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Patek Philippe Advanced Research - Flexibility, and the art of the bulge

Patek Philippe Advanced Research Flexibility, and the art of the bulge

At Baselworld, Patek Philippe unveiled two innovations. One has to do with the escapement, the other with correctors. Here’s an overview of some serious R&D.

People often say that Patek Philippe likes to take its time, that it plays the long game. And that’s true for its collections and watch models. For its research, not so much. The company’s R&D department, Patek Philippe Advanced Research (PPAR to the cognoscenti), is one of the most efficient and prolific to emerge in the last twenty years, along with (and sometimes in collaboration with) Ulysse Nardin’s research lab, which is one of very few others.

12 years in development

This watchmaking lab, an incubator of the tomorrow’s horology, works mainly on the watch’s regulating organs. Its essential components are reworked and optimised, beginning with the balance spring, from the pallet wheel to the escapement. Patek Philippe devotes as much effort to the composition of these components as it does to their geometry.

The results of this intensive research were first revealed back in 2005, with the invention of Silinvar, a new material developed jointly with Rolex and the Swatch Group. It’s lighter and harder than steel, anti-magnetic and extremely flexible (which makes it able to absorb shocks without shattering). It has become an essential element of PPAR’s research.

It was put to work immediately, in 2005, in the first Silinvar pallet wheel. A hairspring would follow in 2006, with an escapement released in 2008. The escapement and balance wheel would top things off in 2011, combined into a single mechanism: the Oscillomax.

2017 – battle of the bulge

So, what was left to solve, to further improve the isochronism of watches to which the highest chronometric standards were already applied? Just one second per day – which the PPAR achieved by recalibrating the curve of its hairspring. Objective: to contain its wandering centre of gravity (the centre of gravity moves, depending on the position of the watch). This constant motion affects the regularity of its oscillation and thus, ultimately, the precision of the watch.

Consequently, Patek Philippe took another look at the curve of its hairspring, giving it an “internal bulge” near the collet (where it is attached) which almost completely compensates for the movement of its centre of gravity. The result is an isochronism that rarely exceeds -1 to +2 seconds per 24 hours.

L’art de la bosse et du flexible

This, roughly speaking, is the same performance as you’d expect from a tourbillon. Patek Philippe therefore equalled the performance of a tourbillon watch, using a Swiss pallet escapement. This performance had already been approached, possibly even equalled (by Rudis Sylva’s Oscillateur Harmonieux), but Patek Philippe’s approach has staying power, the resources of a major manufacture and thus the promise of extending this procedure to all its watch ranges.

Highly flexible correctors

Patek Philippe also introduced another innovation at Baselworld: flexible correctors. At first glance not much has changed: over the last decade, many brands have been working on using silicon blades, largely within the escapement (Girard Perregaux’ Constant Escapement is one such). But the approach developed by Patek Philippe has little in common with these, except for the name!

The Geneva watchmaker hasn’t used any silicon, and this innovation has nothing to do with the escapement. It’s all about steel, and about replacing an articulated system that uses pivots with one that exploits the flexibility of sprung blades. The new mechanism has 12 parts, compared with 37. It’s thinner and requires absolutely no lubrication, because there is no friction.

L’art de la bosse et du flexible

To show it off – and this is a first in the history of the manufacture – the new Aquanaut Travel Time ref. 5650 has had its dial cut away between 8 and 10 o’clock. Unlike most of the innovations developed by Patek Philippe Advanced Research, this new blade mechanism is perfectly visible to the naked eye, on the watch dial. Only 500 will be made. As always, this is unlikely to be enough to satisfy the appetite of collectors.

L’art de la bosse et du flexible

L’art de la bosse et du flexible

 

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