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Remaining in perfect shape, 50 years on
IT'S GOLD, AND LOOKS like a cross between a circle and a rectangle, hence its name Ellipse d'Or or Golden Ellipse. It's not as well-known these days among Patek Philippe timepieces, but the Golden Ellipse is actually the brand's oldest line after the iconic Calatrava, which was rolled out in 1932.
Currently the thinnest (5.9mm thick) watch in Patek's collections, the Golden Ellipse was launched in 1968 and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
It might have looked a bit quirky to buyers at the time but that, along with the watch's slim elegance and the Patek Philippe name, has given the timepiece a certain style that makes it an attractive dress watch.
The construction of the watch's case rests on the principle of the Golden Ratio. This means the case proportions follow an ancient formula that symbolises beautiful harmony and balance in architecture, arts and even nature.
Also called the "divine proportion", the Golden Ratio is a unique number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part.
The enigmatic number 1.6180339887 which defines the proportions of the case shape of the Golden Ellipse also defines the proportions of Egypt's Cheops Pyramid, Raphael's Sistine Madonna, the human body and the Apple logo. So the watch is in good company.
Another big talking point about the watch when it was first unveiled was the dazzling cobalt blue dial. This wasn't some lacquered or enamelled surface, but something far more revolutionary: blue gold.
The celebrated blue gold dial appeared first in the Ellipse and then in other Patek Philippe models in the late 1960s and 1970s. Its origin was attributed to Jean-Daniel Rubeli, the brand's in-house stylist at the time.
He didn't exactly create the blue gold, but he was friendly with a jeweller called Ludwig Muller who was famous then for making pieces using blue gold.
The Golden Ellipse was widely popular in the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1970s, the collection contained no less than 65 models, varying in dial colour, metal bracelet and leather strap.
There were also jewellery versions for ladies. The watch's design was even adopted for luxurious accessories like cufflinks, rings and lighters - reflections of its popularity.
The Golden Ellipse has stayed largely unchanged in the past 50 years, except for two key changes.
The hand-wound movement that powered the watch in the early years gave way to a better mechanism in 1977, when it was replaced by an ultra-thin automatic movement. The latter, called calibre 240, features an off-centre 22-karat gold micro that's completely integrated into the movement. This self-winding movement remains the driving force in the Golden Ellipse today.
The other key change is the introduction of a larger model in 2008, when the Golden Ellipse turned 40. To mark the occasion, Patek produced a "jumbo" version of the watch in platinum (Ref 5738P), including the original navy blue dial. The limited edition jumbo watch measured 34 x 39.5mm, against 31 x 35.5mm for previous models.
For the Golden Ellipse's 50th birthday, Patek has rolled out another "jumbo" timepiece. The handcrafted model (Ref 5738/50P) in platinum is adorned with a black enamel dial complete with a striking hand-engraved volute pattern. Patek says this "decoratively interlacing" pattern "perfectly matches the unmistakably bold form" of the Golden Ellipse, "emphasising the width-to-length ratio of the famous golden section".
Turning the watch over reveals a solid platinum case back with the commemorative engraving "Ellipse d'Or 1868-2018".
Produced in a limited run of 100 anniversary sets, each watch is delivered in a special box with matching white gold cufflinks in the Golden Ellipse design. Each box set is sold at S$119,500.
Complementing the platinum model, Patek has also launched a large format of the Golden Ellipse in rose gold (Ref 5738R).
While watch fans had expected another blue dial like the one on the original Golden Ellipse, Patek surprises with an ebony-coloured face with sunray finish. The crown of the timepiece is set with a black onyx cabochon.
With the new rose gold model, priced at S$40,700, Patek says it has discontinued the somewhat smaller Ref 3738/100 in yellow, white and rose gold.