BMcC's war with Patek Philippe SA (and more)

"God is in the details." (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe)



Ever since late childhood I had worn a Rolex, but not thought much about it except that it represented quality. The approach of the "millenium change" back 31 December 1999CE to 1 January 2000CE somehow seduced me into getting interested in fine watches. Idiot/fool me! I had a big battle with Patek Philippe concerning their then < US$20,000 watches, "the net" of which was that these watches were not rigorously up to my interpretation of the company's espoused advertising motto, and to what I believe "The Geneva Seal" should certify under a jeweler's loupe – I believe that "God is in the details" (Mies van der Rohe).

I no longer wear a wristwatch, post ca. 2008CE(?). There are some really noble watches, but most of the few of them are made by independent craftspersons and > US$40000 (as of 2000CE). US$100,000++ high-end Pateks should be good too. Some early 20th century American pocket watches, e.g., the Waltham Premier Maximus, ca. US$20,000 in 2000CE, may also meet the criteria, and there is a 19th century Waltham that is genuinely transparent – crystal plates – which is close to six-figures and not of this world[1], but the watch is also extremely fragile/brittle; Jaeger LeCoultre is an example of a company that makes appealing not $$$+ watches but they are not quite in Patek's "league"-- I could go on here.... There also are honorable relatively affordable watch brands, esp.: NOMOS (which today may be less inexpensive than it was in 2000CE), or maybe even some commercial Japanese Seikos? I wouldn't buy a Rolex these days (I'm not saying Rolexes are bad watches); Omega "coaxial" technically better at Rolex price point because it uses the revolutionary George Daniels escapement. And there are others that are also OK (e.g. IWC). My story here is an example of an educational experience.

The case (i.e., story not watch part)

Patek Philippe ref. 5054 wristwatch. For some reason I (BmCC) have not figured out, I find this asymmetrical, highly idiosyncratic dial design enduringly intriguing.

The pain of this story for me is relieved only by the boundary that I believe I have no reason to feel moral guilt. I rely on material from my old personal website, e.g., here for the following:

One person's disappointing experiences with Patek Philippe SA and The Henri Stern Watch Agency (2000-01CE).

This is a really weird and sad to myself story, about a Patek Philippe ref. 5054 (2000CE price ca. US$17,000/18,000 -- I am not wealthy but I was always thrifty) watch I bought from an authorized dealer – followed by another story about a Patek ref. 5066/1A (price 2000CE ca US$8,000) I ordered earlier (from a different authorized dealer). First, the ref. 5054:

The watch (Case: #4084536; Movement: #3111817) was supposedly new from the factory, or, to be precise, when I ordered it, the dealer told me that I was in luck, because Henri Stern Watch Agency (Patek Philippe's USA distributor) had one yellow gold ref. 5054 in stock. When I brought the watch back to the dealer (due to problems I describe below...), the dealer said it was indeed not right and that they would send the watch back to Henri Stern Agency for a replacement. After Stern received the watch, the dealer said someone there told him that "at some point the watch case had been opened". If yes, not by myself!

Henri Stern Agency immediately sent the dealer a fresh-from-Geneva replacement, which was indeed "clean". On hearing this, I was happy, since I did not imagine that the new watch could be anything other than the watch that was returned, except without the defects.

However! When I put the replacement watch on my wrist, I couldn't keep it from rolling around on my wrist, because my wrist is small and the replacement watch's case back was almost "bubble"-shaped (i.e., the flat part of the case back that rests on the wrist was small relative to the overall diameter of the watch). Soon I realized that the case had to be different than the first watch! After studying pictures on the Patek website (which I had not looked at closely before I ordered the first watch!), I soon came to the conclusion that the replacement watch was a standard ref. 5054 – whereas the first watch had not been a standard ref. 5054.

