The most intriguing thing about Patek Philippe’s Ref. 5750P is not that it revolutionises chiming mechanisms, or even that it is an entirely new aesthetic proposition from the maison. It is that, by its own admission, the 5750P is an imperfect product. At its digital launch, CEO and fourth-generation brand leader Thierry Stern outlined the two main aspects by which a minute repeater is judged: volume and sound character. The Patek Philippe 5750P is a concerted effort at the former, and almost entirely the former. It represented a challenge tackled by Patek Philippe’s ‘Advanced Research’ division – the department that has been pushing the envelope with various innovations since 2005. Thus the 5750P, which involved three years of development and four patents, is christened ‘Advanced Research’ Fortissimo. ‘Fortissimo’ is Italian for ‘very loud,’ and is often seen as the abbreviation ff in musical notation.
The 5750P builds on the extant Ref. 5178, a refined but conventional cathedral gong minute repeater. It is based on the same self-winding calibre R 27 PS, with the all-new striking module on the back, isolated with a polymer layer to prevent unwanted vibrational crosstalk. As is often the case with these innovations, it is conceptually quite simple. It is, in fact, the same principle as that of the phonograph, which mechanically amplifies sound by transmitting vibrations to a membrane via a lever.
In the Patek Philippe 5750P, the hammers and gongs are anchored to the side of the case, attached with a pivot to an arm that acts as a tuning fork. This arm is the lever; it extends into the centre of the case, on which is mounted a sapphire wafer that acts like a loudspeaker. Sapphire was chosen for its rigidity and lightness, with transparency as a welcome – some would say essential – consequence that allows full movement visibility.
The lever’s length is a key quality that amplifies the sound, transmitting it to the sapphire wafer, which vibrates up and down within the space between movement and caseback. A considerable amount of air is moved in the process, which translates to volume. Said volume is directed out of the case through four ports, allows the sound to travel outwards in a focused manner – a bit like the iconic flared horn of a phonograph. These ports are hidden from the outside in a gap between caseback and caseband. They are also filtered to prevent dust ingress, but the watch is not water resistant. Despite the new system, the 5750P is only about half a millimetre thicker than the 5178, for a total thickness of just 11.1mm.
Traditional minute repeaters use the case as a fundamental part of sound projection; in the 5750P it is completely independent. The case is therefore made of platinum, which is considered a suboptimal material for sound transmission due to the muted tones it tends to produce, just to make a point. The hammers themselves are also made from platinum, which imparts a softer, more rounded sound, and this must be one of the rare times in history that such a quality is desired – or practical – in a minute repeater.
The results are quantifiably impressive. According to Patek Philippe, the striking of something like their standard-bearer Ref. 5178 is audible up to about ten metres. The Patek Philippe 5750P can be heard at up to 60 metres. The sound also lingers for longer, and the duration of the maximum 32 strikes at 12:59 is 20 to 21 seconds, up from 17 to 18 on the 5178.
Aesthetically, the 5750P has a 40mm platinum case and sports a radical new dial design – radical for Patek Philippe, that is. So radical, in fact, that Stern says his father would never have given it the go-ahead, mainly because the small seconds indicator – which is a rotating disc with an understated arrow – is not traditionally legible. The two-layer dial overlays a satin-finished upper with cut-outs inspired by 1960s car wheels on top of a black spiral base. The ruthenium-blackened markers are a polished contrast. The result is also striking all on its own, and Patek Philippe’s traditional idiosyncrasies aside, it looks every inch the finely finished, mid-century-inspired grand complication timepiece. In another daring move – again, daring for Patek Philippe, specifically – the platinum rotor on the back is also decorated with laser texturing with a design to match the front.
As for the sound character – well, it is subjective. The science says that it has a stronger attack and a bass-heavy resonance. It could be said that it has an insistent, strident quality that is at odds with the rounded tones expected of tuned striking timepieces. Stern himself is not satisfied, saying that in terms of sound character, the 5750P is ‘about 50 per cent’ to where he would want it to be. He is also adamant that it should be heard while on the wrist, which improves the harmony.
But of course, volume was the goal, and to this end the Patek Philippe 5750P is unarguably exceptional. Only fifteen pieces will be produced, sure to be snapped up by collectors. After all, they are not buying an imperfect timepiece – they are buying a concrete record of the stepwise innovations of one of the world’s foremost horological maisons as it continues to reach new heights.