Patek Philippe Ref. 5520P – Alarm Travel Time

The Patek Philippe Ref. 5520P is, perhaps, one of the most radical watches made by the manufacturer in the last 30 years. It is Patek Philippe’s interpretation of the ultimate Pilot’s watch.

To my mind, Patek Philippe’s reputation has been founded on two factors. First and foremost, leading the vanguard in the development of complicated watches. Many of today’s most popular complications were pioneered by Patek Philippe. Secondly, most would agree that Patek Philippe have also based their reputation on cultivating discrete, refined and elegant dress watches. The traditional Calatrava is a watch that lies at the heart of these Patek Philippe principles.

It was, then, a significant surprise to see Patek Philippe launch a new grand complication at Basel 2019 in the form of a Pilot’s watch. This was a derivation of the Calatrava that took everyone by surprise. We had already seen the launch of the Ref. 5524 Piliot’s watch in 2015. Yet, the Ref. 5520P is an altogether different proposition.

It is also not often that Patek Philippe releases a new grand complication. The Ref. 5520P has been particularly polarising. One group of collectors are resisting this watch on the basis that it is too far a departure from the tried and tested traditions of the past. A second group of collectors are intrigued by the watch. Just an instinctive response, but my perception has been that the first group are invariably aged 50 +/- 5 years, whereas the second group are….not.

Time to take a look at this watch.

Movement

The movement is not always my first choice when it comes to reviewing a watch. Yet, in this case, I think its right to do so. When Patek Philippe decided to create a Travel Time watch with an alarm function, they didn’t just add the alarm function to the existing Travel Time movement. This would have made the watch inevitable bigger in all dimensions. Rather, a new movement AL 30-660 S C FUS was made specifically for the reference and required four new patents. This kept the watch down to a very manageable size for a Pilot’s watch (42.2mm diameter, 11.6mm height).

Further, the movement was developed in a way that facilitated an ease of use of the functions. With some 574 parts, this is a very complicated watch, yet it has been designed in such a way as to make its functionality a model of simplicity. A lot of time and thought was put into creating a watch that could not be “hurt” by its owner’s misuse!

Creating maximum possible complexity within extreme confines….574 parts of pure functionality

Dial Aesthetics

This is a Pilot’s watch. It is meant to look like a Pilot’s watch. It does. The question is, what should a Pilot’s watch made by Patek Philippe look like?
Well, lets be clear here – those that criticise this watch by saying it looks like a Zenith need to understand that Pilot’s watches tend to have a particular DNA that makes them part of that aviation genre. It is, to my mind, quite ridiculous to criticise this watch on the basis that it looks like a Pilot’s watch! The crux of the issue should be about how Patek Philippe have interpreted the genre.

A dial that gives everything to the international globetrotter

With a sunburst ebony black dial, the Ref. 5520P comes across as quite similar to that of the earlier Ref. 5524. Despite the high level of complication to this watch, the dial is remarkably clean and simple to read. Yet, as a Pilot’s watch the dial offers a Travel Time complication, date and an alarm function as well as night and day indiators. These are complications that are inherently logical within an aviation theme. Adopting these complications, in itself, differentiates the Ref. 5520P from its aviating competitors. It brings something new to the table.

Sunburst ebony black dial that has a clarity and purity of presentation. A watch designed to be functional

With the alarm display placed just below the 12 o’clock, the “Patek Philippe” logo has needed to be placed in the sub-dial. The 5131 World Time is the only watch I know that does not have Patek Philippe logo on the dial. With the 5520P, Patek Philippe opted to place the logo into the sub-dial rather than engrave onto the case.

Case

Another “moan” that one hears from certain collectors about this watch is that it is not in steel. A Pilot’s watch “should” be in steel, right? Well, Patek Philippe made this grand complication in platinum. Within Patek Philippe, platinum cases are (and have always been) considered the top of the tree. Platinum sits at the top of the food chain when it comes to prestige. Steel watches may be rare and also quite pragmatic, but when Patek Philippe want to make something very special, they do so in platinum. Not steel. And if Patek Philippe are going to make a special Pilot’s watch, then why not in platinum? It is sending a clear message that this is a very special watch. One can’t argue on the one hand that it looks like a Zenith but on the other hand complain that its made in platinum!

The case of the Ref. 5520P has integrated bezel and lugs. The bezel has been bevelled whilst the lugs are curved making the watch sit nicely on the wrist.

For a 42mm diameter, the case design makes this sit neatly on the wrist

Now for the most controversial aspect of the watch – those FOUR pushers. There is no question that the four pushers are extremely distinctive. There is a very clear and overt aesthetic from this watch. For those that wanted a quiet and discrete Calatrava, then this is not the watch for you. For those that wanted a highly distinctive and incredibly functional Pilot’s watch that brings a great deal to the table, then this is for you. There are four pushers because there needs to be. This watch is highly complicated with date and travel time function as well as a 24hr alarm function. Importantly, a great deal of consideration has been given into making it close to “idiot proof.” It may seem trite to say it, but it has four because it needs four.

The four pushers certainly make this watch distinct

Functionality

The alarm function on the 5520P is very special. Unlike all other alarm functions, the 5520P alarm is a hybrid minute repeater. It has a hammer that strikes a gong. This repeats for up to 40 seconds, with approximately 90 strikes. Just like a minute repeater, each strike has a consistent and regular cadence powered through a centrifugal governor. The power to the alarm is driven from a separate spring barrel. This is not just an alarm function, it is Patek Philippe’s interpretation of an alarm – a hybrid minute repeater.

Further, since this is also the first “chimer” with a water resistant case ( for those who live or travel in tropical climates), Patek Philippe needed to ensure that the sound would not be impaired by the water-resistant case. Hence, the gong is not attached to the general movement.

It should be recognised that this is not the first time that Patek Philippe have included this alarm function in a watch. One of the 33 complications of the famous Calibre 89 (for 25 years the world’s most complicated portable timepiece) also had an alarm function, as does the Grandmaster Chime that was launched in 2014. Yet, in order to make the 5520P user-friendly and highly functional, Patek Philippe required several patents to ensure that the “system that controls and monitors the alarm function is also equipped with the safety and isolation mechanisms that assure trouble-free functionality and exclude the danger of damage to the movement as a result of incorrect manipulation”.

Travel Time

The Travel Time complication was one that was invented by Patek Philippe and introduced in 1997. The ingenious two time-zone capacity provides an eminently useful complication and one that is especially suited to a Pilot’s watch and globetrotter, allowing time to be seen at “Home” and in “Local” time. As I have already stated, the dial is extremely easy to read. A self-winding movement with a power reserve of between 42-52 hours. Again, these are quite intrinsic features for a Pilot’s watch.

Performance. Reliability. Functionality

When Patek Philippe released this watch, they stressed three things. Performance. Reliability. Functionality. Placing maximum complexity within extreme confines and doing so whilst at the same time making the watch exceptionally user-friendly, the Ref. 5520P is Patek Philippe’s interpretation of the ultimate Pilot’s watch. It isn’t just another offering within the range, it is something quite exceptional. Sapphire-crystal display back shows off what is a superbly finished and complicated masterpiece.

Would I consider buying this watch? Well, it would certainly add something very different to my collection. I like the aesthetic of the watch. I don’t expect it to look like a Ref. 2499. The 5520P is a Pilot’s watch. A globetrotter’s watch. I guess the biggest drawback for me is that this is a watch of supreme functionality. It needs to be used. And I hate flying!