Since 1845, Patek Philippe has received more than 80 patents for its inventions. Some of the inventions relate to movements and others to timepiece design in the area of habillage, a term which refers to cases, hands, dials and all other elements that make up the external structure and appearance of the watch. Many of these inventions have inspired the horological community.
The sunrise and sunset times at a specific location depend on the date, and the respective displays are controlled by cams. If these cams are not synchronized with the calendar, the deviation between actual and displayed sunrise and sunset times will grow progressively. This is also the case when the watch is reset to the correct date after having been left unwound for a longer period of time.
To correct such a deviation, a watchmaker must expend considerable effort to disassemble the watch and realign the cams that control the display of sunrise and sunset times to the correct date. In the design patented by Patek Philippe, however, the cams are controlled directly by the perpetual calendar mechanism. Thus, the times displayed always correspond to the current date.
At any given moment, so-called mean solar time deviates by a few minutes from true, or apparent, solar time. This difference is referred to as the equation of time. It varies from day to day and in mechanical watches can be displayed with the aid of a special cam mechanism. If the cam for the equation of time is not synchronized with the calendar, the deviation between actual time and displayed time will grow progressively. This is also the case when the watch is reset to the correct date after having been left unwound for a longer period of time.
To correct such a deviation, a watchmaker must expend considerable effort to disassemble the watch and realign the cam that controls the equation of time to the correct date. In the design patented by Patek Philippe, however, the cam is controlled directly by the perpetual calendar mechanism. Thus, the display of the equation of time always corresponds to the current date.
Ordinary pocket watches with front and back sprung covers generally have a push button inside the crown or a slide in the case for opening the covers. In contrast, the Star Caliber 2000 has a bow with a Calatrava cross engraved on one side; it can be pushed in and rotated by 180°. Depending on the direction in which the Calatrava cross is facing, the front or back sprung cover will open when the push button in the winding crown is pressed. This sophisticated and complex mechanism is fully integrated in the bow. Its design is very elegant and aesthetic, and it also has symbolic meaning: 165 years ago, Patek Philippe co-founder Jean-Adrien Philippe invented a keyless mechanism for winding a movement with a crown in the bow.
Since its first one was granted in 1845 (invention of the crown for winding the movement and setting the hands), Patek Philippe has received some 70 patents.
A Grande Sonnerie automatically sounds the hours and quarter-hours in passing and the minutes on demand with tiny hammers that strike precision gongs. Pocket watches with the so-called "Westminster Chime" so far have not been capable of playing the original melody as it peals from the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament in London. Even the well-known designs with four quarter racks play an incorrect sequence of tones when the same gong must be struck twice in succession.
Now, with a mechanism patented for the Star Caliber 2000, Patek Philippe has succeeded in building the chime for a pocket watch that faithfully reproduces the Westminster melody and can also correctly strike two identical tones in immediate succession.
Owners of watches with perpetual calendars know how cumbersome it can be to set the display to the correct date when the movement has been left unwound for a long period of time. Usually, this requires pushing several buttons in the case - often dozens or even hundreds of times, depending on how long the watch remained unwound. This awkward procedure has been considerably simplified by the patented rapid correction feature of the Star Caliber 2000. With one single push of the rapid corrector slide, the owner can perform a correction of nearly one month. And because of the extensive synchronization concept, the running equation of time as well as the sunrise and sunset times are corrected automatically. Once the date is set, only two more adjustments are required: the day of the week and the time.
In conventional astronomical displays, the moon phases are indicated on a small subsidiary dial and a separate hand indicates lunation. If integrated in the celestial dial, these displays typically cover a significant portion of the sky chart. The refined design developed for the Star Caliber 2000 however, makes it possible to display the moon phases and the lunar orbit in a manner which only marginally affects the size of the sky chart so that many more stars can be depicted than is the case with customary designs for pocket watches of a comparable format.
A split-seconds chronograph with an isolation device.
An isolation device disengages one part of a mechanism from another to prevent different functions interfering with each other in a watch.
Isolation devices turn up in a variety of Patek Philippe's inventions including the keyless winding and setting system, the time zone watch, the caliber 240 slim self-winding movement, the secular perpetual calendar, the date of Easter mechanism, the Annual Calendar and most recently in a split-seconds chronograph.
