Feature: £40,000 Patek Philippe vs £10,000 Girard Perregaux
You don’t have to ask around too much to discover that Patek Philippe’s 5170 is considered one of, if not the best chronographs ever made. It’s slick, it’s slim, it’s executed to perfection—but it also costs some £40,000. Just how close can you get for a quarter of the price?
On the face of it, the Patek Philippe 5170 looks like a pretty simple watch. The dial is plain, the hands and markers unremarkable, the features on par with something a hundredth of the price, let alone a tenth; associating a value of not just ten, but forty thousand pounds seems like an exercise in delusion. It’s an easy conclusion to make.
But that’s because Patek Philippe has never been a showy kind of watchmaker, except on the rare occasion like the fully engraved Grandmaster Chime or the Henry Graves supercomplication. For the most part, it practices a reserved subtlety, its true value remaining elusive to anyone not in the know. Like a Mercedes S-Class, the experience is for the owner and not the observer, as we’ll soon discover.
We’ll start with the dial, because it’s the thing potential owners will be looking at the most. Everything there is what would be expected—but it’s the way it’s executed that lends Patek Philippe the reputation it has come to earn. The hands and markers are shaped and polished—by hand—to a mirror-like finish that appears so insignificant—especially at any distance—yet takes many hours of incredibly skilled labour to achieve.
Even the print, layered on by hand, is impossibly flawless, retaining a crisp, bulbous, glossy finish that, for the designers and illustrators amongst you, has the properties of a vector where you’d expect a raster. Putting it simply, the quality doesn’t diminish even at the extremes. Given a visual stress test and the 5170 doesn’t even break a sweat.
And we’re not done with the dial yet, because the last thing we’ll mention is also the most impressive, and that’s the offset sub-dials. Yes, that’s right, the fact that the two smaller dials sit asymmetrically across from each other is a big deal, even if it seems less than arbitrary. What this tells us is that this watch secedes from the old ways—and indeed the ways of competitors like Vacheron Constantin and Breguet—and contains a chronograph movement made entirely in-house.
For a long time, the chronograph movement was considered too complex and too costly to manufacture in-house, and many high-end watchmakers—Patek Philippe included—chose to outsource to, typically, a company like Lemania. But, for Patek Philippe, not anymore. Those two offset sub-dials demonstrate the unique engineering that’s gone into the calibre 29-535 PS, a hand-wound masterpiece that tells the other half of the Patek Philippe story.
From an engineering point of view, it’s everything the brand set out to do when it established industry mainstays such as the combined winding crown and hand-setting mechanism. There’s an instantaneous minute counter, an elaborate device that jumps the chronograph minutes on the minute every minute. Even the teeth on the coupling wheel and the chronograph runner, the two wheels that mesh when the chronograph is activated, are given an asymmetric profile to reduce slack and wear.
If the engineering is why you buy a Patek Philippe 5170, it’s the finish of the calibre 29-535 PS that makes you keep it. Each and every one of the 269 components is elaborately hand finished—even the ones you can’t see—making this multi-layered mechanism gleam like a jewel when it catches the light. That’s what you get for £40,000—now let’s see what you can get for a quarter of that.
Now, you may think that because Girard-Perregaux is either a brand you’ve not heard of or know very little about, that it lacks the provenance of the much-praised Patek Philippe—but oddly, you’d be wrong. When Antoni Patek decided in 1839 that watchmaking just might be for him—some six years before Adrien Philippe was even on the scene—the business Constant Girard and Marie Perregaux would come to acquire and rename in 1856 had already been in operation for almost half a century, first established by a mister Jean-François Bautte in 1791.
So, no problems there. If you like your watchmakers old, they don’t come much older than Girard-Perregaux. But age isn’t much without experience, and thankfully Girard-Perregaux has that in spades. From the first high frequency movement to the silicon blade constant force escapement, Girard-Perregaux doesn’t so much dip its toe in the field of bleeding-edge mechanical watchmaking as it does jump in and get thoroughly drenched.
But enough about that, you get the point. What we’re really interested in is this, the Girard-Perregaux 1966 Chronograph, and I’ll have to admit that I’ve cheated a little bit here, because brand new, this is a £22,000 watch. If someone else has worn it, you can have it for less than half. It’s a similar story for the Patek Philippe, losing a similar amount on its journey from the jeweller’s window to its first owner, however the dent that makes overall seems much smaller comparatively.
Nevertheless, the Girard-Perregaux is a quarter the price of the Patek Philippe for what is essentially the same watch. Except that it isn’t, not really. They may both share a twin sub-dial chronograph and a tachymetre scale just inside the bezel, as well as a precious metal case and a pair of flattened pushers flanking a dinky crown, but as an experience, they differ tremendously.
For a start, the Girard-Perregaux is three millimetres bigger, and although that sounds like just, well, three millimetres, it makes all the difference. The Girard-Perregaux in isolation is a pleasingly proportioned watch, but worn immediately after the 5170, it comes across a little more ungainly. I mean, for the £30,000 difference, the Patek Philippe should be a better wear—and no surprises that it is.
Within the case, the execution of the Girard-Perregaux’s dial is reassuringly well put together, trailing the 5170 by a small enough margin that only the highest magnification can reveal. Attractive blued hands offer a splash of contrast to the rose gold, although the yawning gap between the edge of the case and the date window hints at the disproportion between the movement and the rest of the watch.
And it’s within the movement that the Patek Philippe really stretches out a lead. The Girard-Perregaux calibre GP030C0, an in-house, finely decorated, rose-gold rotor’d engine is, like the rest of the timepiece, an impressive feat of watchmaking—until you look at the Patek Philippe. It’s hard to imagine without seeing just how big the gulf between two, small, hand decorated objects can be, but let me tell you—it’s big.
I mean, there’s the immediate impression of having a movement that fills the case, chronograph mechanism exposed instead of hidden by the auto work, but it goes deeper than that. The finish of the 29-535 PS is richer, glossier, finer. Where things are polished, they’re liquid smooth; where they’re brushed, it gives the impression of silk. On initial impression you would wonder if you have to be an expert to discern the difference, but in a few short minutes of examination, you soon realise you’d have to be blind not to.
I’m not sure what’s more impressive: the workmanship of the Patek Philippe or the proposition of the Girard-Perregaux for just a quarter of the price. The side of the watch that looks up at you from your wrist displays a name you can be proud to wear in both cases, the canvas on which its printed equally worthy of these two illustrious contributors to fine watchmaking. The back, however, is where the 5170 earns its crust, taking a no expense spared approach to demonstrating the capabilities of the finest horological craftspeople in the world. What do you think? Does that make it worth four time more?
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