Patek Philippe’s Golden Ellipse: 50 Years Of Mathematics At Their Finest
The year 1968 was one of turmoil. While the United States reached new heights in launching the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon (Apollo 8), all was not well back on earth.
Operation Rolling Thunder, the U.S. military’s sustained aerial bombardment campaign during the Vietnam War, killed thousands of civilians, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Civil rights and student movements against military and bureaucratic elites culminated in massive protests worldwide, such as the May 1968 protests in France that brought public life to a standstill for more than a week.
In socialist countries, people protested the lack of freedom of speech and violations of other civil rights of the governments.
A horological paragon of the Golden Ratio
It was in this troubled era that Patek Philippe introduced a timepiece with a decidedly calm appeal: the Ellipse d’Or (or Golden Ellipse).
Indicating only hours and minutes, the Golden Ellipse simply featured 12 indexes around its no-frills blue dial – and yes, only blue was available at launch.
The Golden Ellipse is a timepiece whose case proportions were based on the principle of the Golden Ratio, an ancient formula symbolizing beautiful harmony and balance in architecture, arts, and even nature. Also called the “divine proportion,” the Golden Ratio is a unique number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part.
The aesthetic charisma and calming effect of the Golden Ratio has been scientifically proven.
The enigmatic number 1.6180339887 defines the proportions of Egypt’s Cheops Pyramid (Great Pyramid of Giza), Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, the human body, the Apple logo, and also the case shape of the Ellipse d’Or, which made quite a statement on the global stage of high watchmaking at its launch a half a century ago.
Neither round nor square, the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse introduced a bold and sensationally slender watch with unmistakable style.
Whereas today we have grown accustomed to extreme, daring watch designs, back in the 1960s the ellipse shape was a complete surprise. And a pleasant surprise at that!
Subtle yet instantly recognizable, through the Golden Ratio the Golden Ellipse was connected to the sophisticated context of the wonders of antiquity, the works of Beethoven, Da Vinci’s genius, and Le Corbusier’s style.
I am not going as far as to say that the Golden Ellipse rises to the greatness, genius, and fame of the aforementioned, but in my opinion it is indeed a piece of art: an azure witness to the time period in which it was born and a truly gorgeous contribution to watch history of the second half of the twentieth century.
The perfection of simplicity
With all of Patek Philippe’s cutting-edge grand complications and the likewise iconic Calatrava line – not to mention the beloved Nautilus – one might tend to oversee the Golden Ellipse, a “silent star,” which simply convinces the observer with its slim beauty, a beauty that has not changed dramatically over the course of 50 years. Though slight variations on the theme have come and gone, the Golden Ellipse looks as contemporary as ever.
As with each and every single timepiece in Patek Philippe’s top-notch portfolio, the Golden Ellipse has its own distinctive charisma expressed through its signature aesthetic code.
The 1960s jet set agreed, and the Golden Ellipse was an instant success: a perfect accessory for an exquisite lifestyle.
Shortly after the Golden Ellipse’s introduction, Patek Philippe presented versions in both white gold and yellow gold with variations including woven mesh bracelets, Roman numerals, a more pronounced bezel, and even diamonds.
Patek Philippe also experimented with exotic dial hues such as “vermeer brown” and “autumn gold,” although the original blue tone has remained a constant. By the end of the 1970s, the Golden Ellipse was available in no less than 65 versions. The design proved so successful that corresponding luxury accessories like lighters, rings, and cufflinks were also offered.
Caliber 240: an ultra-thin powerhouse
In 1977 the Golden Ellipse, originally powered by a manually wound movement, received an important technical update in the form of ultra-thin automatic Caliber 240, featuring an off-center 22-karat gold micro rotor completely integrated into the movement.
Ever since, this petite powerhouse of a caliber comprising 161 components and measuring a mere 2.53 mm in height has served as the mechanical heart of the Golden Ellipse line.
The limited-edition “jumbo” version in platinum, launched in 2008 to commemorate the Ellipse d’Or’s fortieth anniversary, was received with much excitement. Not only did the original beauty translate well into a larger format (34 x 39.5 mm), but it also featured the original navy blue dial with filigree hands.
Following this “grande-taille” tradition, Patek Philippe introduced another jumbo version at Baselworld 2018 in honor of the model’s fiftieth anniversary, this time however in pink gold.
While connoisseurs may have expected another blue dial like the one found on the original Golden Ellipse, the brand decided to surprise with a magnificent ebony-colored face with sunray finish.
As is the case with all of Patek Philippe’s dials, the hue works perfectly well with the timepiece’s divinely proportioned case, which from now on will only be available in the “jumbo” version. As a “consolation,” the Golden Ellipse remains the thinnest watch in Patek Philippe’s current collection (as of April 2018).
