Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The rarest complications integrated in a single timepiece.

In 2002, Patek Phillipe unveiled the most complicated wristwatch ever produced- the double faced Sky Moon Tourbillon. On the reverse side of the wristwatch is a complete representation of the night sky. The breathtaking image of the sky portrays the movement of the stars, the orbit of the moon, the moon phases and the hours and minutes in sidereal time. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) –“the father of modern observational astronomy “ would have been duly impressed.

Patek Phillipe main objective, as with its pocket watch baring the same unity in complications, was not cram the most complications in timepiece but to inspire the horological world with the most complicated and fascinating complications in the small boundaries of a wristwatch:

1. A perpetual calendar with a retrograde date display
2. A minute repeater
3. A Tourbillon
4. The display of a sidereal time
5. Depiction of the night sky with the movement of the stars.
6. The Orbit of the Moon
7. The moon phases.

The Complication that proved to be the biggest challenge was the heavenly display. The heaven is infinite as is time, and to place the display of the heavens within a wrist watch in a clear legible manner is almost impossible except, of course, to the watch making experts at Patek Phillipe. A company founded in 1839 by two Polish immigrants, Antoine Norbert de Patek ,the salesman, and Francois Czapek, the watchmaker, and later joined by Mr. Adrien Phillipe in 1944, a French Watchmaker.
Patek Phillipe deeply rooted in achieving horological milestones, came up with a solution. A solution adapted from Patek Phillipe’s astronomical pocket watches: a moving sky chart on the reverse. The mechanical movement originally developed for the “Star Calibre 2000” was redesigned specifically for the “Sky Moon Tourbillon” and achieved a Swiss patent CH 688 171.

The separate complications are discussed individually below:

1. The perpetual calendar with a retrograde date display

Patek Phillip is the master of perpetual calendars. A perpetual calendar adjusts the date in accordance with the differing lengths of months and leap years. Although in this technological age this does not seem like such a huge accomplishment; however, this is done solely mechanical utilizing a number of intricate parts. The “Sky Moon Tourbillon” displays its perpetual calendar in a unique 270° arc. Each day the date hand shifts one position. At the end of the month whether it is the 28th, 29th , 30th or 31st, the automatic fly back hand jumps to the 1st of the month. The unique mechanism is designed with a highly accurate patented ratchet wheel mechanism as opposed to the more conventional use of cams. On the 1st of the month this highly specialized perpetual calendar mechanism “locks” the date display hand in place to prevent it from rebounding to the 2nd or 3rd month. Four subdials display the additional perpetual calendar information: 1) The days of the week at the 9 ‘o’clock position 2) The month at the 3 ‘o clock position 3)The leap year cycle at the 3 ‘o’clock position 4) The moon age at the 6 ‘o clock position. If the watch is wound on a regular basis the watch need not be adjusted till the year 2100.

2. A Minute Repeater

A minute repeater sounds the hours, quarter hours, and minutes with a gentle chime. This feature accompanies the visionary splendor of the masterpiece with an auditory delight. This function is enabled when a slide on the left of the case is activated. The number of hours is sounded on a low-tone gong, followed by the quarter hours with double strikes on the low-tone and higher-tone gong and then the number of minutes elapsed since the last quarter of an hour on the higher tone gong. The “Sky Moon Tourbillon” has presented the minute repeater in a rare and mesmerizing manner. In the confines of a wrist watch the chime of a minute repeater is often times barely heard. A rich and clear sound is hard to muster, the room must be silent and the sound of the gong striking is likened to a pin being dropped. However in the “Sky Moon Tourbillon” the gong has turned up its volume. With extensive collaboration of the world first class metallurgists of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausine, Patek Phillipe developed an alloy for gongs that make a strikingly resonant sound. This alloy has been refined enabling a gong to be more than one case circumference long. This unique gong has earned the title of the “cathedral gong” as it sounds the hour with a rich tone likened to the reverberating cathedral bells.

