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Review: Patek Philippe Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time

The substitute alarm clock
by Chester Lau on April 20, 2019

Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time

Patek Philippe released the new self-winding grand complication that adds a 24-hour alarm to its exclusive Travel Time display with two time zones; the alarm signal is struck by a hammer on a classic gong. The new Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time.

The case and dial

At first sight, the Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time is reminiscent of another Patek Philippe watch launched in 2015: the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. Inspired by the heyday of aviation, that model has two time zones and is currently available in two versions, the Ref. 5524 men’s wristwatch and the Ref. 7234 for ladies. Patek Philippe adopted the characteristic aviators’ style of the case as well as the nearly identical dimensions. This was possible even though the new movement is much more complex. With a tremendous effort, the engineers were able to further miniaturize the components and subassemblies. With a diameter of 42.2 mm and a height of 11.57 mm as well as an integrated bezel and integrated lugs, the case is cold-formed with a high-tonnage press from a blank in platinum, the most precious noble metal but also the one that is most difficult to machine. The forming process is followed by precision machining as well as painstaking and elaborate polishing in the manufacturer’s ateliers. The smooth bezel is slightly beveled while the caseband merges with the slightly curved lugs. Like all Patek Philippe platinum watches, the Alarm Travel Time is set with a diamond in the case flank at 6 o’clock.

With its technical appeal and elegance, the dial assures optimized readability and underscores its provenance in the aviators’ watch segment. The large applied Arabic numerals and the broad baton hands – all in white gold with a white Superluminova coating – contrast well against the sunburst ebony black background. The skeletonized home-time hour hand rotates discreetly on a second plane, as is the case with all Travel Time watches. The white seconds hand moves its tip along a railway track minute scale with five-minute dots coated with Superluminova. The small white hand in the subdial at 6 o’clock indicates the date along a scale from 1 to 31; the “1” is red to accentuate the first day of a month. A thin, flat sapphire-crystal glass improves the sonority of the alarm melody. In the interest of visual balance, the crown at 4 o’clock has the same design as the three fluted crowns but does not need a safety interlock.

The watch is worn on a matte black calfskin strap with contrast stitching that matches the dial. The strap is secured with a platinum clevis prong buckle; its design is reserved for aviators’ timepieces.

The complication challenge

When Patek Philippe’s engineers were asked to develop a new alarm mechanism and to combine it with the Travel Time concept’s two-time-zone arrangement, one objective was to make the watch as thin as possible. Thus, they opted for an integrated movement which requires less height than a caliber with an additional module but is also much more difficult to design and produce. They also wanted this new grand complication to be easily operable, intuitively functional, and protected against incorrect handling. In brief: They wanted it to be an intelligent watch.

That was the starting point for the new caliber AL 30-660 S C FUS, a movement composed of 574 parts and conceived explicitly for this timepiece. This highly complex self-winding movement has a central rotor; it is 31 mm in diameter and 6.6 mm high. Its Gyromax® balance features a Spiromax® balance spring made of Silinvar®, a derivative of silicon. The unique properties of this avant-garde material and the patented geometry of the hairspring assure superb reliability and extreme rate accuracy pursuant to the directives of the Patek Philippe Seal that prescribes a maximum tolerance of -3/+2 seconds per day. The movement has a stop-seconds mechanism that allows the time to be set with one-second accuracy. A sapphire crystal display back reveals the refined architecture and exquisite finissage of the movement, including chamfered and polished bridge edges, a 21K gold rotor with new rounded recesses, and the decorative Genevan circular graining pattern.

Creating the 2 time-zones

Introduced in 1997, the exclusive Travel Time function stands out with its ingenious two-time-zone system. The watch has two hour hands from the center. One is skeletonized and displays home time. The other is filled and indicates the local time at the owner’s current location. These hour hands are paired with two day/night indicators (blue-white) in small round apertures – at 3:30 for home time (HOME) and at 8:30 for local time (LOCAL). On the go, all it takes is the actuation of the pushers in the left-hand case flank to adjust the local time clockwise in one-hour increments (pusher at 8 o’clock) or counterclockwise (pusher at 10 o’clock). The intelligent concept of the time-zone mechanism prevents the rate accuracy of the watch from being affected when traveling across time zones. To simplify adjustments, the pushers are embossed with the symbols + and –. Before a pusher can be actuated, it must be unlocked with a quarter turn, easily accomplished thanks to the fluting; a quarter turn in the opposite direction locks the pusher again. The watch remains water-resistant even when the pushers are unlocked. The analog date with the subsidiary dial in the lower half of the dial is synchronized with local time. Therefore, it automatically increments or decrements when the local-time hour hand is moved forward or backward past midnight.

The 24-hour alarm

To create a useful travel watch, Patek Philippe combined the two time zones with an alarm that like the date is coupled with local time. The alarm function is not a new feature for the manufacture. A wake-up alarm struck on a fifth gong was one of the 33 complications of the famous Calibre 89, for 25 years the world’s most complicated portable timepiece. For Patek Philippe’s Grandmaster Chime launched in 2014, the manufacture presented five strikework functions including an alarm. A global debut, it strikes the preset alarm time with the same tone sequences as those sounded by the minute repeater. Now, for the new Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time, the manufacture also chose an alarm concept that features a classic gong. When the alarm is triggered, a hammer (visible through the display back) strikes a gong that circles the movement for up to 40 seconds with a frequency of 2.5 Hz (2.5 strikes per second). This is equivalent to about 90 strikes in total. As in the minute repeaters, a centrifugal governor beneath a bridge with the Calatrava cross assures a regular and sustained striking cadence.

The alarm mechanism has its own, separate spring barrel that is tensioned with a crown at the 4 o’clock. A built-in clutch prevents inadvertent overtightening. A noteworthy detail: the new Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time is Patek Philippe’s first chiming timepiece with a water-resistant case – a big asset for people who travel to countries with moist tropical climates. To assure maximum sound quality, the gong is attached directly to the caseband and not to the movement as usual. This reduces the attenuation of the sound waves by the water-resistant case.

Concluding thoughts

Patek Philippe’s Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time is indeed in a class of its own. Although there are similar complication watches available by Breguet and Glashutte Original, Patek stands out with a movement a cut above its competition (if any considering the price difference). Most alarm watches with the exception of a Breguet La Musicale use the more common cricket alarm. This is a buzz as opposed to a chime that is used in the Patek Philippe. The multi functions and high attention to usability with an unparalleled thinness is a respectable achievement for the brand. That said, the biggest qualm for many, may be the choice to use 4 big crown (pushers) instead of a more subdued button pusher on the left side of the watch. Perhaps this aesthetic choice is predicated on the brand’s intention to create a retro esque Pilot’s watch, with the functionality of accessing the crowns from the fingertips of a glove clad fighter pilot. Notwithstanding, this pilot has to be one with extremely deep pockets; the watch is priced at €204,050

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