For more information, please visit www.patek.com/en/collection/golden-ellipse/5738R-001.
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse Reference 5738R-001
Case: 34.5 x 39.5 x 5.9 mm, pink gold with black onyx in cabochon
Movement: automatic Caliber 240, 3Hz/21,600 vph frequency, power reserve 48 hours, Patek Philippe Seal
Functions: hours, minutes
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It just “works”
Truly a masterpiece of wearable art.
It’s interesting so many praises for this specific model which no doubt is absolutely stunning and deserves praises. However, just a reminder for watch enthusiasts who are not brand conscious that Gerald Genta created similar movement with microtor for Universal Geneve before Patek. The White Shadow from UG not only has the same shape and design but also has a super thin movement like, 240, mentioned here.
Looking at this Patek immediately reminded me of UG and Gerald Genta.
Thank you for posting a nice article.
Thank you for bringing this watch to my attention, Rumi. I did not know about it. It certainly shares the signature shape. Very interesting!
Hello Rumi, thank you for your comments! Gérald Genta was not a watchmaker, he was a designer. So he in no way “created a movement.” If we look deeper, we may even find a lot more similarity as back in those days companies shared everything from movements to designers and other suppliers. Might be a good research article for the future. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Genta also worked for Patek Philippe at times.
Thank you Elizabeth for a future article, wonderful idea. Indeed, Gerald Genta was a master designer, he was working for Universal Geneve long before he started at Patek. The UG movement was indeed designed and implemented into some famous watches from UG. At the time when UG introduced this watch, it was the thinnest automatic movement and remained so for many years. My point was, Patek was not the first to design or market such a watch. It was UG.
Cool watch, and cool article. However, I can’t help but cringe when I read “The aesthetic charisma and calming effect of the Golden Ratio has been scientifically proven.” That is painfully wrong, and there is no scientific theory of aesthetics (yet).
The golden ratio is pleasant, but so are 8/5, 16/9, or a square. And we don’t know if it is just an acquired taste due to its prevalence in human creations.
Congratulations for this necessary correction of an article which reminds of public relations lyrics, not of journalistic prose.
There is indeed some scientific research on the harmony of the divine proportion that was started by Gustav Fechner in the 19th century. Conducting psychological tests, he found out that among subjects presented with a range of rectangles people tended to pick out those as the most pleasing ones whose sides complied with the golden ratio. A newer explanation was given by Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. He says that the human eye is capable of interpreting an image featuring the golden ratio faster than any other. Shapes that resemble the golden ratio facilitate the scanning of images and their transmission through vision organs to the brain. He explains his theory with the human beings bound to take the “shortest path” in understanding what is going on around us – after all we do share similarities with the animal kingdom and are driven by instinct. More information here: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/dec/28/golden-ratio-us-academic
Regarding your second remark: without a doubt there is beauty and myth behind many number ratios, such as the Fibonacci sequence.
While I haven’t seen any scientific evidence on the Golden Ratio either, here is one scientific hypothesis worth investigating https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/dec/28/golden-ratio-us-academic
A silly question I know, but is this watch associated with any particular gender?
Hi Paul, I would say it is more a men’s dress watch although there were also ladies’ versions in the course of its existence. These days it is only available in the jumbo size (platinum and pink gold) since Patek discontinued the smaller sizes in yellow, white and pink gold. Although, thanks to its slender shape, it is a picture-perfect example for a unisex timepiece.
nice article, but looking at the timeline chart i have to ask-what were they smoking in 1993?
I got my Patek Philippe magazine today and read both your article and the Patek one about the Golden Ellipse. Having long been fascinated by phi (1-sqrt(5) / 2) and other irrational numbers like pi and the square root of 2, I’m very attracted to the Golden Ellipse. However, I’ve been unable to locate the 1-phi ratio that defines the Golden Ratio (Section) in the Golden Ellipse. My Vacheron Constantin MCMLXXII (as well as the other two Prestige de Paris models from VC) have their golden section made up of the 9 o’clock outside and the 3 o’clock glass side. Anyway, perhaps you (or one of your readers) could help me find the Golden Ratio in the Golden Ellipse.
Kindest regards, Bill
Hello Bill, Thank you for your deep interest in the Ellipse d’Or! There is not really a defined number ratio in the press release. You might have to ask the specialists at Patek Philippe. Sorry, I could not be of more help in that matter.
i want to buy a vintage Ellipse for my husband as a gift. I’m looking for a 90ies model and found some with a date window. Do you think the ones with the date window are as interesting as the ones without date? Or should I rather invest in one without date? Thank you for helping me out.
I thank that is fully a matter of personal taste. Happy shopping!