My speculation, in retrospect, was/is that the first watch was some kind of prototype that "escaped". Its case back was "flatter" than the standard 5054 (the first watch stayed in place on my wrist). Also: The ref. 5054 has a hinged protective case back (half-hunter?). On the first watch, the hinged cover had a rounded edge and, when closed, it just rested on the watch's case back. On the second watch, the hinged cover had an edge almost sharp enough to cut yourself on, and when you closed it, it snapped shut so that, when you opened it, you heard a tinny


noise. (I feel that a tinny "Plink!" sound is not compatible with the dignity of Patek Philippe; but a manager at Henri Stern Agency told me Patek worked very hard to make the ref. 5054 case back that way.)

I asked the dealer to try to get the first watch back so that we could compare the two (I offered to pay any associated costs). This went on for over 6 months, with Henri Stern Agency at first saying they were working on the watch, and then saying it had been sold. Someone may be walking around wearing what they think is a regular Patek ref. 5054 but which is really a unique piece (or maybe the movement was re-cased in a standard ref. 5054 case before being re-sold?). Alternatively, the watch (or at least the watch case) is either still "somewhere" in Patek, or else it was broken up for parts or the evidence was destroyed???

The first watch was beautiful – better: enchanting, until I examined it with my 10X loupe. That's when I saw the things that made me unhappy and made me take it back to the dealer, including: (1) what looked like steel wool abrasion on the barrel bridge, (2) badly done engraving on the bridges, (3) scratches on the mini-rotor, (4) several pieces of lint inside the movement. In addition, (5) after examining the Certificate of Origin document closely, it looked to me like it may have been produced at Henri Stern Agency just before they shipped the watch to my dealer (i.e., not "original").

The case back of the first watch was finished so exquisitely that I thought it must be like one of Patek's US$300,000+ watches (ref. 3939H). The second watch – the normal ref. 5054 – was disappointing, as I said, because it had a completely different case back design. It also has a protruding "ring" around the edge of the case near the front that makes it reminiscent of a mushroom. Also, the dial in the first watch was slightly off-center in the case, which made the minute hand sometimes not align exactly with the "tick marks" on the "railroad track" around the edge of the dial [other ref. 5054 owners have complained that they were annoyed by this "defect" in their watch]; the dial in the second watch was exactly centered, so that the minute hand was "correctly" synched with the tick marks, but somehow the result looked boring. (The most refined Japanese connoisseurs treasure certain kinds of "imperfections" in things, but not Brillo abrasions.)

There's the story. If I had not bought from an authorized dealer, there would probably be no story. Having bought from an authorized dealer at least enabled me to get my money back on the second watch, which displeased me as much due to its intrinsic design as the first watch had displeased me due to its accidental defects.

With what I learned after it was too late, I wish I had done three things: (1) take documentary photographs of the first watch, and (2) when the dealer sent the first watch back to get fixed, that I had stipulated that I wanted that watch repaired, NOT a "factory fresh brand new replacement watch" [Why the cross-out? Because I do not trust PP] and (3) have kept the original corrupted watch instead of letting PP get its paws on it because it may have been something some very rich collector might have paid more than the watch's retail price to acquire (this, somewhat like why a certain USA postage stamp with a picture of an airplane, but the plane was wrongly printed upside down, is extemely valuable).

The reason I wish I had taken the photographs, of course, is that my story sounds like "the fish that got away". And the reason I didn't "really make a stink about it" was that I do not have evidence [the photos I did not take...] to prove my case (no pun intended...). I believe I deserved (still deserve...) some gracious "consideration" for all this, not just my money back, which I did get when I stubbornly returned the second watch, so that this sad tale did not monetarily cost me anything other than interest on the money. What I really wanted was the first watch (Case: #4084536; Movement: #3111817) but "komt terect".

Now, my second story: When, previously, I ordered an Aquanaut (SS Patek sports watch), I was told the watches were very difficult to get. But Henri Stern Agency gave my dealer a date when mine was supposed to have been delivered. When the date arrived and the watch was not there, I asked the dealer to call Stern Agency. The dealer phoned them, and was told that the watch had not arrived and that they [Stern Agency] were unsure whether it ever would arrive.

