Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5131/1P-001
As one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers in the world, Patek Philippe has, over the years, brought us many horological icons. If you are acquainted with the history of the luxury steel sports watch, most notably ones designed by the legendary Gerald Genta; the dress perpetual calendar chronograph; and of course, the world timer, then you are likely to be acquainted with the illustrious Geneva-based manufacturer as well. Out of all these distinguished icons, the world timer is perhaps the most poetic and romantic. With the help of a talented watchmaker, Louis Cottier, Patek Philippe managed to produce the world’s first world time wristwatch in 1937. Fast forward 80 years, the world time watch remains one of the most integral pieces of the modern Patek Philippe collection. This year, Patek Philippe has given one of its most coveted world time references, the Ref. 5131, an opulent makeover. For the first time, the Ref. 5131 is available in platinum – with a platinum bracelet no less. Here, we bring you the details of the new Patek Philippe Ref. 5131/1P-001 and our thoughts on how it compares to its contemporaries.
The case, dial, and hands
The Ref. 5131/1P-001 has a case that is very much in line with the times, with a diameter of 39.5 mm. While the back of the case is brushed, the case middle and the rounded bezel are polished to a spectacular sheen. So as to not clutter the dial or disrupt its cohesive design, the manufacturer’s marquee is subtly engraved onto the bezel instead – ‘PATEK PHILIPPE’ at 12 o’clock, ‘GENEVE’ at 6 o’clock. On the case flanks, a pusher at 10 o’clock allows the owner to conveniently switch time zones while a diamond set into the case at 6 o’clock inconspicuously testifies that the watch is made of platinum, the most noble of metals. The latest Ref. 5131 variant continues to utilise the unique open-tipped hour hand and dauphine minute hand seen in current and previous world time references. The case is matched with an equally opulent rice bead link bracelet in full platinum. The bracelet is as comfortable on the wrist as it is resplendent but has always been embroiled in a ‘love it or hate it’ affair with enthusiasts. We suspect that it may be due to its “feminine” or “outdated” design but there is no questioning its craftsmanship and ergonomics. The use of a bracelet also means that the Ref. 5131/1P-001 is the least dressy variant of the Ref. 5131 world time watches from Patek Philippe and is thus the easiest to dress down with – perfect for the leisure traveller.
As stunning and well-crafted the case and bracelet are, the dial of the Ref. 5131/1P-001 remains the star of the show. The dial is decorated with a stylised map of the Earth with the North Pole centred, made entirely of enamel. The particular enamelling technique used in the Ref. 5131 is called cloisonné enamelling. It involves hand-bending gold wires and applying them to the outlines of the dial design thus forming partitions or cloisons. These cloisons are filled in with enamel paste (often an enamel powder and water mixture) and fired in a kiln, resulting in a detailed and colourful end product. Around the enamel centre are the 24-hour ring with day/night indicator and the 24 cities representing the world’s 24 principal time zones. All these elements combine to form what is an absolutely classy world timer dial. There is nothing novel about the dial design but why change the recipe when it is such a cult hit?
Inside the Ref. 5131/1P-001 beats the self-winding Calibre 240 HU, which is based on the Calibre 240. The legendary base Calibre 240 celebrates in 40th birthday this year. Since its world debut in 1977 with the ultra-thin Ref. 3738 Golden Ellipse, the Calibre 240 has been optimised in many respects but still retains its original DNA. The movement still beats at a traditional 21,600 semi-oscillations per hour but now with the patented Spiromax balance spring in Silinvar manufactured in-house. A 22k gold unidirectional micro-rotor winds the movements to provide a minimum of 48 hours power reserve. Bearing the Patek Philippe Seal, the movement is highly precise (with a rate accuracy that ranges between -3/+2 seconds per day) and of course, immaculately finished. The Geneva waves on the surface of the bridges are beautifully highlighted by polished chamfers. Gold-filled engravings of the manufacturer’s marquee and the ‘PP’ emblem decorate the silver expanse of bridges. The iconic gold micro-rotor is also textured with Geneva waves and features an engraving of the Calatrava cross, which the brand uses as its logo. Even the less-appreciated perlage on the base plate and the circular graining on the wheels are executed perfectly. The Calibre 240 HU, which has an additional world time function, continues to carry the torch for the legendary Calibre 240. As we see it, the calibre is further away from retirement than inception as it remains one of Patek Philippe’s finest automatic movements ever.
