Datograph Perpetual vs. Ref. 5270
The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual and the Patek Philippe Ref. 5270 are the two most highly regarded perpetual calendar chronograph timepieces currently in production. For these two timepieces, it is simply not enough to be incredibly technical, but to also be the most finely crafted. Those who have been in the watch scene long enough will know that it’s always going to be a heart-wrenching task choosing between these two beauties. Today, we’re here to break it down for you by comparing and contrasting the two timepieces. To do so, we’ve chosen to pit head-to-head the most contemporary variants of the Datograph Perpetual and the Ref. 5270 – in other words, the white gold/grey dial Datograph Perpetual (2015) and the white gold/blue dial Ref. 5270G-019.
Both the 2015 Datograph Perpetual and Ref. 5270G-019 come in cases crafted in white gold measuring 41.0 mm in diameter. The Ref. 5270 is marginally thinner at 12.4 mm compared to the Datograph Perpetual’s 13.5 mm. While a difference of 1.1 mm doesn’t sound like a lot, it is actually quite noticeable on the wrist both in feel and sight. When it comes to dressiness, every millimetre that can be shaved off counts, so the Patek Philippe has the (slight) edge in this category.
The difference in the style of the cases is palpable as well. While both are crafted and finished to the highest extent, the Lange case is clearly more austere while the Patek is more nuanced. The Datograph Perpetual comes in Lange’s stock standard case, with a brushed case band and polished rounded bezel. Meanwhile, the Ref. 5270 is presented in a more elegant case with a concave bezel and concave steps along the notched lugs. The former is overbuilt and formidable, the latter, elaborate and charismatic. To operate the chronograph, both timepieces are equipped with pushers on the flanks of their cases at 2 and 4 o’clock. The push action of the Datograph Perpetual’s pushers is the same as that of the orignal Datograph: buttery smooth. The Ref. 5270 pushers actuate with slightly more resistance and audible ‘clicks’.
Both the Datograph Perpetual and Ref. 5270 utilise all four quadrants of the dial to fit as many displays with as little clutter as possible; it is Patek Philippe that has achieved the better outcome here. The displays on the Ref. 5270 are more evenly spread out, and with the use of apertures to indicate the day/night, leap year, day, and month, even more space could be saved, and with added legibility. In the Datograph Perpetual, the 12 and 6 o’clock positions are occupied by only the date and moon phase displays, respectively. This means that everything else – the day, date, leap year, day/night display, running seconds and chronograph minutes – has to be clumped together in the left and right sub-dials, indicated by no less than six hands. While the iconic Lange outsize date is able to shine on the dial this way, legibility for the rest of the displays is compromised. Even the moon phase display has been downsized, its usual magnificence undermined.
Balance is also an issue on the Datograph Perpetual – its day/night and leap year indicators protrude from the upper and lower confines of the sub-dials and stick out like sore thumbs. Clearly, even the manufacturer considers it an aesthetic flaw as the more recent Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon has day/night and leap year indicators that are integrated into the sub-dials, resulting in a much, much more balanced look.
While nothing on the dial of the Ref. 5270 really stands out on its own (unlike the signature outsize date on the Datograph Perpetual), they come together to form something greater: an absurdly legible, well-balanced dial. Complicated watchmaking is not just about being able to cram as many functions as possible into the case – it is also about displaying them as cleanly and legibly as possible on the dial, something Patek Philippe has mastered over the decades.
Let it be made clear beforehand that the movements within the Datograph Perpetual and Ref. 5270 are the best of the best in the watchmaking industry. The Calibre L952.1 that powers the Datograph Perpetual needs no introduction to any watch enthusiast worth his/her salt. It is basically the original (not to mention legendary) Datograph movement – yes, the chronograph movement that turned the fine watchmaking industry on its head in 1999 – with a perpetual calendar module on top. Meanwhile, ticking inside the Ref. 5270 is the Calibre 29-535 PS Q, Patek Philippe’s first in-house perpetual calendar chronograph movement. Compared to the Calibre L952.1, the Calibre 29-535 PS Q – launched in 2011 – is more modern and optimised. The movement incorporates no less than six patented innovations that serve to improve its performance. These include innovations that eliminate hand jitters, increase efficiency and reduce wear, making the Calibre 29-535 PS Q one of the most advanced traditionally built chronograph movements ever.
It is worth mentioning that the Calibre 29-535 PS Q has 65 hours of power reserve while operating at a 4 Hz beat rate compared to the Calibre L952.1’s below average 36 hours of power reserve even while operating at a lazy 2.5 Hz beat rate. While it is clear that Patek Philippe’s Calibre 29-535 PS Q is ‘state of the art’, Lange’s Calibre L952.1 does have a few functional perks over its rival. Firstly, the Lange has a quick-set pusher (at 10 o’clock) that makes date adjustments super easy and convenient. Date corrections on the Ref. 5270 can only be done by actuating one of its recessed pushers with a stylus or a toothpick – not exactly fun. Secondly, the Calibre L952.1 boasts a flyback function, allowing the chronograph to be reset while running and then instantly begin running again; this function is not available on the Ref. 5270.
Where movement architecture and aesthetics are concerned, few can argue against the Datograph Perpetual coming out on top. In fact, many would herald the famous Datograph movement as one of the most beautiful movements ever built. The Calibre L952.1 has an overall higher level of finish and decoration, thanks in no small part to the brand’s ‘double assembly’ protocol that allows extra meticulous finishing. Both movements reveal plenty of chamfers with rounded and outward angles, but only the Calibre L952.1 has inward angles, the most difficult type to achieve and impossible to create by machine. From a decoration standpoint, the Ref. 5270’s Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q looks plain in comparison. In the Calibre L952.1, elements like blued screws, gold chatons and floral hand-engraving serve not just to add colour and texture to the grey expanse of movement parts, but also to remind the beholder of the brand’s heritage. Also a favourite talking point between connoisseurs of both brands is the column wheel.
Apart from the hand-engraved balance cock and the sprawling levers, the column wheel is arguably also one of the star attractions of the Calibre L952.1. Lange’s 8-gap column wheel coordinates all the switching operations of the chronograph mechanism. Note that it is also uncapped which permits us to see it at work in its full black-polished glory. This is in contrast to the Patek’s capped column wheel, which doesn’t offer as much to see. But what’s interesting is that the immaculately black-polished cap is actually functional – enhancing chronograph performance – and not merely cosmetic; it is one of the Calibre 29-535 PS Q’s patented innovations. By now, it should be clear as day where the focus of both manufacturers lie with regards to their perpetual calendar chronograph movements: Lange – on craftsmanship, and Patek – on technicals.
So, what exactly is the price for stratospheric excellence? For A. Lange & Söhne, it’s SGD184,300; and for Patek Philippe, SGD216,500. Indeed there is an unmissable SGD32,200 price discrepancy, and yet no one can truly say that one is objectively better than the other. It all comes down to what one values in fine watchmaking. Is it flawless design? Jaw-dropping finishing? Heritage and brand prestige? The truth is, you really can’t go wrong with either of these titans. Even in the secondary market, neither the Datograph Perpetual nor the Ref. 5270 perform too poorly. That said, if past performance is any indicator of future results (think Ref. 5970), once the Ref. 5270 is discontinued, its valuation may well skyrocket. It’s all speculation at this point of course, so if you’re in the market for either of these masterpieces, get the one that makes you happiest – trust us, that is the most underrated advice anyone can dole out or receive on watch collecting.