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Watches of the future

Patek Philippe's Advanced Research project incorporates all things avant-garde into its luxury timepieces

ALL ABOUT ACCURACY: The latest of Patek Philippe's Advanced Research watch 5650G.

ALL ABOUT ACCURACY: Ref 5250, first of Patek Philippe's Advanced Research watch.

ALL ABOUT ACCURACY: Ref 5350 is fitted with the Spiromax balance spring.


PATEK PHILIPPE last year launched the Aquanaut Travel Time Reference 5650G Advanced Research – a technologically forward two-time-zone watch that tells time just as accurately as Patek's gravity-defying tourbillons, but sells for much less.

For most high-end timepieces, the acceptable accuracy rate ranges from -3 to +2 seconds per day – that is, they may lose up to three seconds or gain two seconds every 24 hours. The range for the new Patek travel watch is -1 to +2 seconds a day, matching the accuracy of a Patek tourbillon.

But while a Patek tourbillon carries a price tag of more than S$100,000, the Aquanaut Travel Time Advanced Research retails for S$77,700. Not surprisingly, all 500 pieces of the limited edition watch were sold out even before they reached the shop's shelf.

In any case, all Advanced Research models rolled out were quickly snapped up. These timepieces, until the Aquanaut came along, were limited to no more than 300 watches per model. The watches all housed innovations which would be incorporated in all future Patek timepieces.

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The Spiromax balance spring introduced in the Ref 5350 Annual Calendar Advance Research in 2006 is already deployed in most Patek watch movements. This new balance spring, made of silicon-based material, is less affected by gravity and shock. It keeps time more accurately.

Started in the early 2000s, the Patek Philippe Advanced Research project launched an avant-garde innovation programme that researches into "new materials", "new manufacturing technologies" and "new conceptual fundamentals".

Partnering with institutions like the CSEM research laboratory and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, Advanced Research has produced groundbreaking innovations which opened up never-before opportunities in mechanical horology as well as new approaches in watchmaking.

The improvements these innovations can make in time-keeping have been showcased in special limited edition timepieces, which were the first to be endowed with one of the state-of-the art solutions.

And the first of these watches, unveiled in 2005, was the Ref 5250 Annual Calendar Patek Philippe Advanced Research. It's fitted with an escape wheel made of Silinvar. Among other advantages, this silicon-based super material is three times lighter than steel but twice as hard; it's anti-magnetic, corrosion-resistant, and shock-resistant.

The Silinvar escape wheel greatly improves the reliability of a watch because it needs no lubrication.

The second Advanced Research timepiece, the Ref 5350 Annual Calendar which houses the Spiromax spring, was mentioned above. Then came the Ref 5450 Annual Calendar Patek Philippe Advanced Research in 2008, which presented the Pulsomax escapement – also made of Silinvar – along with a Spriomax spring.

A new and improved escape wheel, the Pulsomax boasted a gain of more than 15 per cent in energy transmission, thanks to an optimised geometry of the escape wheel and the lever, which allowed for extended service intervals.

The advances made since 2005 were brought together in the Oscillomax ensemble – the Pulsomax escapement with Gyromax balance and Spiromax balance spring – and rolled out housed in the Ref 5550 Perpetual Calendar Patek Philippe Advance Research in 2011.

Ref 5550 was the first in the series that wasn't an annual calendar. Unlike the earlier watches which were equipped with the calibre 324 as the base, Ref 5550 was powered by the micro-rotor calibre 240.

The Aquanaut Travel Time Ref 5650G appeared only six years after the launch of the last Advanced Research watch. It features two key innovations: an improved Spiromax; and a new time zone corrections with a flexible mechanism in steel.

The updated Spiromax hairspring, still made of Silinvar, raised the accuracy rate of the watch, while the second innovation simplified the time zone mechanism, reducing its parts and eliminating the need for lubricants. This boosts the durability and reliability of the mechanism.