3. The Tourbillon

From the very beginning of my watch infatuation, the tourbillion has mesmerized me. It is a good thing I do not own one as it clearly would effect my daily routine. I would miss many duties as I sit and gaze at its rotation. The Tourbillon was invented in 1795 by French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, a century after Newton defined gravity. Breguet reasoned that as a result of the constant position of the vertical position of the pocket watch, the balance spring is confounded by the effect of gravity effecting the accuracy of the watch. This error could be compensated with a tourbillion whereby the escapement, balance wheel, and balance spring is placed in a rotating carriage which turns once per minute on its own axis. In the Sky Moon Tourbillon, the tourbillion, the balance wheel and the fourth wheel are positioned on a single axis. This unique placement is difficult to accomplish but it provides the best functional opportunity to the tourbillion. The Tourbillon is finely crafted from steel, comprising of 69 individual pieces and weighing in total a mere .03 grams.

4. The Sidereal Time.

The Sidereal time is the measure of the position of the earth in its rotation around its axis. In the Sky Moon Tourbillon this feature is indicated by two hands from the center on the reverse side of the watch. The sidereal time is indicated on a 24-hour scale.

5. Direction of the night sky with the movement of the stars.
6. The Orbit of the Moon
7. The Moon Phases

This is a rare feature of a wrist watch and it is indicated on the reverse side of the watch. The canopy of the Northern (or upon request Southern) hemisphere rotates counter clockwise beneath the scratch resistant sapphire crystal case back, portraying the movement of the stars and the moon, the meridian passages of Sirius – the brightest star in the night sky , the moon as well as its waxing and waning moon phases. An elliptical contour indicates the part of the night sky viewed from a specific location. This masterpiece comprises of a gear train specifically built for this complication.

Patek Phillipe has successfully achieved an unprecedented level of precision in its astronomical display.

The “Sky Moon Tourbillon” is manually wound and is comprised of 694 individual parts. Each part is hand finished. Each edge is finely beveled and every single tooth of every gear is carefully hand polished in an additional process using a rotating hardwood disc. The plate and the module with the perpetual calendar are finished on either side with a technique of circular graining – “perlage” The bridges are engraved with Geneva striping. This additional polishing and engraving earn the prestigious Geneva Seal as well as the COSC Chronometer certificate.

The case is available in 18k yellow gold or solid platinum which is aesthetically pleasing. The “Sky Moon Tourbillon” is by no means a small watch at 42.8 millimteres in diameter and 16.25 millimeters in height; however, the exceptional craftsmanship provides a distinctive elegance to the watch. The case is decorated with the engraving of halved Calatrava Crosses. Calatrava Crosses also adorn the middle of the dial. The Calatrava Cross is the brand symbol of today’s Patek Phillipe. The Crosses roots extend deep into the middle ages to the year 1158. It was in that year that a Spanish religious order defended the Calatrava citadel against the moors. Patek Phillipe adopted the emblem of these brave knights at the end of the 19th century.
The crown at the 4 ‘o’clock position winds the movement and sets the hands on the front of the watch. The crown positioned at the 2 ‘o clock rectifies the position of the sky chart and the hands on the reverse side of the watch that indicate the sidereal time. When turned in the opposite direction, this crown corrects the position of the moon and the moon phase display. A setting stylus is used to activate a number of correction button on the side of the case. The button between the 11 and 12 ‘o clock corrects the date and the day of the week, the button between the 3 and 4 ‘o clock corrects the month and the button between the 6 and 7 ‘o clock corrects only the day of the week. The minute repeater slide is recessed in the case on the left hand side. The strap is hand stitched crocodile leather. The front of the dial is crafted from gold, coated with silvery opaline. The hours are indicated by Roman Numerals. The retrograde date display is located between the 2 and 10 o’ clock position with a fueille hand made of blued steel.

This wristwatch is one of the Patek Phillipe’s most complicated wristwatches ever introduced as a regular production. The movements alone take many months to complete and as a result of the intensive production, assembly and meticulous regulating procedures, annual production is limited to two timepieces.

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