But where, in reality, was this watch? In U.S. Post Office Registered Mail, somewhere between Stern and the dealer (a distance of less than 100 miles). In other words: Some clerk at Henri Stern Agency was too lazy to get off their duff to check the status of the order (it was Friday afternoon, after all – TGIF, etc....). The clerk could have told the dealer: "Excuse me, but I will have to check this out and get back to you early next week." Who knows? Maybe Stern's records were so bad that the clerk actually did check??? (The reason this episode was important to me is that, believing the watch I ordered might never arrive, I cancelled my order and bought one from a different dealer, who had one in stock and then I had a disappointing experience with that dealer, who did not pack the watch properly when they mailed it to me. No damage done, but not a worthy arrival. I cannot overemphasize that, for myself, God is in the details – it's the only God I've godt. And I do mean all of the details.[2])

Far more consequentially, the "Geneva waves" decoration (my ref.: The first sentence of Hermann Broch's novel "The Death of Virgil": "Steel blue and light....") anglage on the movement's main plate was not right (see picture and alt text at top of this page for details).

If I was Mr. Philippe Stern (CEO of Patek Philippe SA), and I found out the kind of "stuff" that I (BMcC) encountered was going on in my company, I would not be able to sleep peacefully or eat without indigestion, until I got to the bottom of it and fixed the root causes that enabled such things to happen. If I was Mr. Stern, the Henri Stern Aquanaut story would have put me on the next flight to New York! The ref. 5054 story, I would have personally started investigating in Geneva.

I hope I have not outworn your patience, my reader, with my stories. As said, this is all painful for me. Someone might ask me: "What's the big damned deal with shit nobody can see only at 10X magnification if they are some perfectionist freak? And, anyway, you not politically correct, you [fill in the blank], millions are starving!" My answer: "My God, even if not yours, my interrogator, is in the details. As to morality, I am guilty as charged, but for a person to wish not to be without self (aka selfless) is not yet a chargeable offense either in USA or in The Hague. Look in the mirror, Sir, and check your own assets/possessions. Do you own a house and have a mortgage, Sir" "Well, Yes, but so what?" "I propose that if you can have a mortgage then I can have a watch. Do you like Kano-no-Chomei lived?" "Is that somebody?"

I would judge a Mies van der Rohe or any other building by, inter alia, how the joints of the structural steel are finished. I have a friend who built himself a house in that spirit. I would also add that I did not have the money to really play the fine horology game. Even upkeep on a mechanical watch is expensive.[3] I should have stuck to pottery. But I learned my lesson before I suffered a great fall. I believe a person can become addicted to fine watches like persons are addicted to gambling or video gaming. (As for the PP Aquanaut, after it sat in its box with its C of O (Certificate of Origin), etc. on a high shelf for maybe 10 years, The RealReal sold it, January 2020CE, for, net, a couple dollars more than I had paid for it.)

Now here is something nice that only cost $3 USD

Waltham Watch Company. Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Abraham-Louis Breguet, the towering figure of horology (I have a copy of George Daniels' canonical book on A-LB), did not decorate the plates of the watches he made. The great American watch companies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which were above all others in the world, including the Swiss, in their time ("What is the truth? Where did it go?" Here is an American heritage of which DJT must be entirely oblivious, unless he uses some of his money to do secret things), also did not decorate the plates of their watches. I have a letter from a direct descendent of A-LB, approving of a thought I had about him [A-LB]. Whatever: The conclusion here now seems to me crystal(sic) clear: Breguet + Waltham + Adolf Loos + Mies van der Rohe... ≡ Do not decorate watch plates.

Do not decorate watch plates

The solution to Patek Philippe's issues with Geneva waves decoration anglage is simply to not do any, but to do this in such a way as to take your sight away → and, as Hermann Broch wrote in his Notes on the Problem of Kitsch (ref.: Gillo Dorfles book, "Kitsch: The World of Bad Taste"), to give it back to you transfigured [←last word may not be Broch's word, but I can't remember his word.].