In a split-seconds chronograph, two hands run together until you stop one of them - the fly-back - to record an intermediary time. When the fly-back hand is stopped, an extra and variable load is placed on the continuously running chronograph hand. This affects the balance and the rate of the watch.
Patek Philippe's elegant hand isolation device for split-seconds chronographs (watch Ref. 5004) cleverly disengages the fly-back hand from the chronograph hand when the fly-back is stopped, allowing the chronograph hand to run freely.
A calendar mechanism indicating the date in an aperture, as well as the day, the month and the 24 hours, requiring no adjustment for months of 30 days.
Until 1996, there were only two types of calendar available in a watch: plain or perpetual.
The plain calendar has a disc displaying the date, and sometimes the day, through a window in the dial. The advantage is that it is easy to see. The disadvantage is that you have to remember to reset the date when the month has fewer than 31 days.
The perpetual calendar takes care of that by showing the right date "perpetually" (until February 2100), coordinating the cycle of long and short months with the leap years. The cost of this facility is a complex mechanism of cams, jumper springs and ratchets that puts a load on the movement, and the perpetual calendar out of reach of most watchmakers. The date, on a subsidiary dial, can be hard to see.
Patek Philippe's Annual Calendar combines the best features of the plain and the perpetual by sacrificing the leap year cycle and putting the date in a window. The mechanism distinguishes between months of 30 and 31 days, and only needs to be reset once a year at the end of February, instead of five times a year.
The beauty of this mechanism is that it is entirely rotary, dispensing with the reversals and discontinuous movements of cams and springs in the conventional perpetual calendar.
It is due to this mechanism that our watch Ref. 5035 watch was named "Watch of the Year 1996".
A friction-fit joint for a horological movement.
Positioning and stability are fundamental to watchmaking, and the value of any invention that can ensure both will be proportional to its simplicity.
One point in a watch where problems of positioning arise is in the crucial interface between the movement on one side and the wheel train and hands on the dial side. The connection between these two areas is the cannon pinion, a tube which fits friction-tight over the center arbor (drive shaft) from the movement.
The cannon should follow the axis of the arbor, but in conventional designs there is always a gap and some play between the two. This can result in the hands crossing, or wear in the wheel train.
Patek Philippe's design for a snap-on cannon eliminates virtually all play and ensures that the cannon is exactly on the axis of the center arbor in three coordinates. These opposing forces ensure that the cannon is true flat and positioned exactly on the axis of its arbor.
It's ingeniously simple, yet it makes a crucial difference to the quality of a watch.
A timepiece mechanism containing an instant date and day change device.
In numerous date mechanisms the change of date and/or day is progressive and lasts several hours, which brings about an inelegant display for the timepiece user.
So-called existing instant mechanisms tend to use a lot of energy. More importantly, many of them do not permit the manual date correction feature, as well as time setting, during certain times when the calendar mechanism is functioning. Another patent-bearing mechanism suffers from the fact that it has been made large in order to house its instant date change device, rendering it difficult to set.
Patek Philippe’s patented mechanism succeeds in overcoming the inconvenient features of other so-called instant date change timepieces.
A secular perpetual calendar movement with retrograde indication.
The drawback of an ordinary perpetual calendar is that it will persist in recording the years 2100, 2200 and 2300 as leap years, even though Pope Gregory XIII declared in 1582 that they were not.
In making a watch that is expected to remain useful through several lifetimes, Patek Philippe devised the secular perpetual calendar that keeps the full 400-year cycle of the Gregorian calendar. At the end of every century, the mechanism decides whether it is a leap year or not.
However, three times every 400 years there is an exception to the regular four year leap year cycle. To make the calendar perpetual, the mechanism has to override the leap year, and end February on its 28th day, in the years 2100, 2200 and 2300.
This is done by one of the slowest mechanisms in horology - the star-wheel and its four-pointed satellite, which has three long points and one short point. The star-wheel goes round once every 100 years. At the end of each century, it carries its satellite past a peg, which gives it a quarter turn. For three consecutive centuries the long points of the satellite project to lift the lever so that it stops February on the 28th day. In the fourth century (the years 2000, 2400, 2800 etc.), the short point fails to engage the lever, and February is allowed to stop on its 29th day, denoting a leap year.
