After Patek Philippe’s Geneva celebration to commemorate their 175th anniversary, the storied Swiss watch maker took many of their new limited edition “175th Anniversary” watches on a road show around the world. This included what Patek Philippe hoped would symbolize the pinnacle of the brand’s achievements and value – a limited edition of six pieces “mega watch” called the Patek Philippe 5175 Grandmaster Chime.
aBlogtoWatch first covered the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 watch here when it was first debuted in October 2014. aBlogtoWatch’s David Bredan discussed at length how Patek Philippe bested itself by releasing their most complicated watch ever with 20 different complications and information displayed on both the front and rear of the watches. Watch lovers and collectors around the world eagerly awaited what Patek Philippe would announce for the momentous occasion that no watch brand would give up as an opportunity to produce some interesting timepieces.
I am rather happy that Patek Philippe decided to recognize the hunger in their collectors by producing more that just one limited edition watch. A visit to Patek Philippe’s website will give you a useful survey of the new 175th Anniversary watches. While some are interesting and nice, the real talking point is the 2,500,000 Swiss Franc ref. 5175.
Collectors are divided on how to accept the aesthetic direction taken with the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 – though most are equally amused with the name which has been frequently uttered as “Patek Philippe Grandmaster Flash,” no doubt in part due to the flashiness of the highly filigreed decoration on the case. Love it or hate it, the hand-engraving all over the case of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 is extremely noticeable and statement-worthy.
In addition to the artistically dense filigree engraving on the case, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 is large for a Patek Philippe – some even claim totally unwearable, at 47.4mm wide. Now that size isn’t inherently too large for many other watches, but the very large lug structures make the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175’s case very long. Nevertheless, given all the complications inside, it is impressively thin at just 16.1mm. I think the right people (hopefully a few of them will be among the six owners) will be able to strap this baby on and appropriately wear it – with proper regal attire. While nothing about the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 says “elegant” or “contemporary and tasteful,” it does look like a timepiece European royalty in the middle ages might have worn. Assuming characters in medieval fantasy universes such as Middle Earth (from Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit) or Westeros (from Game of Thrones) wore watches, their kings and high lords would probably all wear something that resembles the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175.
Recommending or not recommending the aesthetic virtues or “wearability proposition” of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 is a futile discussion. Anyone who put down two and a half million dollars for a Patek Philippe watch isn’t buying their first Patek Philippe. Most of them are regular collectors who will more than likely worry about the long term value of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 and will not subject it to too much wear or use. That is the destiny of many “collectible” Patek Philippe timepieces purchased: to remain in plastic wrap in their brown Patek Philippe boxes. So put aside what notions you have of some billionaire playboy strutting around with a Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 showing off his “sexy sonnerie” to the ladies. Chances are that isn’t going to happen much.
Patek Philippe didn’t produce the Grandmaster Chime to make a lot of money either. Doing the math, it is clear that Patek Philippe enjoyed about $15,600,000 in gross revenue (before retailer commissions if applicable), but in the scheme of things, that is small dollars compared to their higher-volume production of more standard watches that make up the majority of their business. The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 is another halo product that is meant to evoke a sense of character and status to the brand. The notion Patek Philippe wants people to feel after learning about the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 is that “maybe a little bit of the technology and effort that went into the Grandmaster Chime went into my new Patek Philippe watch.” This is basic marketing and has worked very well for car and watch makers alike for generations.
What makes the car world different from the watch world is a lot of regulations. Most car makers cannot release their innovative concept cars as production models due to tons and tons of regulations designed to make them safe and street legal. The watch industry is not bound by such regulations and can more-or-less release whatever they want. While I am not suggesting that the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 is anything less than Patek Philippe says it is, similar “wildly complicated” timepieces are frequently released in the watch industry that simply don’t work – ever.
This happens because sometimes a watch company simply doesn’t have the resources or time to make a complicated, tiny machine work. Don’t forget that these are machines with a lot of working pieces, and sometimes they can take years to get right. In an environment with few regulations and only a small group of people to “make happy,” there are instances when the world’s most impressive watches don’t ever work really impressively. Like I said, I am not pointing fingers to Patek Philippe, as they are not the type of brand to have this reputation, but this conduct occurs in the industry because most brands see the mere existence of these mega-complicated watches as being of paramount importance to the eyes of watch lovers, compared to the weight given to durability experienced by the actual owners.
Is it surprising that a movement called the caliber 300 GS AL 36-750 QIS FUS IRM has 1,366 individual pieces? This is done because the movement is produced as a series of modules which are stacked atop one another. This way, Patek Philippe can produce a movement with so many functions. Like I said, more information about the movement of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 can be gathered by reading our initial article about it (linked to above).
