The Patek Philippe Advanced Research Program attempts to balance the pursuit of horological perfection while maintaining respect for the artisanal aspect of the craft. Patek Philippe formed the Advanced Research Program as a continuation of an initiative involving themselves, Ulysse Nardin, Rolex, the Swatch Group, and the CSEM (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology).
The goal of the group was to explore the benefits of using silicon components in watchmaking. Upon seeing the considerable advantages silicon had to offer, Patek Philippe decided to continue the research and application of the material in house. Patek Philippe has since released five watches under the Advanced Research Program, each adding to the innovation from the watch before it.
The enhancements gained from the Advanced Research Program are substantial. Silicon as a material—the specific blend used by Patek Philippe is called Silinvar—is significantly harder and more corrosion resistant than steel. It is exceptionally smooth and doesn’t require lubricant, thus giving you watch components that last longer. In addition, it is much more lightweight—making it more shock resistant—and unaffected by magnetism.
The efficiencies and durability gained from Silinvar improve the watch’s power reserve, timekeeping accuracy, and increases the time between services. While one can argue that using machined silicon in place of a handcrafted component removes some charm from the watch, one cannot argue that the watch’s performance doesn’t drastically benefit from it.
Advanced Research models are highly collectible as they were produced in limited numbers and are an essential part of the larger Patek Phillipe story. To fully appreciate the work done in the program, one needs to appreciate the watches it birthed. Below we’ll look deeper at the 5350 Annual Calendar and the 5550 Perpetual Calendar.
The 5350 Annual Calendar
Ten years after the first Annual Calendar was introduced, Patek further innovated on their patented model. In 2006 the 5350 Annual Calendar, the second of the Advanced Research models, was launched in a limited run of 300 pieces. Notably, this is the only Advanced Research model made in rose gold. It’s this metal choice that makes the 5350 the warmest and most classically styled of the Advanced Research models.
The case is friendly and curvaceous with almost no sharp edges—as if shaped by clay. The dial is a silvery metallic color with satin finishing going from twelve to six. The silver dial contrasts sharply with the rose gold hands and indices and adds to the watch’s legibility. The metallic uniformed finish adds a precise and machined aesthetic that balance out an otherwise organic-looking watch.
The Annual Calendar displays hours, minutes, and seconds along with days and months in recessed sub-dials on the left and right, power reserve indicator at 12, and crescent moon phase and date window below the hands at six o’clock. Considering the amount of information it displays, the dial is well balanced. Although the dial is gorgeous, it doesn’t convey how unique this timepiece is.
Looking at the display caseback, you will quickly see what makes this watch special among its peers. Printed around the crystal is “Patek Phillipe Advanced Research,” along with a built-in loupe that proudly highlights the silicon innovations. While I like the spirit of the text and loupe, the implementation is my least favorite feature of the watch. Both look a bit like something one would expect to see on a prototype product. That said, it’s a small gripe, and I still think the 5350 is the best looking Advanced Research watch.
Powering the watch is the Calibre 324S IRN QA LU, a full rotor automatic winding annual calendar. Thanks to the Advanced Research Program it also comes complete with a Silinvar escape wheel and Gyromax Balance. Now used in several Patek references, this was the first watch for the brand to utilize this new balance spring. Both silicon components have a slight blueish grey color that stands out among the more traditional materials in the movement. The silicon enhancements not only allow the watch to perform better but also firmly solidify its place in Patek Phillipe’s history. The combination makes for an exceptionally collectible timepiece.
The 5550 Perpetual Calendar
Released in 2011 also in 300 pieces, the 5550 Perpetual Calendar is based on the reference 5140. In addition to the time of day, the watch display has a 24-hour indicator, day, month, and date with leap year indicator and a moon phase. The watch is housed in a fully polished platinum case with a metallic satin-finished dial. The silver dial coloring, combined with the platinum case, makes for a technical look befitting a watch that’s this innovative. The gold hands and indices add a warmth and character that keeps the timepiece from looking sterile.
Powered by the automatic Caliber 240 Q Si the 5550 finishes what its forebearers in the Advanced Research Program started. The movement utilizes all previous Advanced Research innovations. The Silinvar escape wheel, Spiromax balance spring, Silinvar lever, and GyromaxSi balance all together to create what Patek calls the Oscillomax silicon balance and escapement. All these Silinvar components working in harmony make for one seriously efficient and robust wristwatch. An improvement that helps illustrate this point is the power reserve, 70 hours in this watch compared to 48 in a standard caliber 240.
This watch also fixes what was, in my opinion, a bad implementation of labeling. Instead of bordering the caseback, Patek Philippe put Advanced Research right on the dial in classic Patek font. On the back, you still get the built-in loupe, but you will also find “Oscillomax” nicely carved right into the bridge. This watch is the ending of a chapter in Patek’s pursuit of excellence but not the book. An integral part of Patek Phillipe’s history, it also shows you what the future of watchmaking may look like, whether you like it or not.