"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works." (Matt 5:16) No decorated sheds (ref.: Robert Venturi, post-modernist architect)! I have learned something in writing this page in A Place to Study. As I write this note, I am listening to Wanda Landowska. She lived her last years in Lakevile, Connecticut (1949-1959?), an honor for that town.

Example of a watch that appears to be made to my expectations: Chaṣ Frodsham chronometer. (Also: Example of a watch I never expected to see and hope I did not see it but I did: The Franklin Mint on steroids.)

Something I would never, never, ever have

Something brought this to my attention: Watch winders. These are gadgets that you put a self-winding watch in and it keeps the watch wound up by faking being your wrist. I cannot see any honor or pleasure in having a watch you neither wear nor manually wind. A watch winder sounds to me like putting a perfectly serviceable watch on life support. An exception might be if you are a jeweler and want to keep your stock wound, but this is not selling watch winders to resellers. As for resellers, in Montreal, Canada, I once saw a Patek Philippe on a watch winder in a jeweler's shop window (which was already bad enough due to sun exposure of the display window!), where the winder must have had bad gearing, since each time the watch rotated, it hiccupped and dropped the watch maybe 3 or 4 millimeters. I was a bit in pain watching that poor watch go bump, bump, bump all day.

A note

There is no memory which time does not efface,
and no pain to which death does not being an end. (Sancho Panza, Cervantes)

"A mechanical watch must be serviced every three years." (Hardy Köppe, Head of Customer Service, Glashütte Original)

In researching for this page, I came across a website [HODINKEE]. One must join to enter a community comment. I joined. One question they ask for one's Profile: Your horological wish list. Why not answer truthfully? My answer: "Any watch made by Abraham-Louis Breguet. Antikythera mechanism." My first community comment (to make which is why I joined): "Packard Motor Company advertising dicta: 'Ask the man who owns one' and 'Every owner a salesman'. F.P. Journe: 'Invenit et fecit'. Noble statements."

As of 2001CE, there was available at least one original A-LB watch for less than US$10,000. A simple watch, so simple that I could understand how the escapement worked, not an accurate timekeeper, but apparently a real Breguet. I should have bought it instead of messing around with Patek Phiippe SA. "All understood, too late." (Sophocles) Few persons need a watch for telling the time today (Example: sea divers), but work from a master craftsperson's hand can be "timeless" – i.e. celebrating "the living present" in which "everything": all things, all places, all persons and all times find their place and pace.[4]

There is one contemporary watch which is not astronomical price and which I think would have satisfied me: Breguet ref. 7027, which has undecorated movement in the spirit of A-LB. I also recommend Manfredi Jeweler, Greenwich, Connecticut USA. However: I still think I should not have any mechanical wristwatch. Less money would purchase a number of unambivalent fine books, whiskey, ceramics and other things: far more timelessness in time (and which I would not have to worry about damaging if my wrist bumped into something).

Even better choice: Chaṣ Frodsham Chronometer.

Best wishes! Yours in time... [even though time does not always tell...].... (Invenit et fecit)

+2024.06.17 v047
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  1. A picture of this watch was the cover of an issue of the Smithsonian magazine.
  2. "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matt. 25:40)
  3. NOMOS website: "As you go to the doctor once in a while or bring your car for a service, every mechanical watch also needs regular maintenance. At the latest after three to five years, a complete revision should be carried out by one of NOMOS's authorized dealers or a specialized watchmaker. After this time, it is quite possible that the lubrication may have evaporated. Where metal rubs against metal, wear and tear can be the result. We also recommend having your watch checked once a year for water resistance, and if necessary have it restored--sealing rings are made from rubber and could deteriorate under extreme heat, for example." I have no idea what a maintenance on a Patek is in 2020CE – Surely [much?] more than US$500, and the more expensive/"complicated" the watch, the more expensive the maintenance will be, because price of maintenance varies directly with complexity of mechanism.
  4. Marshall McLuhan (RIP Louis Forsdale!): The message of any communication medium is the changes it makes to the "pace, pattern and scale" of life.

BMcC signature seal stampInvenit et fecit
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