The competitive landscape
The new Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5131/1P-001 is priced at USD130,413. Before jumping into the comparison game, we must ask: what exactly qualifies as a ‘world time watch’? Quite simply, a world time watch has to display the time for not just two time zones (like in a simple dual-time or GMT watch) but all the 24 principal time zones simultaneously. This means watches like the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone (in spite of its 24-city chapter ring) are not world time watches as they do not track the 24 principal time zones at once.
The importance of the world time watch to Patek Philippe cannot be understated, so much so that last year, the brand released not one, but two novelties with the world time function, one of which was the Ref. 5230. The Ref. 5230 was introduced to replace the Ref. 5130 and is powered by the same calibre found in the new Ref. 5131. The main differences between the Ref. 5131 and Ref. 5230 are found on the dial. The Ref. 5230 features scale-like guilloché patterns on the centre medallion of the dial instead of enamel. The design of the hour hand is inspired by the Southern Cross constellation while the minute hand is lozenge-styled. The cities listed around the centre medallion and their positions are also a little different – for instance, the Ref. 5230 features ‘S.GEORGIA’ instead of ‘SAO PAOLO’, which is found on the Ref. 5131; and ‘AUCKLAND’ is one time zone ahead in Ref. 5230 compared to the Ref. 5131. Crafted in gold, the Ref. 5230 is priced at a fraction of the Ref. 5131 at USD47,600. Overall, the differences between the two references are purely aesthetics-/material-related and not technical.
The heavy use of platinum (a metal that is dearer and harder to manipulate than gold) in the new Ref. 5131 and its cloisonné enamel dial account for part of the USD82,813 premium over the Ref. 5230, but definitely not all of it. The exorbitant pricing of the new Ref. 5131 is also influenced by the high demand for Patek Philippe enamel dial world time watches. As we’ve stressed earlier, these watches are highly coveted; they are difficult to obtain and fetch a pretty penny when sold. There is no doubt that the price of the new Ref. 5131 has been adjusted to reflect its cult status and in accordance to the sublime auction performance of the reference. The Ref. 5230 is regrettably considered ‘standard issue’ by comparison and does not enjoy the same cult status as the Ref. 5131. On the bright side, the Ref. 5230 is significantly more accessible in terms of price and availability and will still provide plenty of joy to the horologically-inclined.
Just a few doorsteps away, neighbours Vacheron Constantin have recently announced the release of the new Traditionelle World Time with blue enamel dial, several weeks after the conclusion of SIHH 2017. The new Traditionelle and the Ref. 5131 are similar in that they are both platinum watches with stylised enamel world maps. The enamel on the Traditionelle however is achieved by a different method called grisaille enamelling. In the case of the Traditionelle, this technique involves applying white enamel to the blue enamel base and painting out the continents with needles and brushes. The cities disc – with 37 cities, including those in half and quarter hour time zones – is also blue enamel. The other main difference found in the Traditionelle is its function setting – rather than using a pusher, all of the settings of the watch is made exclusively through the crown. The Calibre 2460 WT which powers the Traditionelle has a full-sized winding rotor and is of course finished to standards comparable to that of the Ref. 5131. Of the two watches, the Traditionelle is – ironically – the less traditional due to its 42.5 mm size and contemporary font choice. The new Traditionelle is a limited edition of 10 pieces available only at the brand’s boutiques. The price? USD104,000, which is comparable to the Patek given that the Vacheron hasn’t got a platinum bracelet. We feel that the new Traditionelle World Time is the more interesting piece, but the Ref. 5131 remains the more iconic watch and the more coveted of the two. Regardless, one thing is a certainty: if you are in the market for the finest world time watches, you cannot go wrong with either.
The Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5131/1P-001 is a magnificent piece of art, although some may think otherwise of the platinum bracelet. Deep pockets and connections will be required to secure a piece but given how iconic and important the reference is, it will likely be worth the trouble.