A symphony of 20 complications
Taken in the context of Patek Philippe’s history, it’s a pretty major event. The new Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300 has just unseated the famous Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 6002 to take the title of most complicated wristwatch in the Geneva watchmaker’s current collection. That’s to use the concept of “current” in its broadest possible sense, since the extreme complexity of the watch dictates a very limited annual production, which means that the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300 will remain a very rare timepiece indeed. It will also be highly sought after, representing as it does the culmination of the long and illustrious history of Patek Philippe and its enduring love affair with chiming watches – a history that goes back more than 175 years.
- THE 20 COMPLICATIONS OF THE PATEK PHILIPPE GRANDMASTER CHIME REF. 6300
- Grande Sonnerie
- Petite Sonnerie
- Minute repeater
- Strikework mode display (Silence /Grande Sonnerie / Petite Sonnerie)
- Alarm with time strike
- Date repeater
- Movement power-reserve indicator
- Strikework power-reserve indicator
- Strikework isolator display
- Second time zone
- Second time zone day /night indicator
- Instantaneous perpetual calendar
- Day-of-the-week display
- Month display
- Date display (both dials)
- Leap year cycle
- Four-digit year display
- 24-hour and minute subdial
- Moon phase
- Crown position indicator(winding / alarm setting / time setting)
The movement of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300 comprises 1366 components, with a further 214 in its reversible case. It boasts 20 complications (see above list), including five different chiming functions. These five functions tell the entire history of Patek Philippe’s patient mastery of sound complications in all their richness, complexity and mechanical potential.
Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about the watchmaker’s “conquest” of sound (a wonderful book entitled Répétitions Minutes, published by Patek Philippe, tells you everything you need to know). Let us simply say that the story began on 4 September 1839, barely five months after the company was created, when a sum of money was exchanged for a pocket watch with a quarter-repeater. It was the 19th watch made by the fledgling firm, what we would probably call a “startup” today. From that moment on, the history of chiming watches and the history of the Geneva watchmaker would be inextricably linked. Since its first minute repeater, which was sold in 1845, and throughout the next 60 years, Patek Philippe would produce many variations on the theme of repeaters, combining them with all manner of complications: perpetual calendars, flyback chronographs, time zones, equation of time, etc. Through this process, the pursuit of ever-smaller movements and components led to the creation of the first repeating wristwatch, a ladies’ five-minute repeater created in 1916. From 1925 minute repeaters joined the company’s regular output while remaining somewhat exceptional, since production never exceeded the tens of units.
The first wristwatch to feature a minute repeater in combination with other complications – in the event a perpetual calendar with windows, indication of the date by hand and moon phase – dates from 1939. Up until the 1960s, when demand regrettably began to decline, some thirty minute repeaters were produced. In the ’80s, however, Philippe Stern, who had a hunch that exceptional mechanical watchmaking was due to make a comeback, authorised the production of two minute repeaters with complications, using old blanks from the Vallée de Joux (Patek Philippe traditionally finished and assembled movement blanks from other suppliers). Although they were the last to be made in this way, they effectively ushered in a new era. This new era, of which the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300 is part, was symbolically marked by the famous Calibre 89, manufactured to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary in 1989. To produce this exceptional piece, an acoustic research and development laboratory was virtually set up from scratch, and it would lead to birth of a new generation of chiming watches. The 33 complications of the Calibre 89 include a minute repeater, a Grande Sonnerie and a Petite Sonnerie. This phenomenal achievement was quickly followed up with an ultrathin automatic minute repeater with a patented micro-rotor, and an automatic version with perpetual calendar, both of which made the most of the technical advances that had been made for the Calibre 89, and which were also launched as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations. A new generation of striking wristwatches would see the light of day, culminating today in the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300.
This new generation of chiming wristwatches would not have seen the light of day without the research undertaken in pursuit of the Calibre 89. For the first time, pure watchmakers were supported by engineers. The specially created workshop set to work immediately to solve certain technical “problems” that had hitherto been somewhat neglected. One such issue was the rather unpleasant buzzing that sometimes detracted from the tone of the gong. This background noise was a mechanical side-effect generated inside the regulation system of the chime’s recoil escapement mechanism. Some attempts were made to fix it back in the 19th century, but the problem never really went away. Patek Philippe’s engineers developed a solution by using a completely silent flywheel that would open and close depending on the speed, thus regulating the rhythm and duration of the strike. The pure tones could finally be fully appreciated, without any interference.
Another notable improvement, and one that marked a break with tradition, was the design and production for the first time of an automatic minute repeater. This was achieved through an off-centred micro-rotor (inspired by the Calibre 240, a very slim Patek Philippe movement). The main advantage of this solution was that it left the centre of the movement clear for the minute repeater mechanism, thus keeping the movement acceptably slim and leaving room for further complications to be added without the finished watch becoming unwieldy. This cleared the way for future developments, such as the advent just a few short years later of the Ref. 3939, a tourbillon minute repeater, which successfully joined the company’s main collection.
