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Review: Le Monde en Cloisons – The Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5231J

by Frank Chuo on July 29, 2019

Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5231J

The world time watch (a.k.a. world timer) is synonymous with Patek Philippe. The illustrious Geneva-based manufacturer began working with Louis Cottier back in the 1930s, using his patented method to display the time zones across the globe, and have continued to keep at least one world time reference in their catalogue for most years since. In 2016, Patek Philippe introduced the World Time Ref. 5230, bringing in a host of subtle changes to the core design of the brand’s world time watch, and effectively replacing preceding models. This year, a new world time reference – based on the Ref. 5230 – joins the fray, and boy will this one stir a frenzy. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the new World Time Ref. 5231J.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The Ref. 5231J features the exact same case design as the Ref. 5230. Itself a refreshed design back in 2016, the case comes with evocative winglet-style lugs and a flat polished bezel. But while the Ref. 5230 is available in white and rose gold, the new Ref. 5231 is currently only available in 5N yellow gold (hence the J designation in the reference number). On the flanks of the case are the crown at 3 o’clock – for time-setting and winding – and a pusher at 10 o’clock to advance the hour hand, city disc, and 24-hour disc.

The Ref. 5231J cuts an elegant figure with its entirely polished case and nuanced winglet lugs.

The highlight of the Ref. 5231J is in the dial, mainly its enamel centre. Patek Philippe enamel world time watches are some of the most coveted timepieces around, and this is what makes the Ref. 5231J special. The type of enamelling technique used here is called cloisonné. Cloisonné enamelling involves soldering metal wires – gold, in this case – bent to the outline of a design and filling the resulting cloisons (French: compartments) with vitreous enamel paste. The aforementioned design on the Ref. 5231J is a stylised map of the Americas, Europe, and Africa. When the cloisons have been filled with enamel paste, they are fired in an oven until perfection. We find the use of coloured enamel by Patek Philippe’s enamellers to be particularly masterful. There are various shades of blue for the oceans, as well as green and brown for the land masses. Four gold dots on each of the quarter hour marks complete the look.

The colours in the enamel center are remarkably rich.

Apart from the dial center being different to that of the 2016 World Time Ref. 5230, one other notable change is in the hour hand. Here, it is rendered in the style of an exaggerated open-tipped hand, with a short body and a relatively large ring that is followed by a tip. The hour hand in the Ref. 5230 was more geometric, resembling an openworked pentagon with a tip.

Moving on to the periphery of the dial, there are the names of the 24 cities representing the 24 time zones in the world that are offset by an hour. These designated cities change over time, and was last updated on Patek Philippe timepieces in 2016 with the introduction of the Ref. 5230. The Ref. 5231J also uses the same list of cities.

The Movement

Driving the Ref. 5231J is the tried and trusted Calibre 240 HU, the same calibre that is used in the Ref. 5230. The 239-part, 33-jewel movement boasts some of Patek Philippe’s most iconic innovations, including the the Gyromax balance and the Spiromax balance spring. It has a minimum power reserve of 48 hours and operates at a traditional 3 Hz beat rate.

The Calibre 240 HU as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

It probably goes without saying that the movement is splendidly finished, in accordance to the standards set by the Patek Philippe Seal which this movement bears. Across the bridges are even Geneva waves with perfectly aligned continuity. The edges are expertly chamfered and polished with plenty of rounded and outward angles. Adorning the top surface of these bridges are gold-filled engravings, as well as mirror-polished screw heads. Then of course there’s the unmissable 22k gold minirotor that has also been decorated with Geneva waves, and then engraved with the Calatrava cross, the company’s logo. The Calibre 240 may be what most enthusiasts regard as a “workhorse movement”, but, quite paradoxically, it boasts finissage that is superior to most.

The Competitive Landscape

World timers are increasingly more common these days, but there’s nothing quite like a Patek Philippe World Time watch, especially one with an enamel center. The brand’s enamel world timers have historically been some of the most prized and valuable watches sold at auctions; the Ref. 5231J will likely be no exception. While it is not a limited edition timepiece, expect supply to be tightly controlled, in terms of production numbers and who gets to buy it. The Ref. 5231J is priced at CHF65,000.

Measuring just 38.5 mm x 10.23 mm, the Ref. 5231J will slip under any dress cuff with ease.

The most immediate competitors to the brand when it comes to world timers is undoubtedly neighbours Vacheron Constantin. The longstanding Genevan watch manufacturer not only makes both dressy and sporty world timers, it also crafts them to the same superlative level. The most recent world timer model to grace Vacheron Constantin catalogues is the Overseas World Time. Much like its dressier cousin, the Traditionelle World Time, it displays the time in 37 time zones simultaneously (rather than the standard 24), making it one of the most complete world time wristwatches ever made. Being an Overseas model, the watch benefits from the proprietary strap quick-change system where one can swap the bracelet out for the leather or rubber strap that comes with purchase, tool-free. Available in stainless steel and in three different dial colours, the Overseas World Time retails at SGD56,900 or approximately CHF40,000. While nowhere as collectible as an enamel world timer by Patek Philippe, it is certainly worth a consideration given its lower price and equal quality.

The Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time – perfect for any type of traveler.

The ultimate bang for buck pick, however, has to go to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Geophysic Universal Time. While larger in size and not as well-finished as its Genevan rivals, it boasts a movement that makes it all worth it. The Calibre 772 not only has a world time function but also a seconde morte functionality (read more about it here). In addition, beating within the movement is the manufacturer’s own Gyrolab balance. First seen in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Extreme Lab Concept watch circa 2007, the double-JL shaped balance was designed to offer greater precision in time-keeping. Priced at about USD15,000 for the steel variant, and USD25,000 for the gold variant, the Geophysic Universal Time remains one of the most value-for-money world timers available in the market today.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time in rose gold. The dial features an engraved motif of the map of the Earth. Continents in rose gold, and a magnificent blue lacquer for the oceans.

Final Thoughts

What makes Patek Philippe’s enamel world timers so special – including the new Ref. 5231J – can be broken down into three key aspects: its métiers d’art aspect, high watchmaking aspect, and last but not least, provenance. Not much has changed with the release of the Ref. 5231J compared to the older models of the brand’s enamel world timers. In fact, not much has changed since the Ref. 96 HU – the very first world timer housed in a Calatrava case. After all, why should there be significant alterations when the original design is already perfection? With the introduction of the Ref. 5231J, the legacy of Patek Philippe and its world time watches continues with immutable strength.

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