Few businesses can look back on a 175-year heritage, yet Patek Philippe has been active without interruption in its métier since the company began in 1839, crafting timepieces considered by connoisseurs to be the finest in the world. This reputation owes much to a philosophy coupling tradition with innovation; and in many ways, the company’s growing stature is due to the fervent involvement of the Stern family, who acquired Patek Philippe in 1932 and have nurtured its development and well being. Patek Philippe is now the last independent, family-owned Genevan watchmaking company.
In painstaking development since 2007, the star of Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary is an unparalleled masterpiece: a double-faced reversible wristwatch, majestically finished, containing 20 complications and, as its name suggests, with a choir of chimes that have never before come together in any wristwatch – a grand complication reinventing and celebrating the music of time. A new pinnacle in haute horlogerie, this is a watch with an intricate inner life. Only seven pieces with the unique engraved case will ever be made; six will be sold to collectors and enthusiasts, while the seventh will join the collection at the Patek Philippe Museum.
A watch of infinite variety and with a unique voice, the Grandmaster Chime deserves the regal laurels that decorate its case – it is a visionary triumph, as pleasing to the ear as to the eye, and a truly melodious companion.
Manually wound mechanical movement Calibre 300 GS AL 36-750 QIS FUS IRM. Grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, minute repeater. Strikework mode display (silence/grande sonnerie/petite sonnerie). Alarm with time strike. Date repeater. Going train power-reserve indicator. Strikework power-reserve indicator. Strikework isolator indicator (chimes enabled/disabled). Second time zone. Day/night indicator for second time zone. Instantaneous perpetual calendar. Display of day, month, and date. Leap-year cycle. Four-digit year display. Moon phases. 24-hour and minute subdial.
Crown position indicator (winding/alarm setting/handsetting). Solid gold dials, silvery opaline. Time side with manually guilloched center and applied gold Roman numerals. Alligator strap with square scales, hand-stitched, dark brown, hand-patinated. Solid gold fold-over clasp, fully hand-engraved. Reversible case, fully hand-engraved, protected against moisture and dust ingress, not water resistant. Rose gold. Diameter: 47.4 mm. Height: 16.1 mm.
A) Grande sonnerie
The brightest jewel in this songbird of a piece is a grande sonnerie, one of the rarest of complications, which automatically chimes the hours and quarters on three gongs. At the top of each hour, the grande sonnerie sounds the corresponding number of low-pitched tones. At each quarter, it signals first the hours, then the number of quarters, indicated by triple strikes on three gongs, with each quarter having its own melody. Developing this mechanism for the compact case of a wristwatch called for considerable ingenuity, but the challenge has been met, using a double barrel, 30-hour power reserve and carefully measured gongs which produce the rich, crystalline sound for which Patek Philippe’s pieces are famed. When the grande sonnerie is not required, the watch can be set to the petite sonnerie, or in fact to silence, when the hours will pass without so much as a whisper.
B) Minute repeater
The time strike on demand, a Patek Philippe specialty, is often called the queen of complications, if only because the grande sonnerie can claim to be the empress. Patek Philippe has a legendary reputation with regard to the acoustic quality of its time strikes; thus, it can be a magical experience to activate the repeater in the dark and listen as the time is struck to the minute with a crystal-clear suite of tones. In the Grandmaster Chime, the minute repeater is an integral part of the mechanism for the grande sonnerie, and is set in motion by applying a gentle pressure to the winding crown’s pusher.
C) Alarm with time strike
For the first time in the history of watchmaking, this watch uses the minute repeater strike sequence as an acoustic alarm signal, providing a gentle alert using the same sequence of strikes. When the alarm is activated, all other chiming functions are disabled, remaining mute until the alarm has sounded or is switched off. As a reminder that the alarm is activated, the color in the bell-shaped aperture on the alarm dial will turn red; once the alarm has sounded, the color changes back to white.
On the 24-hour subsidiary dial at 12 o’clock, the alarm time can be set to quarter-hour accuracy. However, the alarm will always sound two minutes before the preset quarter-hour to avoid not hearing times that require fewer strikes, such as 1 o’clock. Two minutes before the preset time, the repeater will sound 12:58, with twelve strikes for the hours, 3 triple strikes for the quarter-hours, and 13 strikes for the minutes; this is an acoustic time indication that cannot be missed.
