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SWEET AND SIMPLE:
A PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT OF
THE PATEK CALIBER 240
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Walt Odets
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[ Patek Philippe calibre 240 ]
First released by Patek Philippe in 1977, the caliber 240 was born as a thin base movement for the company's perpetual calendars.  With a thickness of 2.4 millimeters, the movement allowed a perpetual automatic caliber with a total thickness of only 3.75 millimeters, almost two millimeters thinner than its predecessor.  Today, the caliber 240 finds itself in a variety of simple and complex watches from Patek.

Conceptually, the caliber 240 is unremarkable, with the exception of a much improved design for the cannon pinion, and the Gyromax balance.  But this 21,600 beat per hour, 27 jewel movement is almost lyrically beautiful in the quality of workmanship and finish.

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[ Automatic winding mechanism ]
[ ] The elegantly simple automatic winding system rides in two ball bearings and six jewels. It winds in one direction (rotor counterclockwise).
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[ Rotor ]
The recessed microrotor, which allows the caliber's thinness, is 22 karat gold for density and improved winding performance.
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[ Winding bridge ]
The entire winding train runs under a simple, beautifully crafted bridge. Like all the bridges in the movement, finish is flawless.
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The keyless works, for winding and hand setting, is simple and immaculate, with its cover on  . . . [ ]
[ Keyless works ]
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. . . and off. Every gear, wheel, and pinion in the movement is perfectly and beautifully finished.
[ Keyless works ]
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[ Ratchet wheel ]
[ ] The full wheel train, from barrel (upper right) to escape wheel.  The center wheel rides in the barrel bridge. The power flow sweeps in an elegant, almost a perfect circle from the winding rotor at 2 o'clock, counterclockwise to the balance at 6.
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[ Wheel train ]
The barrel and ratchet wheel teeth.
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[ Barrel ]
The barrel itself.
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The escapement, with Gyromax balance.  The eight rim weights allow adjustment of poise and rate. [ ]
[ Gyromax balance wheel ]
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The Gyromax singing the sweet, precise song of beautiful mechanical watch movements.
[ Gyromax balance wheel in motion ]
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The product of authentic attention to detail and quality is unmistakable. Really beautiful movements have an immediate and distinct appearance on visual inspection, even to the naked eye. The perfect color, gloss, and sheen on all surfaces gives the movement an immaculate, silvery-black, almost ethereal quality. And closer inspection, with a loupe or with the extreme magnification used in this article (and used by good watchmakers), only improves the impression.

Whether the expense of excellent watch finishing is worth the cost is an issue that each must decide for himself and in respect of his budget. What does it take to make a good watch? A wonderful watch? A superb watch? That all depends on what you are looking for. Almost any watch, these days, will tell you the time, and many will look good, on the outside, while doing that. But very few watches tell you about craft, beauty, and excellence expressed in one of the most interesting mechanisms to come from the hand of man.  

(from: "The A-B-C's Of Watch Finish", by Walt Odets)

Note about damascene watch movement finishing ("Geneva waves", perlage, etc.): An anonymous horological expert has confirmed something I guessed from looking at pictures of early A.-L. Breguet watches: Even the very best damascening is less desirable than flawless completely plain ("flat", almost mirror-like) finishing. The original reason for damascening watch parts was that it was very difficult to produce perfectly flat metal surfaces. The damascene decoration made the unflatness less noticeable. We may speculate that, as time went on, even though it may have become less difficult to produce perfectly flat surfaces, the damascening "took on a life of its own", and came to be valued for itself -- although not for any good structural reason: i.e., the damascening became merely decoration. I believe, as Adolf Loos wrote in his epochal essay (1907), that "Ornament is Crime". All other things being equal, even the best damascene watch movement "decoration" is undesirable.
"A drawing [watch, etc.], like a person, takes a long time to get to know. If the work is authentic, it all hangs together as a statement -- there are no oddities about it, and it is organic and coherent. If something on closer inspection lets you down, it will continue to let you down. The more you go back to it, the more it reveals its weaknesses." (Nicholas Turner, former curator, J. Paul Getty Museum drawings collection, quoted in "A Crisis of Fakes", by Peter Landesman, The New York Times Magazine, 18Mar01, p.37)
"Philippe Dufour told me [Francois-Paul Journe] just the other day that my finishing quality is now good enough (laughter). I can do even better, but my production cost may increase by 3 times. I have no intention to make my collectors pay through their noses." ("The PuristS Interview Francois-Paul Journe", Sep03)
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Copyright © 1998, 1999 Walt Odets, All Rights Reserved
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Learn more about fine watch movement finishing.
 
See  Waltham "stone mountain" pocket watch (ca. 1872): transparent agate crystal bridges make movement seem to float in the air....
 
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