The word “badass” gets thrown around a lot these days (we know, because we’re doing a lot of the throwing). However, if the shoe fits, wear it: this is, I’m pretty sure, the single most truly badass – in every way possible – personal daily wear wristwatch I’ve ever seen. This watch contains a tourbillon movement made by replica Patek Philippe watches UK especially for the observatory time trials, and it was cased and worn as a personal watch by Mr. Philippe Stern.
The movement has a long history. It was completed in 1945, and was designed by the master watchmaker André Bornand. Bornand (1892-1967) was a professor at the Geneva School of Watchmaking and one of the most famous tourbillon specialists of the 20th century.
The movement – no. 861,115 – was specially adjusted for the Geneva Observatory trials by André Zibach (who adjusted the movement on seven separate occasions, between 1948 and 1959) and again in 1963, by Max Studer (per the Patek Philippe Museum). The reason I’m mentioning these names is because these guys were the superstars of the Swiss watch industry in their time – adjusting even an ordinary watch to keep a close rate, under the demanding scrutiny of an observatory competition, was extremely difficult and adjusting a tourbillon, even more so. The movement has a bimetallic Guillaume balance and steel Breguet overcoil (the Guillaume balance was by far the most sophisticated of bimetallic temperature compensating balances; they were used by Rolex in its famous “Kew A” chronometers) and vibrates at 21,600 vph.
Patek observatory tourbillon wristwatches from the 20th century were made in very small numbers, and designing and adjusting them was very much a black art, but as the years went by the company accumulated considerable expertise. Above is another such movement, also designed by André Bornand, and with an unusual 50 second tourbillon. Movement no. 866,503/caliber 34T was adjusted by René Mathey for the competitions, and it has a number of interesting features – like no. 861,115, it has a Guillaume compensating balance and steel Breguet balance spring, but it also has a cage made of beryllium bronze, which is amagnetic and also less massive than steel, making it ideal for a tourbillon carriage.
Caliber 34T is a Bornand modification of the rectangular Patek caliber 34S; it has a 57-hour power reserve. According to the Patek Museum, there were a total of five built between 1958 and 1966, and “… all obtained first class chronometry bulletins and two won the first prize in their category in the Geneva Observatory competition.” This particular movement was awarded a “Bulletin de Première Classe” with First Prize mention at Geneva, in 1958. It was not cased until 1983 and is now in the best fake Patek Philippe Museum.
Some time in the early 1980s, the round movement you see up top caught the eye of Patek President Philippe Stern, and at his request, it was placed in a case for him to wear in 1987, receiving the designation ref. 3699.
Everyone has their own notions of what the ultimate wristwatch might be, and of course, what the ultimate replica Patek Philippe might be. (Personally I have about 10 different candidates for both on a daily basis.) But there is something bracingly pure about ref. 3699. It’s absolute in its single-minded dedication, in conception and construction, to something much more than some vapid notion of luxury – an expression of a combination of state of the art timekeeping technology of its time, with a level of skill in manufacturing and fine-tuning that has become very nearly extinct in Switzerland or anywhere else. It might just be, if you’re fascinated by the combination of precision and high craft that marks watchmaking at its highest level, one of the most beautiful watches ever made.