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The Millennium Watch Book
Patek Philippe - 5101P 10 jours Tourbillon

Patek Philippe 5101P 10 jours Tourbillon

This watch and its special-shaped movement consolidated Patek Philippe’s position at the very top of the watchmaking industry, thanks to the model’s aesthetic appearance, the complication it housed, as well its originality and its price*

In 2003, Patek Philippe embarked on a new era with the launch of an unparalleled wristwatch. The 5101P 10 Jours Tourbillon was the only one to feature a special-shaped calibre equipped with a tourbillon regulating organ and a power reserve of over three days, even indulging in the luxury of a total of ten days. What is more, it came in a special-shaped platinum case, an unwitting harbinger of the neo-vintage style. Although the brand had never ceased production of Grand Complications, this marked a significant change. The very expensive 5101P and its extremely special shape was positioned right at the top of the scale in the sector. It could be said that Patek Philippe had just upped its game, asserting itself as a benchmark for the highest of high-end watchmaking.

Principles

The movement and watch marked the finishing touches to Patek Philippe’s style guide. The brand doesn’t put its tourbillons on display; they aren’t visible through a cutaway in the dial; no skeletonisation lays them bare; they aren’t there as some sort of sideshow attraction. Their role is purely horological. This same logic helps explain the wording on the dial: the presence of the word ‘tourbillon’ and the individual movement number appearing in the small seconds display owe their ancestry to Observatory Competition timepieces.

Discretion

This exercise of discretion on Patek Philippe’s part positioned it in a different register right from the outset, turning its back on the tawdry dumbing-down that was already threatening to engulf tourbillons. The name of the timepiece itself is revealing: by putting the words ‘10 Jours’ before the word ‘Tourbillon’, the idea that the rotating regulating organ was some sort of be-all, end-all, general panacea for all-comers was turned on its head. The complication had indeed been used in very few timepieces in the history of the brand. Its aim remained unchanged from the days when Patek Philippe’s timing specialists sought chiefly to make their mark at Chronometry and Observatory Competitions: that of running accuracy above all else.

Finishes

That didn’t stop the firm paying special attention to finishes – quite the opposite. The brand still ensured all its timepieces would receive the Geneva Seal. The gradually receding, triple-gadrooned case is stretched lengthwise, with even longer lugs to match. Its polishing is exemplary, despite being made from platinum, a material that is hard to machine and endow with a sheen. The case is convex, mirroring the curve of the wrist and going another step further into the Art Deco style. The sapphire crystal cover is convex too, something virtually unprecedented at that time: back in 2003, machining a sapphire crystal that was convex on both sides was a real achievement; it’s hard to imagine the price of this component alone.

5101P 10 jours Tourbillon

5101P 10 Jours Tourbillon © Patek Philippe

Details

The solid rose gold dial is marked with improbably elegant 1920s applied Arabic numerals. As for the movement, every imaginable sophistication has been lavished on it. Six of the 29 jewels are set in gold bezels. The very broad tourbillon bridge has two blade-rounded arms, fashioned into an oblong shape by dint of file and burnisher. The steel cage weighs just 0.3g, which is especially light, particularly for the time. It is fully hand-finished: chamfered, polished, and satin-brushed in an operation estimated by the brand to amount to a full week’s work. The working hours spent on timing are not mentioned, but with the brand firmly committed to average time gains not exceeding one second and average losses not exceeding two seconds per day for its tourbillons, it is easy to imagine that the process takes far longer than usual. Seen in that light, undergoing the COSC test must have been a mere formality.

Posterity

Patek Philippe has produced very few tourbillons since. The brand treats them as it did between the 1940s and the 1970s: as exceptional creations; literally, exceptions to the rule. Witness the fact that the 28-20/222 calibre remains the only one from the brand to offer a tourbillon without any other prestigious complication. It now comes with a minute repeater – at the least. Patek Philippe has never opened the floodgates, preferring to hold back from massively increasing the number of its movements and models; it has never lowered the level of finishes and timing on its these timepieces, either. Its legacy is chronometric and historical in essence, thus contributing to the firm’s ongoing – and discreet – affirmation of its supremacy.

*This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years of the Tourbillon in  The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

 

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Patek Philippe enjoys outstanding renown and rare prestige, due to the constancy with which the Manufacture has applied its philosophy of excellence ever since it was founded.

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