go for an astonishing 1’400’000 Euros. It used the movement R TO 27 PS, derived from Pateks’ R 27 family, the automatic winding family of movements.
The Patek 5078G-010 for instance, their last minute repeater offering previous to this new release, comprised of the caliber R 27 PS self-winding movement — 28mm diameter & 5.05mm height — and featured a decorated 22-carat gold 22K gold off-center mini-rotor, 10 bridges, a Gyromax® balance and Spiromax® balance spring. The movement was comprised of 39 jewels and 342 parts. Nestled inside a white-gold case — 38mm diameter and 10.18mm height — the movement beat at the frequency of 3Hz (21’600 A/h) and provided with a decent 43 to 48 hour power reserve.
The above (automatic) R 27 PS is fairly extensively used by Patek, having been previously used in 3979J/001, 5078P-001, 5078P-010, 5178G-001, 5078R-001, 5079R, 7000R-001, 7000/50R-011 among a few others.
Compared to the above, the R TO 27 manual family is slightly smaller, featuring only four watches currently in their catalogue:
- R TO 27 PS – the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001
- R TO 27 PS QI used in 5207G-001 minute repeater, a tourbillon and an instantaneous perpetual calendar with aperture displays
- R TO 27 PS QR used in 5316P-001 (Minute repeater, tourbillon and perpetual calendar)
- R TO 27 QR SID LU CL in 6002G-010 (Sky Moon Tourbillon with 12 complications)
Continuing on the manual winding side of things, the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001 uses the same caliber R TO 27 PS as from mentioned reference 3939, albeit significantly modified and manual winding. In terms of the modifications, the main intent was to have a clear view of the strikework, and so the movement was partially reengineered to expose the gongs and hammers on the dial side of the plate. This redesign saw twenty new components being added and to make space, the plate was slightly enlarged.
The Specifications Of The Watch In Hand
The heart used — R TO 27 PS — in the reference 5303R-001 is a manual winding mechanical movement featuring a minute repeater with classic gongs and at tourbillon with small seconds at 6’o clock. Beating at the frequency of 3Hz (21’600 A/h), the movement uses a Gyromax® balance, a Breguet balance spring with an adjustable balance spring stud and a Patek Philippe Seal. The 31.6mm diameter and 8.35mm thick movement is comprised of 29 jewels and 356 components, offering a 40 to 48-hour power reserve.
The movement is encased inside a 42mm diameter and 12.13mm thick 18K rose gold 5N case with inlays in 18K white gold. For those of you who like to customise their watches with straps, the lug to lug width is a common 20mm and should help in finding an alternate strap easily. Overall, the case is protected against moisture and dust, but is not water-resistant, quite like the 5078G-010. The sapphire-crystal case back helps reveal the beauty of the movement: the white gold beveled rim surrounding the R TO 27 PS movement can be seen in all its glory, while the rose gilt plate decorated with circular Geneva striping enhances the steel parts of the movement.
In terms of operating this beauty, one can trigger the chiming complication with a white gold minute repeater slide engraved with a leaf-shaped pattern on the left flank of the case. The same motifs are also present on the case. The rose-gold case is decisively unique, featuring a broad polished bezel as well as white-gold intarsias engraved with foliage motifs in the flank and strap lugs.
The display of centre hours and minutes is with the aide of pierced, leaf-shaped hands in black lacquered white gold, while the seconds sub-dial at 6’o clock features a leaf-shaped hand in 18K rose gold 5N above the tourbillon aperture. The dial is framed internally by the black-lacquered hour circle — this is different to the Singapore Edition as that featured a red hour circle — with white printed minute scale and powdered rose-gold markers.
Time can be set with the crown at 3’o clock which is a simple two-position crown; it is pushed in to wind the watch and pulled out to set the time. The watch comes on a hand-stitched, shiny black alligator leather strap with square scales, with fold-over clasp in 18K rose gold 5N.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
As impressive as all of Patek’s 34 models currently in their Grand Complications collection are, there is one that in my opinion is worthy to be called their king: it is the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001. Recently released alongside two other Grand Complication models — Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph and Ref. 5270 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph — this new minute repeater presents an open-worked dial revealing the hammers and gongs in all their lustre.