Finally, the engineers attacked the formidable central issue of the gongs, the key component of a chiming watch, production of which had virtually ceased in the 1960s. By seeking out some old watchmakers in the Vallée de Joux who were ready to give up some of their secrets (although not all…) and at the same time joining forces with Lausanne’s prestigious technology institute, the EPFL, to launch research programmes in metallurgy, Patek Philippe was able to gain a better understanding of the variables involved in sound production, transmission and quality. This scientific approach, making use of accurately measured acoustic data that could be read off a graph, significantly improved gong performance. It finally became possible to measure variables such as sound intensity, rhythm, harmony, pitch, duration, warmth and richness, both accurately and reliably. Nevertheless, science has its limits, and the most important factor for a strikework complication is that the sounds it produces should complement its case perfectly. Given that each watch has its own individual character, this is not entirely predictable, which is why every striking watch produced by Patek Philippe is personally approved. These days, the buck stops with company president Thierry Stern who, after a series of painstaking acoustic trials, either passes the watch or sends it back to the workshop.
In October 2014, for its 175th anniversary, Patek Philippe unveiled a commemorative collection which included the company’s first wristwatch with both grande and petite sonnerie, in a limited edition of seven. The calibre within, whose complex construction is matched by its name – the GS AL 36-750 QIS FUS IRM – also drives the new Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300, now part of the manufacture’s current collection. This timepiece is the end product of all those years of research, which not only opened up the full potential of sound complications, but also led to the development of new solutions for combining strikework mechanisms with other complications. In a way, it represents the consummation of Patek Philippe’s patient and rigorous approach. Nevertheless, the watch’s extreme complexity is no obstacle to everyday wear.
The reversible double-sided case (activated by an ingenious patented rotation mechanism which is both secure and very easy to use) nestled between the bracelet fittings means it is possible to wear the watch with either one of its dials uppermost. The essential information – hour, minute and date – is displayed on both dials, but the opaline ebony black dial is devoted largely to the various strikework modes, while the white opaline dial showcases the instantaneous perpetual calendar.
- CALIBRE GS AL 36-750 QIS SUS IRM TIME SIDE (LEFT)
CALIBRE GS AL 36-750 QIS SUS IRM CALENDAR SIDE (RIGHT)
On the TIME SIDE, the watch offers a symphony of time, with grande and petite sonnerie, minute repeater, an alarm and a date repeater that strikes the date on demand. Twin barrels dedicated to the strikework modes provide a 30- hour power reserve and guarantee that the watch will continue to strike all day without the need for manual rewinding. The grande sonnerie automatically strikes the hours with a low tone, and the hour and quarters every quarter-hour (with triple strikes on three gongs, rather than the more usual double strike). The petite sonnerie does the same, without repeating the hour count on the quarter-hours.
The minute repeater strikes the time on demand, sounding the hours, quarter-hours and minutes since the last quarter. The alarm offers a function hitherto unseen in a wristwatch: it sounds the alarm time with the complete melodic sequence of the minute repeater.
Another patented acoustic innovation is the instantaneous date repeater, activated by a pusher on the caseband. The tens are marked with a double high-low tone, and the units with a high tone. (So, for the 25th of the month, it would strike the following sequence: ding-dong, ding-dong, followed by ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.)
The time side also displays hour and minute in local time, the hour in a second time zone, alarm time, perpetual calendar date, moon phases, strikework and movement power reserves, sonnerie mode indicator, on/off indicator for the sonnerie and alarm, crown position indicator (push in to wind the movement in one direction and the strikework mechanism in the other, pull out halfway to set the alarm, and all the way to set the time). The strikework mode is set by means of a small slider at 9 o’clock.
The CALENDAR SIDE offers a range of perpetual calendar displays that, except for the year, all jump instantaneously and concurrently. This means that the information for the patented date repeater mechanism is accurate even just before or after midnight. The perpetual calendar indications are shown with hands on four subdials arranged around the central four-figure year window. The month is at 3 o’clock, the date and leap year indication are at 6 o’clock, the day is at 9 o’clock and the 12 o’clock register shows the 24- hour time with hour and minute hands. Thanks to a patented mechanism, the year can easily be adjusted backwards or forwards using two pushers.
Engineering and watchmaking joined forces to achieve greater mastery of sound; engineering and craftsmanship likewise came together to create an exceptional case. The rotation mechanism concealed within the bracelet fittings is perhaps the most striking example. The highly user-friendly patented system allows the watch to rotate around the 12 o’clock / 6 o’clock axis and lock the sizeable case – 47.4 mm in diameter and 16.1 mm thick – securely into place.
The extraordinary white gold case is decorated with a rarely seen hand-guilloché Clous de Paris hobnail pattern. This particularly elegant motif is one of the company’s iconic designs, although rarely seen in grand complication watches. The hobnail motif is repeated on the opaline black dial. The white gold applied Breguet numerals and hands and white-printed scales ensure optimum legibility. On the calendar side, the four black sub-dials with their black oxidised steel hands stand out clearly against the white opaline dial. The year is displayed in the dial centre, in a discreet white gold frame.
There is one more user-friendly detail: the pushers on the case flank have engraved labels to explain their functions, and the mode indicators on the black opaline dial make it easy for the wearer to see which functions are activated at any given time. Finally, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300 is mounted on a shiny black alligator strap with large square scales and hand-stitched contrast seams, perfectly complementing the white on black / black on white of the double dial.