This patent was granted when Patek Philippe created the Caliber 89.
A horological instrument containing a mechanism that enables the indication of the Date of Easter.
This invention was conceived by the designers of the Caliber 89 grand complicated watch. It is able to indicate the exact date of Easter for the year in progress for a period of several years.
The date of Easter is a so-called ‘movable’ feast, which means that it does not correspond to a fixed date each year; according to the Gregorian calendar, the possible dates for Easter range between 22 March and 25 April.
The aim of this invention is the provision of a specific mechanism which, when incorporated into a timepiece (preferably a pocket watch or wristwatch), enables the indication of the exact date of Easter for the year that is in progress.
This mechanism is remarkable because it manages a series of events in sequence, holding one action in abeyance during the time necessary for other actions to take place. It is a noteworthy horological achievement in an era dominated by electronics, and reflects the potential of mechanics.
Water resistant watch case having symmetrical opposing lugs on the bezel with matching extensions on the caseband, so that the closure of the case ensures water resistance by compressing a gasket.
Patek Philippe did not introduce a fully water resistant sports watch until it could come up with an original design that nobody else could copy.
The technical principle of sealing the case like a porthole was established in 1974. The lugs on either side of the bezel and their male counterparts on the case back are hinged by lateral screws.
In 1979 the principle found its style in the Nautilus leisure watch, a complex case that needs to be machined and finished with high precision. The O-ring gasket is squeezed against an angle in the caseband.
The Nautilus porthole case remains a unique solution to the requirement for water resistance, and is tested to a pressure of 120 meters. Although simpler, one-piece case and back designs have since been developed, Patek Philippe continues to make the original Nautilus watches for collectors who appreciate a classic and original design.
Two-bladed fold-over clasp for leather straps.
A standard part used in millions of watches is not necessarily better than one you design yourself. And if a watch is to keep an individual style, invention becomes imperative.
Patek Philippe's fold-over clasp illustrates the adage that the best inventions fulfill their purpose with the minimum of fuss. The hinged, curved blade folds to bring the two ends of the strap together under a clasp. One end of the strap, folded back through the clasp, can easily be adjusted for length.
The idea is designed to be made in gold and enables Patek Philippe to incorporate its Calatrava Cross emblem as a decorative feature of the clasp, in a simple statement of individuality.
A thin, self-winding movement with an off-center rotor sunk into the movement, and a wheel train which winds the barrel from one direction of the rotor's spin.
By definition a watch spends most of its life in motion, and for two centuries watchmakers have been seeking the most efficient way of using the natural movements of the wearer to wind the watch.
Since 1931 the standard concept has been the central rotor on top of the movement. In 1954, the Büren Watch company demonstrated a new automatic caliber. The rotor was half the usual size, and instead of being mounted on top, it was sunk into the movement on one side.
Patek Philippe saw that the key to making the mini-rotor work was to simplify the winding train. That meant getting rid of the reverser and using only one direction of the rotor's spin. It made up for the loss of power by increasing the frequency of the rotor's spin and devising a fully pivoted winding train of elegant simplicity.
Patek Philippe's Caliber 240 self-winding movement with a decentralized mini-rotor sunk into the movement is just 2.4mm high. Its reliability and precision in simple self-winding and perpetual calendar wristwatches has become legendary.
Horological movement with automatic winding mechanism.
In the movements of automatic watches that are wound by inertia, the eccentric mass or rotor, in which the center of gravity is distinct from the center of rotation, causes the winding of the movement through a gear-train adapted to the going wheel spring.
The energy required for this is supplied by the movements of the watch wearer. The acceleration of these movements, or that of gravity in the case of a change in position, are transformed into energy by the inertia of the mass and the non-synchronization of its centers of rotation and gravity.
As a solution to the rotor’s arrangement with regard to the actual movement, this patented mechanism comprises a rotor that is able to displace angular movements higher than 360° and a setting arbor that emerges perpendicularly to the front face of the movement, on the other side of the dial. It is characterized by the fact that this rotor, which is fitted with its pivotal device, is lodged in a zone peripheral to the movement and entirely within the height of this movement.
