Patek Philippe vs Omega
Let's get straight to it—the Patek Philippe 5170P in my right hand is worth almost 20 times as much as the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch in my left. With the Omega clocking an RRP of just over £4,000, that places the 5170P at a whopping £73,000. While some of that cost gets you a platinum case and diamonds on the dial, it's safe to say that most of it is spent on the bit you don't often get to see—the calibre CH 29-535 PS movement. But with the Omega carrying a similar hand-wound manual chronograph calibre 1863 movement for a fraction of the price, what are you really getting when you spend all that extra money?
Watch our video review of the Patek Philippe Complications 5170P-001 vs the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 3573.50.00
The chronograph differs from a standard watch by giving the user the unique ability to measure periods distinct from standard time. This functionality first appeared in 1815 with Louis Moinet's astronomical stop watch—a monster that beat at ten times the speed of a standard stop watch.
The Patek Philippe Complications 5170P-001 costs a whopping £73,000 ...
Longines was the first to develop a chronograph wristwatch movement, the calibre 13.33Z. If you were to sit it side by side with these two, it would be immediately obvious that not much has changed. The basic architecture is identical; this Patek Philippe, in fact, supersedes a movement that shares the same Lemania lineage as the Omega. The operation is much the same as well. Let's run through it.
...while the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 3573.50.00 is closer to £4,000
To operate most chronographs, the pusher at two o'clock is pressed first. This starts the movement by engaging the coupling yoke, which connects the running seconds to the chronograph mechanism by way of the coupling wheel. For smooth meshing and to avoid jamming, the teeth on the chronograph runner wheel are finer than on the coupling wheel.
When the pusher is pressed again, the chronograph is stopped by disconnecting the coupling wheel. The blocking lever is also applied—a brake that holds the chronograph still. The process is reversed when the chronograph is restarted.
To reset, the pusher at four o'clock is pressed when the chronograph is stopped, and the reset hammer forces cams on each chronograph wheel back to their starting positions. These stay in place to keep the chronograph centralised when not in use. On a standard chronograph, the reset mechanism cannot be engaged when the chronograph is running.
Can the calibre CH29-535 PS make the 5170P worth 20x more than the Omega?
It's a surprisingly complex process, making the chronograph movement one of the most intricate complications available. What can Patek Philippe do to it to make it worth £70,000?
The heart of the chronograph is the lever cam, an odd-shaped piece that directs all the yokes and hammers at the command of the pushers. Well, it is for the Omega, because the Patek Philippe has a column wheel instead, a complex piece that offers smoother, more precise operation at the cost of being far more difficult to make.
The calibre 1863 in the Omega is also a handwound chronograph movement
But the column wheel isn't exactly uncommon, and certainly isn't exclusive to watches costing as much as the 5170P. Even Patek Philippe doesn't seem to be particularly proud of it, covering it with a polished circular cap.
How about the chronograph minute hand mechanism, then? In the Omega, the hand ticks forward on the minute, however there's a take-up of slack for a few seconds beforehand that, in a Patek Philippe, would simply look sloppy. So Patek Philippe addresses this with an instant change mechanism that's almost as complicated as Omega's entire calibre 1863.
The Patek Philippe has some clever mechanisms that increase performance above the Omega
To convert a continuous movement to one instantaneous release requires a ratchet. Patek Philippe employs one on the minute recorder wheel which, over the course of a minute, levers around the wheel and snags hold, ready to snap back at 60 seconds and start all over again. That's a lot of extra work to keep the minute change clean!
Move in closer still and things become even more impressive. The wheels on the Omega have symmetrical teeth—these are easy to manufacturer and allow lower tolerances while maintaining adequate meshing, however—again—this isn't good enough for Patek Philippe. For the perfect stutter-free interlock of the coupling wheel, the teeth are angled asymmetrically. The precision is almost unbelievable.
While still good, the Omega is more basic than the Patek Philippe
But the really big bucks are spent on the finishing. It would be no exaggeration that Patek Philippe watchmakers spend more time finishing the average component than Omega does on its entire movement. Everything is finished to perfection, everything by eye, and everything by hand.
Before finishing even begins, any little burrs or scraps are removed so they don't clog any of the intricate workings. Then the bevels are shaped by eye to an exact 45-degree angle, including the tricky acute angles. Holes for jewels are manually sunk for ultimate precision and to contain the oil. The wheels are the same, all hand-sunk. Teeth—even on the tiny pinions—are individually polished.
The hand finishing on the Patek Philippe is also leagues ahead of the Omega
All the striping, graining and polishing of the larger components is, of course, also done by hand. Each circle in the circular graining is applied one by one—by eye. The scale of work is immense—a single pinion requires 65 individual steps to finish to Patek Philippe's standards. Let that sink in. Compared to Omega's calibre 1863, it's night and day.
And it goes beyond what can be seen—every single component, whether it's visible or not, is finished to the same astronomic level. Doesn't matter if it's buried right in the middle, never to be seen again.
While the Omega can't match the Patek Philippe, it offers exceptional quality for the price
It's hard to put a price on perfection, but when Patek Philippe approaches its pieces without a thought to budget, watches like the 5170P emerge. The Omega movement is very good—exceptional for the price—but the Patek Philippe is quite simply on another level.
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Other watches you may be interested in: Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 3126.96.36.199.01.005 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 3188.8.131.52.01.001 Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 3570.50.00