As the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175’s name clearly implies, some of the most impressive functions in the watch are related to chiming complications, such as a minute repeater and a sonnerie. Minute repeaters are fun complications that when activated cause the sounding of various chimes which, when “interpreted,” indicate the current time. Sonneries are similar in that they also use chimes to indicate the time, but they occur at specific intervals (such as on the hour) automatically. The minute repeater is like a sonnerie, but on demand.
In addition to the various flavors of sonneire (grand sonnerie and peitie sonnerie), the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 also has a neat alarm function which ends with strikes of the chimes. The other major series of complications revolves around the perpetual calendar functions. Patek Philippe designed the 5175 to have a complete calendar system with the day, date, month, leap year, moon phase, as well as the current year. While the back of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175, which displays most of the calendar data, isn’t particularly exciting to look at, the information is beautifully clear and easy to read. It actually would have been nice to have a bit of decoration on this side though, as it feels incomplete or out of place when compared to the other side of the watch which is clearly more decorative.
If Patek Philippe deserves praise in any one major area it is clarity. While not universally true with all of their timepieces, Patek Philippe does have a wonderful track record when it comes to designing very easy to read dials. In fact, Patek Philippe makes it look almost easy, which is a further virtue given the diversity of the dials they produce. Patek Philippe is also a master at making very complicated or cluttered dials look balanced and attractive where everything is easy to see.
A lesser company, if charged with producing something like the Grandmaster Chime, would have likely ended up with a dial extremely difficult to read. The main dial with the moon phase indicator on the 5175 actually has a lot of various windows, sub-dials, and indicators. Patek Philippe cleverly designed them to all work together while also preserving a lot of clarity and relative simplicity to the dial. Sadly, this talent is often overlooked by collectors because they really boil down to the whole “less is more” thing. Just be aware that making all the information readable and logical on the various dials of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 was due to great effort by Patek Philippe.
With that said, I don’t know how elegant it is to operate or adjust a watch like this. In fact, most people who own watches of this ilk probably don’t have them set properly. What I am really referring to is the calendar function, which is likely a huge pain to set. Watches like this will be “adjusted” by the dealer or sale’s person for the owner, and in most instances, should the watch stop, a visit back to the dealer is necessary to reset the correct time and calendar information. This is especially true with perpetual calendar watches that have the full year indicators. Even when simple to set, they can be excruciatingly frustrating as many delicate pushes and turns must be coordinated together.
All this makes me hope people who own complicated watches like the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 invest in crown-turning winding machines to ensure there always is power in the movement – assuming they ever want to wear them or show them off. I have a feeling too many collectors feel that the watches should not be running in order to preserve them for much longer as though they are aging them like wine, waiting (and hoping) that their value increases (even if they don’t want to sell them during their lifetimes). It is a matter of pride and often ego for many serious watch collectors to know that something they chose is now “worth more.”
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the community of collectors who seek out and purchase Patek Philippe watches at this level represent a very small number of Patek Philippe consumers. Though, this “mega watch” world exists because Patek Philippe feels that it must, in order to create positive brand awareness and mystique. Even though Patek Philippe is a rather old company with an established business model, they must preserve their position and relationship with collectors by always making sure there are newer and greater items being released, as well as having a vested interest in the success of their timepieces sold at third-party auctions.
With collectors enthused by new limited edition or limited production high-complication pieces as well as rare vintage Patek Philippe watches sold frequently at auction (which is ironic, because rare watches should show up rarely at auction, right?), Patek Philippe remains in a strong position to impress new buyers or regulars who purchase their sub-$100,000 timepieces. This isn’t easy work though, and Patek Philippe must work hard at this on a regular basis, while preserving the character and design ethos that they have developed in their modern era.
So let’s go back to the Patek Philippe 175th Anniversary Watches roadshow events where the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 was “unveiled” for what wasn’t the first time. Patek Philippe felt it necessary to enshrine the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 in a special case, behind closed curtains until the time was right for the “reveal.” The ceremony was preserved even though many of us had been aware of the watch for about six weeks. None of us were to see the watches until we viewed Patek Philippe’s new corporate film which seemed to suggest Patek Philippe may be an attractive new alternative religion. To some it already is, and they are always looking for new converts and to reinvigorate the pious.
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 watch is undeniably interesting and impressive. It is one of those times when you get the feeling that an important watch company produced what they wanted to produce without a lot of care whether or not it impresses YOU. The ornate double-sided flipping cased Grandmaster Chime is the watch they wanted to make, and they did. They even made one to keep in their museum. I respect that Patek Philippe produced something that they felt was important and did not do as a crowd pleaser, even though the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 5175 has been a serious source of curiosity and fascination for even those who don’t consider themselves watch lovers. The question I have for myself and those who learn about the 5175 is what timepiece does it subsequently make them want to buy next? patek.com