At the same time, the setting arbor, which is outer-lying in relation to the movement, also constitutes the movement’s manual winding-shaft.
A watch with a device permitting relative angular movements between the hour hand and the hour wheel in twelfths of a circle, without interrupting the working of the watch.
The jet age launched a variety of attempts to define the most practical time zone watch, but none achieved the elegance of the solution devised for Patek Philippe by Louis Cottier (1894-1966).
The problem was how to set the hours of the watch independently of the minutes, so that travellers could quickly adjust to their local time zone (almost everywhere in whole hour increments) without losing the correct time in minutes.
Cottier's solution makes it possible to move the cannon (and the hour hand) in 12 steps around a 12 pointed star-wheel driven by the motion work. You can change the position of the cannon relative to the star-wheel by pushing it in either direction with two correction buttons in the case. A system of levers operates fingers that push the toothed outside rim of the bell far enough to click the jumper spring over the next point of the star. This moves the hour hand exactly one hour in either direction, while maintaining its correct relationship to the minute hand.
This patented wheel train forms the basis of Patek Philippe's new Travel Time watch, launched in 1997.
High precision horological instrument.
This high precision timepiece loses less than 1/10 of a second over a 24-hour period. It is characterized by the fact that it consists of a quartz thermo-compensated oscillator with a frequency of more than 500 cycles per second.
It also has an electronic frequency dividing device presenting, on the one hand, two parallel chains of division stages, and on the other hand, a mixing device for the two exit frequencies and the filtration of their low beat frequency. This low frequency controls an hour indication device.
A horological mechanism deriving its motive power from a source of light by the means of at least one photoelectric cell.
Watchmakers are always looking for a free source of energy, but the disadvantage of light is that it is seldom available around the clock.
The earliest photoelectric clocks stored their energy mechanically by winding a spring (or lifting weights), which continued to run the movement during the night.
Patek Philippe's idea for a light-powered horological mechanism was to introduce additional electronic storage - an accumulator which provides the energy to wind the spring. The photoelectric cells could either store their energy electronically in the accumulator, or mechanically by winding the spring. When the mechanism was fully wound, the cells switched over to charge the accumulator.
The invention ensures that the photoelectric cells will charge the accumulator sometime during their operation. Although it provides an elegant solution for a mechanical movement, most light-powered movements today are electronic.
Patek Philippe continues to make a few light-powered Dome table clocks a year, each in it's unique and individual case of cloisonné enamels.
A self-winding mechanism for a wristwatch movement using the energy supplied by a rotary mass causing an eccentric part to transmit a swinging movement to an organ of the mechanism.
The aforementioned organ carries on the side of its pivotal point a pawl acting against a ratchet wheel, and on the other side, a tooth that penetrates a notch on a lever that lines up an arm. On the free tip of this arm a second pawl acts against the ratchet wheel, and this in turn is connected to the movement crown’s wheel by at least one intermediary toothed wheel and pinion.
This ensemble is arranged in such a way that through the inversion of the movement caused by the intervention of the lever against the pawls, the pawls move in opposite directions from each other and the ratchet wheel always moves in the same direction.
A balance with recesses in the rim each having a peg parallel to the axis of the balance and with sprung adjusting-weights held centered on the pegs.
The development of special alloys for balance springs eventually made the compensating balance wheel obsolete. But the best mono-metallic balances still had projecting screws so that watchmakers could make fine adjustments to the moment of inertia.
Patek Philippe designed an entirely new type of mono-metallic balance that replaced the screws with small weights fixed on the rim of the balance wheel.
The weights are small sprung rings which fit onto pegs standing parallel to the axis of the balance wheel. They have to be shaped so that their center of gravity lies on their axis.
Weights and pegs are sunk in recesses cut into the rim of the balance so as to reduce wind resistance.
The moment of inertia can be adjusted by turning the weights, but in practice this is seldom necessary, because the Gyromax balance can be poised extremely precisely, adjusted closely, and it will keep it's rate almost indefinitely.
