Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, reference 5175 Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, reference 5175 Image courtesy of Patek Philippe

The most complicated wristwatch in the world

A candidate for the most complicated wristwatch ever made is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, reference 5175, part of the brand’s collection of limited-edition watches for its 175th anniversary. It includes functions never before seen in a watch.

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20 October 2014

The Grandmaster Chime is an imposing piece, not least for size: 47 mm in width and 16.1 mm thickness make it a massive watch, with an unusual rotating system. The case can spin round on its lugs, because it has two faces, one with the time functions, and one for the calendar functions. It is so large for a good reason: it has 20 complications, and a lot of original inventions. One interesting feature is the fact that you can see the time and date (the most frequently-used functions of any watch) on both dials.

The six patents registered for the movement include an acoustic alarm that strikes not only the alarm, but also the alarm time, the first time that this function has been included in a watch, and a date repeater that sounds the date on demand. Usually ‘grand complication’ watches are exactly that: darned complicated to understand all the subdials and readings. Patek Philippe have long been advocates of ‘intelligent watches’ that provide the information with clarity, and that automatically protect the movement from user mistakes, absolutely necessary in this watch that has four pushers and another four recessed buttons used to set and control the various functions. Patek Philippe’s ambition in this piece was to create a watch that could be operated without having to consult the instruction booklet, and this in itself is a monumental achievement.

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Other highlights of the watch include the Grande Sonnerie, which strikes the hours and quarter hours at each quarter hour, and the Petite Sonnerie, similar except that the hours are struck just on the hour, and the quarters on each quarter. Double barrels dedicated for the strikework ensure 30 hours power reserve for this part of the mechanism.

The Minute Repeater operates on demand, and sounds the hours, quarter hours, and the minutes that have elapsed from the last quarter-hour. The system is also used to strike the alarm time. The date repeater is also a world first, sounded with a double high-low strike for ten days, and then the remaining days with a high strike. So, the chime for the 25th is ding-dong ding-dong ding-ding-ding-ding-ding (so to speak).

There is much more. An impeccably legible perpetual calendar, that takes into account the different lengths of months, and the rhythm of leap years. A second time zone. Power reserve indicators for the movement and strikework barrels. Striking selection. Alarm function display. Its functions are typical of quartz watches in which electronics calculates everything; but in the Grandmaster Chime, everything is mechanical, crafted with exquisite beauty. The movement comprises 1,366 parts, each finished to perfection by hand, and even the case alone has 214 parts. It is very classical in its design, with a laurel wreath motif carved out of the rose gold.

The watch is a limited edition of seven watches. Six of them will be available at the price of CHF 2.5 million (about €2 million) each. Luckily, one will become part of the collection at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, on view to the general public.

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This official Patek Philippe video provides an evocative illustration of the huge amounts of design, engineering and crafts lavished in a piece of this sort.