Behind The Lens: Patek Philippe Reference 5074P Minute Repeater
In this edition of Behind the Lens, we begin a very special three-part series looking at, and listening to, two of Patek Philippe’s splendid minute repeaters: References 5074P and 5078P.
A generous friend recently granted me the opportunity to shoot both of these watches, and we will be sharing them with you in a three-part series starting with Reference 5074P, moving to part 2 and the Reference 5078P, and concluding with a set of side-by-side photos and a “chime-off” allowing you to listen to both pieces and decide which one you’ll be asking Santa Claus (or Thierry Stern) for this year.
If there’s any curiosity about which of the two I prefer, I’ll get that question out of the way right now: I consider the 5074P to be one of the finest contemporary wristwatches; it is a piece that awes me every time I handle one.
For me, the look of the 507x, perhaps most familiar from the Reference 5070 series of chronographs, is timeless. With its massive case structure, densely populated dial surrounded by a broad bezel, and applied gold numerals among its most recognizable design elements.
Then, there’s the movement: the beautifully finished Caliber R 27 Q combining an automatically winding perpetual calendar with an extraordinary cathedral-chime minute repeater.
The sonorous chiming of those extra-long “cathedral” gongs is for me a sound unlike any other and, when combined with the other features of this watch, pretty much creates an unbeatable combination.
All of that said, this is not an easy watch to photograph! Black-dialed timepieces are in general tough to capture, and the 5074P makes things more difficult with the contrasting light bouncing from its broad, shiny platinum bezel and absence of anti-reflective coating on the crystal.
In many lighting conditions and from many angles, the applied white gold numerals that are a hallmark of the watch tend to vanish into the background of the dial as seen by the camera.
And the background of the moon phase dial is blue, not black – but unless the light is just right, the muted blue tends to wash out into blackness.
The white print on black dial has a tendency to “pop” in images more than in person, but driving the contrast of the image down to compensate can lead to an overall look that is too flat. Finally, there are the subtle circular grooves on the subdials: these are visible enough in oblique light, but quite elusive when viewed straight on or lighted directly.
Happily, the movement side of the watch presents fewer challenges! The bright reflections from the bevels, polished sink, black-polished hammers, and the mesmerizing engraving on the rotor provide lots of visual interest, and the Geneva striping and circular graining are distinct enough to catch the light in a variety of positions.
Seen from lower down and closer in, Caliber R 27 Q does not disappoint: its variety of shapes, colors, and surface textures delight, and at macro magnification the quality of the finishing work is evident. I’m particularly drawn to the repeater’s hammers, which (as they should) have distinct, separate bevels between their black-polished horizontal surfaces and the brushed vertical sides, unlike the hammers on some other major-brand repeaters I’ve seen that have indistinct, rounded transitions.
In the tight shot below you can see the hammers and double-wrapped gongs and their attachment block, as well as the filigreed cover in the form of the Calatrava cross for the repeater’s regulator. A careful look reveals that the circular graining on the surface surrounding the cross is already serving its functional purpose of capturing stray droplets of oil thrown off by the regulator.
While I may never have the opportunity to own a Patek Philippe minute repeater, I do own the book! A couple of years ago, Patek Philippe published a lovely softcover illustrated history of all its repeaters from 1924 to 2012, and it was a pleasure to photograph both the Reference 5074 and Reference 5078 with their corresponding images and descriptions in the book.
Those of you with eagle eyes who were paying attention earlier may note that in the photo in the book, Patek Philippe has boosted the saturation and vibrancy of the blue moon phase disk quite a bit relative to the actual watch!
In the world of watch collecting, there are good watches, great watches, and a precious few super watches like the Reference 5074P. It’s been a real treat for me to spend time with this one, and we’re not done yet having fun with top-end chiming watches from Patek Philippe. Please stay tuned for our in-depth “Behind the Lens” segment on the elegant Reference 5078P, and of course for the all-important “chime-off”!
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Ref. 5074P-001
Case: platinum, 42 mm, with interchangeable solid and sapphire crystal case backs
Dial: black with applied numerals in white gold
Movement: automatic Caliber R 27 Q, 467 components
Functions: hours, minutes; perpetual calendar with day, date, month, leap year; moon phase and 24-hour display; minute repeater with two cathedral gongs actuated by a slide in the case
Price: final retail price approx. $630,000; no recent auction sales of 5074P; recent auction prices for Reference 5074R (red gold) $475,000 to $550,000
Years of production: 2002-2015