The Gyromax balance has been used in all Patek Philippe's wristwatch movements since the final development of the idea was patented in 1952.
An extra-thin watch caliber in which the winding-mechanism is arranged in such a way that the center wheel is located on the same level as the winding wheel, instead of passing over or below the latter.
As a result, the going barrel, and consequently the motor spring, can be made of normal height, despite the abnormally low height of the movement.
This caliber permits the application of a motor spring of 6½ twelfths and more blade height for a movement with only 17 twelfths of total height. Until this innovation, calibers could only accommodate a spring with a much smaller height for the same movement height.
In its day, this benefited the movement and its setting, as well as the production, maintenance and longevity of watches of this type.
The double chronograph differs from an ordinary chronograph and from a chronograph with a fly-back hand in that it permits a series of observations of differing lengths.
The starting of the two hands operates in the same way as the chronograph with a fly-back hand by pressing on a push-piece situated on the crown of the winding-mechanism or elsewhere; if pressure is exerted on another push-piece, it stops the hand of the second chronograph. A second press on the same push-piece brings the hand back to 12 o’clock and a third starts it moving again.
During this time, the hand of the first chronograph can continue its movement; it will be stopped by pressing the first button and this also stops the hand of the second chronograph; one more press on the same push-piece brings the hands of the two chronographs back to 12 o’clock.
The timepiece is thus ready to function as if doing so for the first starting.
A perpetual calendar mechanism designed for pocket watches.
This mechanism’s advantage lies in its ability to produce both instantaneously and simultaneously the jump in days, dates, months and lunar phases.
Able to perform in all dimensions, the mechanism is characterised by its combination of its wheel, which carries a bevelled pin, its heart-piece and its levers that simultaneously cause its star-wheels to come into action.
A setting device in the pendant, with a so-called "disjointed" winding shaft enabling the movement to be removed and replaced in its case while the crown and the winding stem remain in the pendant.
Jean-Adrien Philippe continued to perfect the idea of crown and stem winding and setting for almost 20 years. By the time he filed his final patent on the matter in 1861 in France (as the only official patent office was in Paris at that time), the first had already expired, and his invention was in current use.
Then in 1888, Switzerland's newly established Federal Intellectual Property Office started issuing patents. Patek Philippe hurried to register its latest keyless winding system with the introduction of an additional feature - a detachable winding stem.
One drawback of keyless winding in pocket watches was that the crown, stem and shaft had to be dismantled before the movement could be removed for cleaning or repair.
This was simply solved by putting a joint between the winding stem and shaft allowing the crown and stem to stay in the pendant, while the winding shaft came out with the movement.
This uncomplicated, labor saving solution was the first of more than 50 patents filed by Patek Philippe in Switzerland.
Jean-Adrien Philippe’s invention consists of an instrument adjusted on a watch movement balance-cock, and is known as the precision timer.
The invention’s characteristic resides principally within a disc, upon the surface of which is a groove in the shape of a spiral. This disk is placed in a concentric recess at the screw of a balance-cock, and can move it freely under a rim implemented at the head of this balance-cock.
The second important piece is the regulator on the tail of which is a conical index-pin protruding below which engages in the disc’s groove. The little cone of the index-pin must exert a degree of pressure on the groove as well as on the disc itself which is also held fast under this pressure.
All Gondolo chronometers are equipped with a refined version of the device.
Mechanism for setting and winding watches by the pendant, applicable to all types of watches.
Until the middle of the last century, pocket watches had to be wound and set with a separate key that fit into holes in the case. The holes let in dirt, the keys were lost. No watchmaker, for 250 years, had found a practical solution.
Jean-Adrien Philippe's invention of the modern winding and setting stem and crown (pull out to set, push in to wind) was more than a clever mechanism. It changed the nature of watches. The self-contained, keyless watch that could be sealed, evolved into today's waterproof wristwatch.
Jean-Adrien Philippe specified his invention would be "applicable to all types of watches" - a feature seen to this day in timepieces that he could never have imagined - self-winding and ultra-thin wristwatches, quartz watches, date watches and diving watches. Nobody has yet thought up a more practical idea for the job.