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The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time Reference 5650 is as accurate as a Patek Philippe tourbillon but retails for just a fraction of the latter.

The Calatrava Ref 5180/1 "Squelette" in rose gold beats with the Caliber 240, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Patek precision

The brand's new range unveiled at Basel is a tour de force of watchmaking.
May 6, 2017 5:50 AM

Patek Philippe has launched a watch that could just drive the stratospherically-priced tourbillon complication, often a symbol of watch-making virtuosity, out of business.

Not only is the new sporty Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time Reference 5650 as accurate as a Patek Philippe tourbillon - losing no more than one second or gaining up to only two seconds a day - it also, at S$77,700, retails for just a fraction of the price of the tourbillon.

The two-time zoner, part of the Swiss brand's new watch collection unveiled in March at the Basel 2017 watch fair, could even be more valuable than a Patek tourbillon in the long run. It boasts two key innovations by Patek Philippe's highly-regarded Advance Research: a new balance spring that vastly improves precision in time-keeping; and flexible mechanisms which reduce the number of parts for the timezone setters, making it thinner and working without lubrication and wear.

What's more, the white-gold Ref 5650 is the first Patek timepiece to have a cut-away on the dial to reveal part of the innovations and is limited to 500 watches.

The new Aquanaut Travel Time is also one of two anniversary models celebrating the 20th birthday of Patek's sporty Aquanaut line, which was launched in 1997 for a younger generation of customers. The other is Ref 5168G, the first men's Aquanaut watch in white gold and features a blue dial. The new Aquanaut timepiece, carrying a S$50,800 price tag, comes in a 42mm case - the largest model in the line.

This year also marks the 40th year of existence of the Patek Philippe caliber 240 - an ultra-thin self-winding movement built when the Swiss mechanical watch industry was almost wiped out by cheap Japanese quartz timepieces. Most ultra thin movements in those days were hand-wound; Caliber 240 was automatic. Patek was convinced its new movement could power timepieces of beauty, reliability, longevity, intrinsic value and elegance - timeless values that could still hold against the quartz onslaught.

Caliber 240, a highly efficient and accurate movement, was first used in Patek's elegant and slim Golden Ellipse men's dress watch in 1977. Subsequently it also ticks inside the classic Calatrava Ref 5120 with a hobnail bezel, the ladies' Calatrava Ref 7200 with a officer's-style case, the legendary ultra-thin Ref 3940 Perpetual Calendar, the World Time watch Ref 5110 and the first complicated Nautilus Ref 3712, among others.

Paying tribute to Caliber 240 on its 40th anniversary, Patek has presented three new watches equipped with this movement in a display of its versatility: Calatrava Ref 5180/1 "Squelette" in rose gold, Calatrava Ref 6006 with a strictly graphic look and the ladies' haute joaillerie Ref 4899/900 topped with diamonds and multi-coloured sapphires.

The artistically skeletonized and engraved Ref 5180/1 showcases the extremely rare craft of skeletonization which reduces a watch to its bare essentials to give it greater aesthetic appeal, alongside magnificent engravings. The watch will sell for S$129,900.

Patek released 25 new references at Basel 2017, 16 men's and nine women's models. Among them is the Ref 5320G white-gold perpetual calendar, which automatically indicates months with 28, 30 and 31 days and every four years also recognises Feb 29 as a leap day. The date display needs to be corrected in 2100, a secular year according to the Gregorian calendar.

The vintage-looking complication, which harks back to coveted models of the 1940s and 1950s, has a cream-coloured face that still thrills collectors: a double aperture for the day and month displays at 12 o'clock and a sub-dial at six for the analog date and moon phases.

But there are also some useful additions: a small round day/night aperture between seven and eight o'clock and a round aperture for the leap year cycle at between four and five o'clock.