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Feature: 3 Alternatives To A Patek Philippe

If you’ve got fat wedge of cash burning a hole in your pocket and you’ve earmarked a Patek Philippe to spend it on, stop. Wait. You mustn’t spend a single penny until you’ve seen this.

Girard-Perregaux 1966 Annual Calendar Equation of Time 49538-53-133-BK6A

So, you’ve got your money and you’re looking for a slice of delicious high-end watchmaking. It makes sense to head straight for the nearest Patek Philippe, because, well—it’s a Patek Philippe. A reputation like that isn’t earnt overnight, Messrs Antoni Patek and Adrien Philippe starting how they meant to continue by, you know, inventing the winding crown. No big deal.

But, come on, it’s a bit vanilla ice cream, isn’t it? Don’t you fancy a scoop of pistachio, or matcha tea or something a bit more interesting? Of course you do, and that’s why we’re looking at this Girard-Perregaux 1966. Don’t be silly, it’s not a commemoration of the one and only time the England squad will ever win a football world cup, it’s an acknowledgement of the brand’s first high-beat watch, fitted with a movement that ticked 36,000 times per hour.

That’s nice, you’re probably thinking, but a high-beat watch isn’t really anything to do a song and dance about these days. How about this then: this isn’t just the Girard-Perregaux 1966; it’s the Girard-Perregaux 1966 Annual Calendar Equation of Time. You didn’t think all those other dials and hands were just for decoration, did you?

It’s not a full-blown perpetual calendar, but it does save you the stress and strain of flipping over the date manually four times every year—and that’s time saved that could be spent doing something productive, like looking at your watch and feeling smug because you didn’t have to change the date yourself. It’s the little moments.

And if it’s not impressive enough that the calibre GP033MO squeezes an annual calendar into its 40mm by 11mm frame, then there’s the equation of time to contend with as well. Now this is properly esoteric, grand complication stuff, usually seen paired with such rare and exotic functions as sunrise, sunset and sidereal time—and an equally exotic price tag.

Pray tell, what even is equation of time? It may sound like a line from a lazily written science-fiction film, but it’s an actual, real thing, I promise. The thing is, being puny humans, we think the world revolves around us, but it doesn’t, it revolves around the sun—which in turn revolves around the galaxy, which in turn is spiralling through the universe, which is all balanced on the back of a turtle. Such is life.

But what we’re interested in here is the difference between our rigid twenty-four hour day and what’s known as solar time. Because of the variation in the Earth’s angle and distance from the sun, a sundial won’t reliably sync up with a mechanical clock, falling out of alignment by around fifteen minutes either way throughout the year. And so, when mechanical clocks were first in their infancy, manufacturers would build in an equation of time display to keep them in tune with solar time—and that’s what we’ve got here.

Chopard L.U.C. XPS Poinçon de Genève 161932-9001

The ownership experience of a Patek Philippe is in a big way governed by the pride of owning something extremely exclusive. Knowing that you have one of a very few of something produces that lovely little smug feeling deep down—and the fewer the better.

And how much more limited can a run of something be than just twenty-five examples? Using maths, I can tell that there are only twenty-four more exclusive options than that—that’s how limited it is, and how limited this L.U.C. XPS Platinum is from watchmaker Chopard.

The L.U.C. moniker is reserved for only the best Chopard watches—those are the initials of founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard, by the way—and this really is one of the best. It’s so good that this slender little thing has been wrought from platinum, the world’s fanciest material.

And the world’s fanciest material isn’t used for just any old watch. As the spoiler name reveals, this limited edition houses a version of the calibre 96, the 96.01-L, that’s been awarded the Geneva Seal. And they don’t go throwing around the Geneva Seal willy-nilly—it’s no bronze swimming certificate. I mean, the calibre 96 is already considered one of the best in modern watchmaking before the standards of the Geneva Seal are even applied—and that’s not my opinion, those are the words of Michel Parmigiani. More on him later.

So, Chopard takes a world class movement and then goes a step further, finishing it to the so-strict-it’s almost-petty requirements of the Geneva Seal. If you think your other half finds the smallest things to complain about, they ain’t got nothin’ on the Geneva Seal. You know those car shows where judges in straw boaters with clipboards make sure the back of the brake pedal is clean and the toolkit still has the original manufacturer’s fingerprints on it—they’re slovenly hobos by comparison to the Geneva Seal.

The folks at the Geneva Seal don’t just care how clean and perfect a watch is, they want to know just exactly how you got it to that condition in the first place. The guidance to meet these requirements make a George R. R. Martin novel look like a pamphlet. If you’re going for the Geneva Seal, you’re committing to a whole world of watchmaking hurt. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what Chopard did—and then went and covered this masterpiece of a movement up. Oh well. You’ll just have to imagine it.

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Quator PFC272-1000200-HA1441

Remember Michel Parmigiani from a few moments ago? He’s a watchmaker, and a good one at that. He’s so good that other watchmakers, watchmakers who charge a lot of money, come to him to make their watches for them. Parmigiani also makes his own watches under his own name, and this is one of them, the Tonda Quator. It’s a prime example of how a luxurious, stylish and impressive watch can be made when you aren’t old and boring.

It’s the Bugatti of watches—not least because Parmigiani made a very complex and very expensive watch for Bugatti—but because it has an air of style that’s seldom seen in the stuffy world of high watchmaking. Those long, teardrop lugs, the gilt-framed logo, the barley grain guilloche—it all adds up to a luxury experience that’s unlike any other, just like a Bugatti.

You could admire the detailing all day, but Michel’s real passion is what lies in the engine room. It’s a watch that belies its complexity with balanced design, hiding a few tricks that don’t make themselves apparent at first glance. A clue to the Tonda Quator’s ingenuity is the date, a retrograde display that only circumnavigates the upper hemisphere of the dial. A watchmaker will avoid a retrograde display where possible because, well—it’s hard. Not Parmigiani, however.

And you’ll get to see the retrograde date in action more than you’d think, because this little watch also hides an annual calendar within the calibre PF339. The sub-dials divvy out the day and month, and there’s even a moonphase accurate to one hundred and twenty-two years for good measure.

If you ever get bored of looking at the front, the back is worth checking out as well. There are 359 components to admire here, all equally well dressed, from the 18-carat gold rotor to the striped bridges—but it’s not all looks. You may wonder why the twin mainspring barrels only provide fifty hours of power reserve, and that’s because they have, unusually, been mounted in series to torque-fill the movement as it winds down, maintaining an even level of energy and, therefore, accuracy. Clever stuff.

If you still want a Patek Philippe after all that, then, well—you must really want a Patek Philippe. At least you gave these a chance. This is one of those games where there is no right or wrong per se, just what lights the fire inside you, and maybe, just maybe, one of these watches did exactly that. If you’re the kind of person that appreciates quality and luxury but doesn’t like to tread the same old path as everyone else, then perhaps it’s time to give your financial advisor a call.

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