Whether you like Patek Philippe and its watches or not, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: the brand is up there at the very top of watchmaking artistry. Today, the Genevan manufacture presents a world debut of six models from the current collection as part of its 2021 rare handcrafts exhibition. Each watch features artistic decorations such as manual engraving, grand feu cloisonné enamel, grand feu champlevé enamel, grand feu flinqué enamel, manual guilloché, and gem-setting. Of these six, I wanted to take a look at one in particular, the Ref. 5374G-001 minute repeater with a perpetual calendar.

Why this one in particular? Well, not only is it my favorite of the collection but look it at! A Patek Philippe minute repeater in a white gold case and a beautiful grand feu enamel dial. For those in the know, you can appreciate the fastidiousness required to create dials with the same level of perfection as Patek’s. The process is laborious and incredibly time intensive.

Patek Ref. 5374G-001 dial

What is grand feu enamel?

The name “grand feu” translates from Latin to “big fire”, a reference to the creation process. While grand feu enamel dials are probably the most common type of enamel dial in watchmaking, they are still by no means “common” or easy to make! The finished result on the Patek Ref. 5374G-001 is a beautifully rich and deep blue color that uniformly covers the entire dial. I have only seen a couple of enamel dials in hand (never a Patek, though!), and pictures can never quite do them justice.

Patek Ref. 5374G-001

As mentioned, the creation process is incredibly time intensive. The artist builds the dial up by combining lots of thin layers of enamel on top of one another. To do this, Patek’s craftspeople add a thin layer of blue enamel powder onto the 18k gold dial blank. Each individual layer must be fired at 850C to fuse it with the material beneath it. Every time a new layer is added and subsequently fired, there is an inherent risk of total failure. During firing, the enamel is at risk of hairline cracks, bubbles, or other inclusions, which render the entire dial unusable. If this occurs, the craftsperson must discard the dial, and the process must begin again from scratch.

…defect rates of as high as 60%.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the process, these failures happen far more frequently than you’d think. Even craftspeople who have dedicated their lives to this intricate process still suffer from defect rates of as high as 60%. That explains why grand feu enamel dials are not common and are not cheap. The amount of work and expertise required to successfully create these dials is immense. When holding an enamel-dialed watch in hand, it makes you think about the amount of time and effort that went into creating the work of art before you.

Patek Ref. 5374G-001 dial

The Ref. 5374

Patek first introduced the Ref. 5374 back in 2016 as the Ref 5374P-001, a minute repeater with a perpetual calendar. I mean, that in itself is my definition of a mechanical masterpiece. Still, the brand cased it in a platinum case and covered the incredible movement with a black grand feu enamel dial. As one would expect, the watch was an instant hit with collectors and enthusiasts alike. The cold, monochromatic contrast of the black enamel and platinum case was striking. Still, in my opinion, Patek has topped this with today’s Ref. 5374G-001. On the other hand, the combination of rich blue enamel with the slightly warmer color of the white gold creates a harmonious vibrance that the original just can’t match up to, in my opinion.

…it is the glue that holds the entire watch together…

The Ref. 5374G-001’s case shape shows the subtle and harmonious interplay of rounds and cambers. Smooth edges effortlessly flow into one another, creating an organic profile that looks like it was shaped by Mother Nature herself. In fact, I think some people often overlook the importance of good case design. To some, a case is just a vessel to hold the movement and dial, but in reality, it is the glue that holds the entire watch together, much like the drumbeat in a song.

Patek Ref. 5374G-001 movement

The bezel has a smooth concave profile that draws the eye slowly towards that beautiful enamel dial. The same finesse is encountered in the manually satin-finished recesses in the case flank. They contrast beautifully against the polished case segments and against the cabochons that decorate the ends of the lugs. On the 9 o’clock side of the case, the minute repeater lever protrudes, mirrored by the crown on the opposite flank.

Patek Ref. 5374G-001 movement

A stunning movement

Turning the Ref. 5374G-001 over for a moment reveals the gorgeous self-winding caliber R 27 Q. Patek Philippe is known for finishing its movements to the same high finish as its dials. Even when Patek hides its movements behind closed case backs, the brand takes extreme pride in ensuring every one of its movements represents the best of the brand’s capabilities. Hence the Ref. 5374G-001’s case back is open, allowing an uninterrupted view of the gorgeous caliber within. That said, Patek ships the watch with an additional, interchangeable closed case back.

Madness, I tell you!

The R 27 Q features a minute repeater that strikes on two cathedral gongs, visible at 11 o’clock. The gongs extend nearly twice around the circumference of the movement, producing a full, reverberant sound. The micro-rotor is solid 18k gold, completing what is the epitome of excellence in movement form. Simply stunning. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to cover this movement at all. Madness, I tell you!

Patek Ref. 5374G-001 strap and buckle

Patek delivers the Ref. 5374G-001 on a shiny dusk blue alligator strap secured with a white-gold fold-over clasp. The color of the strap perfectly complements that gorgeous blue enamel dial. For more information, you can visit the official Patek Philippe website here. Price on request.

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