On the Appeal of the Beautiful, Frivolous “Grand Complication”

The new Patek Philippe reference 6301p Grand Sonnerie is a reminder that at the highest end of the watch world, more is always more

December 10, 2020 1:00 pm
patek philippe 6301p
The Patek Philippe Ref. 6301P is made up of more than 700 parts
Patek Philippe/JD Meyer

No one could ever accuse the world of high-end watch collecting as being ruled by “rationality” or “logic,” and there are few areas that epitomize this more than the grand complication.

The price and complexity of these hyper-technical movements tend to rise with a negative correlation to their actual functionality, which is to say that the more you pay for some fancy little thing a mechanical watch does beyond displaying the time, the less practically useful that thing tends to be. The day-and-date function that can be found on watches in the low four figures and below? Incredibly handy on a daily basis!

Now let’s move up the complexity scale a little: A chronograph function? Looks cool, but startlingly few will ever use it to actually time a lap. A GMT Hand? Great if you’re someone who has trouble adding or subtracting 11 at the very most. Then there are the complications that cost tens if not hundreds of thousands: A perpetual calendar? That saves you from having to change the date by one day five times in 20 years. A tourbillon? Congratulations, your six-figure watch is at best more accurate by a fraction of a fraction of a second. 

Yet there is one frivolous complication that seems to set the hearts of deep-pocketed collectors aflutter more than any other. That would be the chime function, and Patek Philippe has recently announced the release of a chiming watch that is at the same time incredibly beautiful, mind-bogglingly complex and all but completely unnecessary.

Nevertheless, we want one very badly, which sums up the mindset of just about every watch addict.

patek philippe 6301p
The lumed hands of the Ref. 6301P
Patek Philippe/JD Meyer

 A chime — or “strike” — function is so named because of the inclusion of a small hammer and gong inside the watch’s movement that audibly and musically “tells” you the time when activated by striking various notes corresponding to the hours and minutes. Its invention originates back to an era when it did have a slightly more practical application: in times predating electricity, a lady or gentleman could know the time on their pocket watch without having to light a flame, or summon a footman to do the same. Chiming or striking watches tended to have one of three complications: the minute repeater, which chimed out the exact hour and minute on demand when activated; the grande sonnerie, which automatically chimed the number of hours at the top of the hour as well as quarter hours every following 15 minutes; or the petit sonnerie, which rang out only the quarter hours, as signified by one, two, three or four chimes. 

For the new reference 6301p “Grand Sonnerie,” the craftsmen at Patek Philippe — whose fans believe they produce the most beautiful chiming watches in the world, because of course they do — have managed to fit all three of these complications into one tidy and deceivingly thin platinum case.

patek philippe 6301p
Don’t let the fairly straightforward profile fool you
Patek Philippe/JD Meyer

A small sliding switch beneath the six-o’clock lugs allows the wearer to toggle between grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie and silent modes, which means the small flawless diamond that traditionally denotes a platinum case has been moved to the 12 o’clock lugs. The switch to activate the minute repeater, meanwhile, rests inside of the crown, leaving the 6301p with smooth edges that belie its complexity. The 703-part manually wound movement, labeled the GS 36-750 PS IRM, sits beneath a black grand feu enamel dial which features a greatest hits of Patek flourishes: no less than three different hand shapes (including lumed leafs for the hours and minutes and a dagger hand for the jumping sub seconds), breguet numerals, a power reserve for both the time-keeping and chime function, and a chemin-de-fer minute and second track. This all results in a handsome 44.8 x 12mm package, a larger but not overpowering watch which subtly whispers, “You have no idea just how rare and expensive this watch is.”

While Patek’s official response to both the price and scarcity of the 6301p is strictly “Upon Request,” you can expect the going rate of this masterpiece of a watch with three chimes and three patents to have no fewer than two commas.

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