Mandy's £21,500 watch: It takes a year to make and drips with gold and diamonds. How VERY New Labour !
Peter Mandelson this week reached out to an important bloc of voters in a bravura conference performance. I mean, of course, that hitherto-untapped reservoir of electoral strength; Britain's community of wristwatch enthusiasts.
Through the wonders of high-resolution digital photography, watch lovers were able to see that, as he walked to the conference, Mandelson was wearing a Patek Philippe watch - and not just any old Patek Philippe but - to give it its full name - a Reference 5146 annual calendar in yellow gold with a dark slate grey dial.
How thrilling to see at last a British politician who is unafraid to brandish a watch that takes more than a year to build and which is powered by the legendary self-winding calibre known as 315 S IRM QA LU. Mandelson is wearing a tiny micromechanical marvel painstakingly assembled from 355 minuscule components.
Reassuring price tag: Peter Mandelson models his Patek Philippe Reference 5146 at the Labour Party Conference - a timepiece worth £21,500
Patek Philippe makes watches for serious collectors. The company was founded in 1839 and Pateks have been worn by Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein, Duke Ellington and Vladimir Putin. So- called 'God's Banker' Roberto Calvi was wearing one when he was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.
Pateks could not be further from the bling of the MTV generation who favour half a kilo of gold and a few carats of diamonds. Instead, a Patek Philippe has all the traditional qualities you would expect of a Swiss watch: accuracy, discretion and a price tag that is perhaps best described as reassuring.
I've visited its factory in Geneva and, while it retains all the artisan craftsmanship you would associate with a master watchmaker, its technology is extraordinary. The workshops are as clean as an operating theatre.
Some of the watches, the minute repeaters, sound the hours, quarters and minutes. But before the chime is considered acceptable, the company's owner, Philippe Stern, listens individually to each one. To ensure he does not reject too many, a computer programme which mimics his ear listens to the watches first.
Patek Philippe watches start at around £10,000; for this you will get the Aquanaut, made of steel and with a rubber strap, or a manually wound yellow gold Calatrava Ref 5199.
One to watch: A Patek Philippe timepiece as sported by Peter Mandelson at conference this week
A watch such as the one worn by Mandelson costs £21,490 - that's with its crocodile- skin strap fastened with a deployant (folding) buckle that closes with a satisfying snap and displays the discreet company emblem of the Calatrava cross, which Patek borrowed from a military order of 12th-century Spanish knights.
But what exactly do you get for your money? Well, the company prefers you to think of a watch as an investment, which will last generations.
Indeed, in its advertising, Patek makes the claim that you never really own one of its watches - you merely look after it for future generations.
The Patek Philippe annual calendar watch that Mandelson wears is so called because it tells the time, the day of the week, the date and the month as well as the phases of the moon; moreover, it is able to discern which months have 30 days and which have 31, so it only needs to be adjusted once a year - at the end of 28-day February.
Lord Mandelson is not the only European statesman to fall for a Patek. Carla Bruni gave Nicolas Sarkozy a Patek Philippe as her wedding present, and it's a smarter one than Mandelson's - it's a perpetual calendar wristwatch as opposed to an annual one; it not only discriminates between long and short months, but also accounts for February and does not even require adjustment during leap years.
But Sarkozy and Mandelson are, in fact, mere bit players in the super-watch league. Back in Thirties, the American art collector and banker Henry Graves Jr. joined battle with the automobile manufacturer James Ward Packard to own the most complicated watch in the world.
He commissioned Patek Philippe to produce a one-off - the Supercomplication, a pocket watch of yellow gold which took three years to make, secured Henry Graves victory and became the most expensive timepiece ever when it sold for $11million at auction in December 1999. It is now in the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva.
Patek Philippe's most complicated contemporary wristwatch is the Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref 5002, costing around £700,000 (the price fluctuates according to currency movements).
Consisting of 686 parts, it houses a minute repeater mechanism, a perpetual calendar, and, most striking of all, on the back of the watch, a representation of the heavenly vault in the northern hemisphere.
It shows, among other things, the movements of the moon, the stars, as well as the meridian passages of Sirius and the moon; an extra two hands also show ' sidereal' time, which as the people at Patek Philippe will tell you 'is the period of time between two consecutive passages of a fixed star across a certain meridian - its duration averages 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.09892 seconds'; an altogether more elevated system than your common-or-garden 24- hour day.
I find it hard to think of a man who would appreciate this distinction more than Lord Mandelson.
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