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The Best of Times II- Top Watches of Baselworld 2014

The 2014 Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show opened its doors on March 27 to the first of more than 122,000 anticipated visitors. Baselworld, whose history dates to 1917, is the premier industry tradeshow for manufacturers of luxury goods in the jewelry and prestige watch sectors.

Notable among over 1,400 exhibitors and countless new products in the cavernous Herzog and de Meuron-designed Basel Exhibition Hall was a controversial model launch from a patrician among watchmakers: Patek Philippe.

Patek watch

Among purveyors of luxury goods, Patek ranks among the last companies one would expect to retrench on MSRP or offer a product variant at a discount to established references in the same model lines.

Yet this Geneva institution, which dwells in the highest strata of new model pricing, is taking the rare measure of offering a series-produced complicated watch in steel.

Patek’s 5960/1A-001 has been one of the shock debuts of Baselworld 2014. 2006’s original 5960P annual calendar chronograph was a seminal model in the manufacture’s history. It was the company’s first in-house automatic chronograph, it pioneered new machine-based production processes, and it relieved some of Patek’s dependence on Swatch-owned Lemania for chronograph base movements.

While Patek traditionalists assailed the original 5960’s case volume, weight, “monocounter” chronograph dial, and even its price point of under $100,000 USD, the model sold well.

patek watches

However, the last of the recently discontinued 5960 rose gold and platinum units still retailed for MSRPs in the $80-90K range. The 1A-001’s MSRP of $54,000 represents a new world for Patek Philippe complications. This price approaches Rolex Yacthmaster II and Sky-Dweller territory, and it reflects a bold down-market drive by Patek’s controlling shareholders, the Stern family.

Luxury goods inherently are emotional items, but Patek’s clear intention with the 1A-001 is to make a more rational economic appeal to potential customers.

Designers of the 1A-001 forgo the polarizing colors of the precious metal variants for a sober palette of white, black, and red. A black-and-white sector style rehaut lines the outer circumference of the subtly grained white dial; black hour indexes, calendar apertures, and a power-reserve index provide contrast. The scarlet red chronograph seconds hand and monocounter minute index stand in stark relief against the greyscale features of the dial.

The design of the monocounter itself represents a significant revision to the original 5960’s signature (and most controversial) design element. The 1A-001 moves the hour index to the outer circumference of the dial, and the minute index is withdrawn to the inner ring of the dial. Patek’s subtle AM/PM indicator window remains at bottom center on the sub dial.

Within the case lies Patek’s in-house CH 28-520 IRM QA 24H movement. The alphanumeric overload befits an engine of its myriad refinements. Patek designed the device as its first integrated, automatic, and in-house chronograph. The gold winding weight pivots on lubricant and maintenance-free ceramic ball bearings.

The chronograph is actuated by conventional pushers via a column wheel selector, and a refined vertical clutch assembly performs the engagement. Due to the design of the vertical clutch and underlying powertrain, the chronograph can remain engaged full-time with no danger to the mechanism. This allows the timing of long intervals or the use of the chronograph seconds hand as a constant seconds hand (the 5960 has no conventional seconds indication).

Patek’s in-house annual calendar function adds a unique compliment to the core chronograph complication. It features a three-element day/date/month display via apertures, and the AM/PM indicator at 6 allows the calendar to be updated correctly in the event that the watch is allowed to stop.

A power reserve of 60 hours ensures sufficient autonomy and abundant energy to run the watch’s array of secondary functions. A small power reserve indicator at 12 allows owners to avoid inconvenient resetting due to inadvertent stoppage.

More than any other company, Patek Philippe has come to embody the ne plus ultra of the luxury watch industry. It has done so by hewing religiously to the expectations of its small but vocal clientele and the conservative sensibility of the Sterns. Many traditional collectors pre-order new Patek Philippes without knowing the price in advance and take delivery without negotiating a discount.

In the past – or even within the current catalog – Patek watches with three-hand time-only displays easily rivaled the MSRP of this new steel chronograph. The challenge facing Patek Philippe is to preserve its sheen of exclusivity, upscale hauteur, and elite aura while pursuing a new crowd of clients who respond more readily to price than to pedigree.

Patek’s newest addition to the 5960 family ensures that the reference will remain a lightning rod for controversy. Like the 2006 original, this is a striking watch with a formidable engine, fascinating complications, and a unique place in Patek Philippe history. A watch this controversial, daring, and historically significant deserves to be considered a star of Baselworld 2014.

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