high-emd watches with complications

High-end watches with complications…. Do I need a Patek Philippe?

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High-end watches with complications continue to fascinate. Ever since the press detected Chief Justice Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court wearing a $50,000 Patek Philippe during the recent circus known as the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, interest in intricate high-end watches has peaked. Do I need a Patek Philippe, you must ask yourself? Does a chief justice? It’s complicated! — on so many levels. What is the actual benefit it provides? — and don’t say “accurate time” because there are watches that do that for 1/1000th of the price. Can you afford a Patek, a Breguet, a Blancpain, or an Audemars Piguet? — And if you can, should you buy one? what is it about these timepieces that holds the interest and fascination of generations?

It’s complicated! No, really…

The Patek Philippe model 5305G-013 apparently worn by the Chief Justice is a complicated timepiece though not extremely so as these things go. But do we need to have one? I would argue that we all need attunement, a consciousness of nuances and details: we need to be better observers and perhaps a fine timepiece, with many complications, helps remind us of the need for attention to the fine detail of things — the sort of consciousness that for example Tibetan thangkas are meant to develop in us. Atomic clocks, accurate to a second for for a hundred million years, work on this principle: they calculate “hyperfine transitions” of energy level in the elements rubidium 87 or, the current standard, cesium 133.

high-end watches with complications

back of a pre-owned Patek Philippe with many complications, offered at Amazon

It’s ok that it’s complicated

In high-end watches, “complications” are a feature, not a bug. A “complication” in the wearable timepiece domain is any feature which requires an additional mechanism, set of precise components, to be fit into the watch case. Moon phase, self-winding, perpetual calendar (non-trivial!) and so on. The BACK of a Patek Philippe can be more complex than the face of a regular watch. The Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 has 57 complications and no one knows what it is worth – $10MM is a guess. In that market, John Roberts is a beginner.

Breguet, the father of it all

This lunacy goes back into the late 18th C., when a genius by the name of Abraham-Louis Breguet launched the whole business of complications: Empress Josephine’s “tactful” watch — she could read the time with just her fingers; the world’s first wristwatch (1810); the most complicated watch in history, at least of its time, the Marie Antoinette, which took decades to make and was completed only after her execution; and of course the tourbillon feature — a physics-defying anti-gravity mechanism that floats inside the case to insulate the watch from the acceleration of mass when the wearer’s arm moves, thus increasing accuracy.

This Vacheron video is pure advertising but it captures the idea of deep tradition in high-end watches with complications.

Wind it yourself, for $179,000

high-end watches with complications

Pre-owned Patek Philippe at Amazon, priced at $179,000 (apparently sold while this article was being written)

Out of sheer curiosity I looked at high-end watches, the complicated ones, available on Amazon. At the top of the list was a used — sorry, “pre-owned” — Patek Philippe “Gondolo,” mechanical, manually wound. You fork out almost $200K for a watch y0u have to remember to wind yourself.

Understand relationship to high-end watches with complications

The Gondolo is non-remarkable in appearance, actually. But the whole point of these timepieces, these marvels of precision design and craftsmanship, is our relation to them. Our consciousness of their perfection is what the price represents. A similar kind of pleasure you might get out of driving, say, a classic Porsche 911: consciousness of engineering, how it all comes together, is soothing. The fact that you have to wind this thing — the “gondolo” — underscores perennial values, and automation is a mere convenience.

Quality requires more than laziness. It is a kind of attention to which our consciousness if pleasurably attached. I think it’s not dissimilar to what the ancient masters of yoga, Patanjali and his followers, talked about.



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