As a tribute to its former president Philippe Stern’s 85th birthday, Patek Philippe has created a special series known as Reference 1938, acknowledging the year of his birth. It is equipped with a new movement combining a minute repeater and an alarm that chimes the programmed time on the same two classic gongs.
Four new patents have been filed for this self-winding R AL 27 PS calibre, which will never be used again.
The Grand Feu black enamel 18K gold dial features a portrait of Philippe Stern in Grand Feu white and grey miniature painting on enamel. Crafted with meticulous precision, a tiny masterpiece emerges through delicate strokes – a manifestation of one of the esteemed handcrafts that the honorary president of the manufacture has diligently cultivated. The timepiece features applied Breguet-style numerals and hour and minute hands in white gold, providing an elegant contrast to the rose gold of the alarm hand and scale, enhancing the overall sophistication of the time display.
The platinum Officer’s-style case is fitted with a sapphire crystal case-back protected by a hinged dust cover hand-engraved with “À mon père, 85 ans de passion horlogère” (To my father, 85 years of watchmaking passion). It was Thierry Stern’s idea to honour his father in this manner. He is the fourth generation of the Stern family, appointed president in 2009, and commissioned his father’s favourite complication for the piece.
Its complex mechanism (that chimes the programmed time) was one of five acoustic functions and one of two patented world firsts unveiled in 2014 for the manufacture’s 175th anniversary on the Grandmaster Chime Reference 5175, the most complicated Patek Philippe wristwatch (20 complications).
In 1989, to mark the manufacturer’s 150th anniversary, Philippe Stern, the company director at the time, initiated the resurgence of wrist-worn minute repeaters. He introduced the renowned self-winding calibre R 27, the inaugural movement of its kind crafted entirely in the manufacture’s workshops. Since then, minute repeaters have reclaimed a prominent position in Patek Philippe’s product lineup, now comprising the most extensive collection of these wristwatches in regular production. Over a dozen timepieces showcase this Grand Complication, individually or combined with other functions (such as grande and petite sonnerie, tourbillon, perpetual calendar, chronograph, World Time, etc.).
The 41mm platinum case, hand polished throughout and featuring straight lugs and screwed-in strap bars, recalls that occasion marked then by the launch of the limited-edition Reference 3960 designed in the “Officer’s” style that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. Platinum is the chosen metal because it “represents the greatest acoustic challenge for a minute repeater when the aim is to obtain the true ‘Patek Philippe sound’, according to a press statement.
Integrating the alarm function into the iconic calibre R 27 posed a significant challenge. Patek Philippe’s engineers had to rethink the minute repeater mechanism to accommodate the alarm within the new calibre R AL 27 PS self-winding movement. The goal was to have both the minute repeater and alarm chime on the same gongs while preserving the signature slide piece on the left side of the case. This required the movement to strike the displayed time instantly in minute-repeater mode or hold the strike until the indicated time matched the programmed alarm time. This is unlike traditional minute repeaters, where winding releases the striking work instantly; the addition of the alarm system necessitated disengaging the strike-work barrel from the strike train (quarter rack, minute rack, and hour beak).
In typical Patek Philippe fashion, the technical complexity is complemented by user-friendly design. The push-piece in the crown allows users to select the chiming mode, displayed in a bell-shaped aperture at 3 o’clock. In minute-repeater mode (black bell), the repeater slide can be activated anytime to hear the chimes of elapsed hours, quarters, and minutes. In alarm mode (red bell), the slide must be activated again to wind the alarm (changing the bell from red to white). If the alarm has been set but not sounded (white bell), returning to minute-repeater mode is possible by pressing the push-piece without releasing the strike.
The watch has a shiny black alligator leather strap with a platinum fold-over clasp.