D) Perpetual date repeater
A date display is present on both Grandmaster Chime dials. And because this is a perpetual mechanism that recognizes the different number of days in each month and the leap-year cycle, it always displays the right date (the rare exceptions are “secular years” – the next one being in 2100 – which cannot be divided by four hundred). Not just this; a refined repeater mechanism – a world debut – also indicates the date acoustically, signalling it with a high-low note for each multiple of 10 days and a single higher note for each unit. Inspired by a conversation that Thierry Stern had 10 years ago with a well-established collector, an acoustic perpetual date repeater has never before existed, but it works with the perfection of a long-standing achievement.
E) Instantaneous perpetual calendar
In the Grandmaster Chime, the instantaneous perpetual calendar – displaying date, day, month, leap year cycle, and year – has its own elegant dial, with a clean and appealing layout that ensures legibility. Surrounding a four-digit year display (a very rare indication in wristwatches for which a patent application has been filed), four stately dials indicate day of the week (on the left), month (on the right), time in a 24-hour format (top), and date and leap-year cycle (below).
F) Time, second time zone, and moon phases
The Grandmaster Chime presents a unique repertoire of acoustic functions, but it also tells the time in the customary way, featuring extremely useful complications. Often, one needs to know what time it is elsewhere, perhaps when family or business partners are on another continent. Thus, a gold hour hand can be set to a second time zone; this is coupled with a day/night indicator to prevent unintended calls in the middle of someone else’s night. The moon will never lose its mystique, and its waxing and waning ranks among the most popular horological complications.
Design and case
At first sight, the format of the watch brings to mind the ornate yet sturdily-built Sky Moon Tourbillon. But the case of the Grandmaster Chime, decorated with handsome engravings, puts the piece in a class of its own – because this watch is ingeniously reversible, with two coequal faces that both display the time. One face details the array of musical elements; the other focuses on the instantaneous perpetual calendar. An inspired patented mechanism (which alone took three years to perfect) enables the watch to be smoothly reversed in an instant, locking securely into place. This intricate design means the case is as sophisticated as the complex movement within. While a conventional case consists of about 12 parts, this one can claim no fewer than 214 components: it is a true work of art, and is the first round, truly reversible case that can be worn with equal comfort on both sides. Even with this complex design, the many functions of the watch are able to operate smoothly and the chimes peal with a full and resonant sound.
Decoration and dial
The Grandmaster Chime showcases the rare handcraft skills that are held in such high esteem at Patek Philippe – a display of artisanal excellence produced by masters of their disciplines. In 18k rose gold, both case and fold-over clasp are meticulously hand-engraved with laurel leaves that conjure ancient victory wreaths. The two solid gold dials are equally impressive. The sonnerie side with time functions features delicate gold appliques; the center of the dial is adorned with a hand guilloched sunburst pattern of radiating sound waves. The design of the classically configured calendar side was influenced by the wishes of honorary president Philippe Stern.
The Grandmaster Chime is unlike any watch in existence. Patents have been awarded for six of its innovations, and still other aspects blaze a startling new trail in terms of their execution and technologies.
Alarm mechanism with acoustic time indication, for striking a preselected alarm time with the minute repeater’s chiming mechanism
Isolation of the grande sonnerie in the silence mode
Single slide selection of chiming mechanism operating mode – whether grande or petite sonnerie, or silence – in just one switch
Date repeater, for the acoustic perpetual calendar indication, which names Thierry Stern as inventor
Reversible round double-faced wristwatch case, able to rotate on its axis and lock securely with lugs
Four-digit year display mechanism (patent pending), automatically synchronized with the leap-year display and equipped with a mechanism allowing convenient forward and backward correction of the display.
This watch is considered by many to be the pinnacle of watchmaking ingenuity, since its specification masters a vast repertoire of challenges. But the more elaborate a watch’s inner life, the more important it is to make sure its operation is simple and safe. For this reason, a number of measures have been taken to preclude inadvertent malfunctions caused by the user; isolation mechanisms to disengage certain functions so that unintended manipulation cannot cause disruption. Among these isolation mechanisms is one to deactivate the alarm or grande sonnerie; an isolation of all strike modes; and the ability of the winding crown, when pulled, to isolate the grande and petite sonnerie, minute repeater, and alarm.
These isolation mechanisms contribute significantly to the lasting value of a Patek Philippe watch, helping to prevent malfunctions and ensuring that the watch continues to run smoothly and in peak condition.