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November 5, 2014

Seven Years A Secret

By Neharika Padala

Writing for The New York Times, Victoria Gomelsky described it as “the most complex wristwatch the firm has ever produced.” That the newspaper was giving column inches to a new watch not made by Apple, albeit in the Fashion & Style section, heightened the gravity of the occasion.


Elite Traveler Contributor Elizabeth Doerr put it this way:  “We were not disappointed: what arrived was the first celebratory timepiece ever issued by Patek Philippe in the form of a wristwatch…this historically important milestone included something so futuristic alongside its many functions that it can be seen as nothing short of the piece that in one fell swoop propels Patek Philippe into not just the present, but also the future.”

The reason for the buzz was the venerable watchmaker’s 175th anniversary, the occasion for Patel Philippe’s release of the Grandmaster Chime ref. 5175, which incorporates 1,366 movement components and 214 more for its elaborately engraved case. The watch has 20 complications, including two world firsts: A patented alarm that strikes the time, programmable at quarter-hour intervals and providing a gentle alert by the same sequence of blows as the minute repeater, and a perpetual date strike that can be activated on demand.

The double-faced timepiece ensures “optimal use of its many functions,” as the company puts in humbly in press material.

All in all the watch includes a Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, Minute Repeateer, Strikework mode display, aforementioned Alarm with time strike, Date repeater, Movement power-reserve indicator, Strikework power-reserve indicator, Strikework isolator indicator, Second time zone, Second time zone with day/night indicator, Instantaneous perpetual calendar, Display of day, Display of month, Date display on both dials, Leap-year cycle, Four-digit year display, Moon phases, 24-hour and minute subdial; and Crown position indicator for alarm and time setting.

Patek Philippe has been privately held by the Stern family for four generations and today is guided by Thierry Stern, (pictured above), who is the antithesis of entitlement.

In a 2013 interview with Elite Traveler Stern, the current President, put it this way:  “There is one thing I have seen around my career and that is any of those companies that were really good didn’t have any one person. In a business like Patek, which is a family business, it’s even more important. Do not pretend to be the Master. You are in the family not by choice. If you are willing to take over fine, but, you cannot be the expert on everything. Surrounding yourself with experts is the most important thing.  It’s where family businesses are destroyed. The owner thought he should do everything because he was named by God. You have to accept having people more intelligent around you.” 


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Little was known of the watch in advance of its official unveiling at a glitzy ceremony in mid-October at Patek’s state-of-the-art manufacture just outside Geneva. Tonight the champagne and caviar continued in New York atop Rockefeller Center in the recently re-opened Rainbow Room.

Saying Patek is not a company but a “family,” the boss offered some solid proof his words were not just made for media jargon.  Speaking to a group of top watch journalists and retailers, he noted the Grandmaster Chime was seven years in the making and despite the project’s Mission Impossible top secret ‘need to know only’ coding, as the project evolved most of the 1,600-employee strong global company knew more or less what was going on. “The secret did not escape,” something only possible in a family, not a company.

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