September 18, 2015

I woke up for my last day of training with a mix of emotions. I was really starting to miss my wife and daughter back home, but also very sad that I would be spending my last few hours with some great people in an environment I may never get to experience again. The last day would be spent learning about the final quality control procedures, and then a wrap up of the week.

We began our day meeting with a few individuals who take the final cased-up timepiece and begin checking it with a fine-tooth comb. First, they check to make sure the correct hands and dials are on the correct reference. They test the crown and pushers when applicable. They test the winding mechanisms and calibers. Essentially all of the aesthetics are tested and compared to a master sheet. These are done in random order and with random references, so as not to numb the mind or eye to the same reference over and over.

Once the aesthetics are approved they are then tested for timing and accuracy in a variety of fashions for close to 30 days. The chronographs are tested by machine for pinpoint accuracy, and the second chronograph hand is aligned via magnification to lay perfectly vertical with the 12 o’clock marker.

Once the battery of tests for accuracy and timing have concluded, they are then tested for water resistance. They are submerged in a bath of water, and then exposed to simulate a timepiece in a shower. They are then heated to 40 degrees centigrade, followed by a drop of cold water on the crystal to ensure no condensation appears. Next the bracelet or strap is put on the watch and it is weighed to detect the presence or absence of any required components. These tests are not only performed for the new Patek Philippe timepieces, but for Patek Philippe repairs as well.

We next learned about the international customer service division, or ICS for short. There are currently 55 service centers around the world with 200 watchmakers. They have two groups, one for pre-1970s timepieces and one for post-1970s timepieces. Patek Philippe is one of the only watchmakers in the world who will repair its own pieces from its inception. This can become problematic when there are no plans for most watches pre-1930s. When a vintage piece comes in plans are recorded, and often repair pieces are made from scratch. We met a man named Frank, who produces vintage wheels and gears by hand. He can fashion the teeth on the wheel within two microns…by hand. To be clear, a micron is 1/100 of a millimeter, so he’s pretty much an engineering marvel. In over 21 years working for Patek Philippe, he has made only one mistake on fashioning these gears from scratch. It truly is amazing to know that the same dedication and quality control is given to their timepiece interventions as is given to new watches.

The next highlight of the trip was visiting the grand complication floor of the manufacture. We met the celebrities of the watchmaking world. We saw the Caliber 89, which up until a few weeks ago was the most complicated watch ever created. We met a watchmaker who repairs vintage minute repeaters, quarter repeaters and hour repeaters. He was in the process of creating a new gong for a quarter hour repeater because the original had fallen to disrepair. Next we saw the shining symbol of recent Patek Philippe history, the Grandmaster Chime. On its 175th anniversary last year, Patek created only six of this reference number, with a seventh to be on permanent display in its museum. There are 1,366 components in the Grandmaster Chime, and 20 complications. It takes five months to assemble — not make, but just to assemble!  There are two people who assembled the timepiece, and they trained for two years just to assemble this one watch. It is a modern marvel of engineering, and I strongly suggest viewing a video on YouTube to see it.

The last training module for the trip was learning more about Patek Philippe’s Advanced Research department. The guys in this group are the ones the nerds call nerds at Patek. Some of the brightest minds in the company work together to find new ways to improve time keeping and performance for all Patek Philippe timepieces. Recently, they were responsible for the development of the Spiromax, Pulsomax, and Gyromax.

We concluded our day with a recap of the week and our own personal highlights. We received a book from Patek that recapped our training, and had our guides sign them for us (it actually reminded me of signing yearbooks in high school). We parted ways and after a quick drink at the hotel, made our way to Le Loti restaurant at La Réserve Hotel.  This restaurant felt like I was walking into a scene in a James Bond movie. The parking lot was littered with Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Audis, an Aston Martin and a Bugatti. Walking in I felt underdressed in a suit. There must have been Middle Eastern royalty presence due to the amount of men in suits with earpieces clearly packing heat. The only thing missing was a craps or roulette table. Luckily we were given a secluded corner where we couldn’t bother any of the other guests in the restaurant. 

By this point in the trip everyone was pretty wiped. We had been out every night and up early morning. Honestly, I am glad I am happily married and don’t need to participate in such a lifestyle anymore. After saying our final goodbye to one of our hosts who came to dinner, we went back to the hotel for our last night as a group. I ended up packing that night because of my very early flight the next morning.