We have already established that the new release is pretty much a slightly re-worked version of last year’s Singapore Edition. One of the most striking and commendable features of both these releases is the execution of the brand’s desire for transparency, as evident in the rendition of both the minute repeater and the tourbillon.
In the spirit of transparency, the underside of the tourbillon cage can be admired through a plate aperture at 6’o clock. It is a perfect composition in which the steel components set themselves apart from the 5N rose gilt plate. The individual components are skeletonised and subjected to manual finissage of movement parts, including Geneva striping for the plate, perlage for the recesses, and circular satin finishing of the strikework hammers. The rose-gold case features a cambered and polished bezel as well as ‘intarsias’ in white gold; they display arabesques and latticework on the flanks of the case-band and on the strap lugs.
On the flip side, the movement side, this wizardry continues. The curves of the hand-bevelled, twisting spokes of the large third wheel — that is raised compared to the plane of the movement plates and drives the tourbillon carriage — shine with all the sheen you can expect from a movement finished by Patek; centre of attention, one on side of it slightly sunken is the centrifugal regulator used for the repeating mechanism. This is topped, and no surprises here as it’s a Patek trademark, by the beautiful golden Calatrava Cross over it. On the other side of the large wheel is the tourbillon carriage (on which the tourbillon can be seen on the opposite dial side at 6’o clock). The Geneva Stripes finished movement is almost stepped, leading to the somewhat bat-winged upper bridge of the tourbillon. Surrounding all of this and integrating the overall architecture of the watch is the leaf motif that can be seen on the sides of the case.
The watch is unmistakably Patek. From the highly polished finishing of its case to the dial architecture and the way the outer black-lacquered hour circle frames the watch face, to the hand finished parts, it’s very Patek. There is no doubting that. As a matter of fact, post deciding to review this watch, it wasn’t until later that I discovered the Patek Philippe signature on the dial between 5 and 3’o clock. To me, everything about the watch screams Patek, without ever raising its voice.
You know, it’s a thing of beauty and joy when one can listen and observe the chiming on a wristwatch without having to take it off. Not saying this is the be all and end all of all minute repeater + tourbillon watches, but heck if there was a list being compiled somewhere — here’s an idea for another review — of unique minute repeaters out there, this would perhaps take the cake. And compared to the Singapore edition, I prefer this. There is something very elegant about mixing black with gold that always says class to me, and as relevant as red was for the Singapore edition, it looked a bit gimmicky, rather than elegant as Patek has come to be known for.
I’ll be honest; if this was not a minute repeater but instead just one of their watches that they had released with an open-worked dial, I would not have been too excited, simply because that doesn’t bring anything novel to the table. But being able to both see and hear the chiming, well, that’s just horology of the next level. Though I will say one thing about it that does bug me, and that it’s not discreet; see the way I describe luxury is the difference between new money and old money, and until now — and I will continue to do so unless Patek starts releasing too many boisterous timepieces — when I think of Patek, I equate it with old money. Not trying to bash the pursuers or admirers of ‘new money’, each to his own, but my opinion of true luxury is something that’s quite understated.
Anyway, wrapping this up, there are various other watches that we can pit this against — the recent Swiss Alp Watch Minute Repeater Ref. 5901-0200; 2010’s Haldimann H3 – Flying Sculpture with minute repeater that was a world-first for being the only wristwatch to feature a central flying tourbillon and a minute repeater; 2012’s Seiko Credor Node Spring Drive Minute Repeater that is visually similar to the new Patek offering; or 2015’s Girard-Perregaux Minute Repeater Tourbillon With Gold Bridges — but truth be told, this is a unique direction for Patek and comparing this to others would be like comparing apples to oranges. I am just going to leave this by saying that though lots of other Maisons produce minute repeater + tourbillons, the open-worked dial execution of the Patek combined with the brand’s history makes this new release into a kingdom of its own that’s standing on the unwavering foundations of horological masterpieces such as Patek’s 1910 Duke of Regla pocket watch, Patek’s Grandmaster Chime, Patek’s Sky Moon Tourbillon or Patek’s Henry Graves Super Complication.
For more information on the new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater 5303R-001 or other Patek watches, please head to their website here. All images unless stated otherwise are Courtesy ©Patek Philippe