Technical Review: Patek Philippe Ref. 5531R 

Patek Philippe’s Art of Watches Grand Exhibition wasn’t just a showcase of the brand’s horological might, it also served as the introduction for a number of new timepiece exclusives for American collectors.

By Jonathan Bues

Close up on the dial of the Patek Philippe, 5531R.

Who would have thought that the new Patek Philippe Ref. 5531R Minute Repeater Travel Time—a timepiece that didn’t make its arrival until four months after Baselworld—would be the highest-profile timepiece to debut this year from Patek Philippe? However, the stage upon which this chiming traveler premiered was arguably even more prestigious.

Patek Philippe’s Art of Watches Grand Exhibition in New York City in July was a 10-day public showing of many of the most historically important timepieces the world has ever seen. One of the watches that made its official debut was, of course, this spectacular double series of five limited editions—the first series depicting the New York skyline as it appears during the day, the second showing it at night. Both dials were meticulously handcrafted by the master enameler Anita Porchet.

Under the hood, Patek Philippe has accomplished a marriage of complications that has never been matched. Ref. 5531R is a world timer whose minute repeater function is paired not with the home time, but with the local time, meaning that it is capable of chiming 12 different times upon being set. In theory, the watchmakers of Patek Philippe could have made this watch chime for 24 different time zones, but that would have resulted in an overly long chiming sequence once the time passed into the late evening.

Let’s have a look under the hood and see what makes this watch so special. Beneath the highly detailed dial is a movement that took a full five years to develop. In a traditional minute repeater, the chiming mechanism receives its information about how many times to chime from a series of snail camps attached to the time system that drives the hands. There is a designated snail for the hours, the quarters, and the minutes. On Ref. 5531R, the hours are instead read from a star wheel with 12 teeth that is attached to the world time wheel. In this way, the hour chime comes not directly from the main time of the movement, but instead from the world time complication.

According to Thierry Stern, who personally announced the limited-edition timepiece alongside Patek technical director Philip Barat in New York, the Ref. 5531R will see just 10 examples total between the two dial configurations. Still, the financial investment in the movement was tremendous, so we will certainly see it again in future watches.

Technical breakdown of the Patek Philippe Ref. 5531R.

At this writing, the 10 available timepieces had yet to be allocated, but, according to Stern, all are going to U.S.-based retailers with the aim of having these special watches, and all of the new timepieces presented at the American exhibition, end up in the possession of American consumers.

The price of $560,000 is certainly not for the faint of heart, but given the limited production and its premier stature as a Patek Philippe minute repeater, finding buyers for each of the 10 watches will be no problem for Patek Philippe.