Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Refs. 7234R & 5524R
In 2015, Patek Philippe presented the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref. 5524G to the bemusement of many. Allegations that Patek Philippe were just trying to tap into a genre that they had nothing to do with were rife. As it turns out, many learned that year that the brand did indeed have plenty to do with building pilot’s watches back in the 1930s. In fact, these vintage instrument watches are displayed publicly at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. For Baselworld 2018, the brand announced (through Instagram, no less) and presented two new iterations of its 2015 debutant, further expanding its modern-day pilot’s watch collection. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the new Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Refs. 7234R & 5524R.
The case, dial, and hands
Case design for both the Ref. 7234R and Ref. 5524R are identical to that of the Ref. 5524G. There are two pushers on the left flank of the case that move the local-time hour hand clockwise (with the pusher at 8 o’clock) or counter-clockwise (with the pusher at 10 o’clock) in one hour increments when actuated. They are fluted for better grip and feature the manufacture’s patented safety lock that prevents accidental activation. In order to use the pushers, they need to be released with a quarter turn counter-clockwise and then locked again with a quarter turn clockwise.
Where the cases of the two novelties differ to the seminal Ref. 5524G is in material, and just for the Ref. 7234R, size. Both the Ref. 7234R and Ref. 5524R are crafted in rose gold and have a much warmer appearance compared to the Ref. 5524G in white gold. While the Ref. 5524R has the exact same case dimensions as the Ref. 5524G (42.00 mm x 10.78 mm), the Ref. 7234R is 4.50 mm smaller in diameter at 37.50 mm. With its daintier case size, Patek Philippe is marketing the Ref. 7234R as part of the ladies’ collection. What’s surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) though is that the general sentiment amongst the brand’s male enthusiasts and collectors suggests that they wouldn’t mind wearing the smaller Ref. 7234R, with many even preferring it. A 42.00 mm case size may be truer to the historical measurements of a pilot’s watch but let’s be honest, Patek Philippe’s modern pilot’s watches aren’t tool watches. They are too refined and delicate to be the real article, and serve better as aviator-inspired dress watches – which is why the more elegant 37.50 mm case size appeals to so many.
Both the Ref. 7234R and Ref. 5524R feature brown sunburst dials with a subtle black gradation towards the periphery. They are adorned with large, applied rose-gold numerals with white luminous coating, designed for maximum visibility. At 6 o’clock is the date sub-dial accented with an orange “1”. Like in the original Ref. 5524G, the apertures at 9 and 3 o’clock are day/night indications for local and home time, respectively. Indicating the local time are the rose gold, sword-style hands with luminous coating for the hours and minutes; the skeletonised hand indicates the home time. In a nutshell, the new Patek Philippe pilot’s watches in have given pilot’s watches an haute horlogerie makeover. They are very finely crafted – atypical for watches of its kind – which makes them more suited as casual dress watches than for aviation – unless by aviation you mean sipping champagne in the First Class lounge.
The movement powering the new Refs. 7234R and 5524R is the same as what is found in the Ref. 5524G: the in-house manufactured, 294-part Calibre 324 S C FUS. The self-winding movement has 35-45 hours of power reserve and operates at a modern 4 Hz beat rate. Equipped with Patek Philippe’s proprietary Gyromax balance and Spiromax spring, the movement is reliable with a rate accuracy tolerance of no more than -3/+2 seconds per day.
Finishing and decoration of the movement has also been upheld to the highest of standards, which again is not something commonly seen in this genre of watches. Gorgeous Geneva waves can be seen across the bridges, with polished chamfers on the edges. The winding rotor is adorned with circular waves and engraved with a Calatrava cross. In other words, just another day in the office for Patek Philippe.
The competitive landscape
The market for pilot’s watches is indeed competitive and dominated by big players like IWC and Zenith, so what would a pilot’s watch from Patek Philippe have to offer? Well, for one it is a Patek Philippe, and as much as we hate to admit it, the prestigious branding of Patek Philippe will always count for something. But one other trait that differentiates it from the rest of its competitors is that it has high finishing. For these reasons as well, the Ref. 7234R and Ref. 5524R are one of the more expensive dual time pilot’s watches in the market at SGD56,800 and SGD62,800, respectively. Whether or not Patek Philippe’s re-entry into the pilot’s watch market will be a success remains to be determined, but they face an uphill battle as newcomers.
Generally, what makes a pilot’s watch desirable to its clientele is its masculinity and heritage. Zenith’s Pilot Type 20 Extra Special in bronze fulfils both criteria to the dot. The brand’s history with aviation started at the very beginning of human flight when French aviator Louis Blériot flew across the English Channel in 1909 – he was wearing a Zenith pilot’s watch. Zenith had since been closely involved with aviation, building not just watches and clocks but other instruments like altimeters. The design of the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special was inspired from that of a cockpit clock built by Zenith in the late 1930s. Interesting side note: many had accused and continue to accuse Patek Philippe of copying the design of Zenith’s watches. But the truth is, the design with the large Arabic numerals and cathedral hands was generic a century ago. Nobody – and certainly not Zenith – owns the design; Patek Philippe does not deserve the flak that it is receiving. The vibe that the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special gives off is very different to that of Patek’s pilot’s watches. At 45 mm in case diameter and crafted in bronze, it is both massive and rugged at the same time. It has a more masculine quality, especially with the signature large onion crown, designed for easy handling with gloves, and with being not nearly as refined in craftsmanship as the Pateks. Beating inside it is Zenith’s time-only Elite 679 with 50 hours of power reserve. The watch is exceedingly charming and costs a fraction of the Ref. 5524R at USD7,600 (or roughly SGD10,282), a good deal even with no complications, no precious metal and no high finishing.
For something masculine but with more pizazz like the Patek, look no further than the IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince”. IWC’s run in with aviation began in the 1930s, and in 2005, the brand sealed the rights to the hugely popular novel “Le Petit Prince” as an exclusive for watches to IWC. The watch is executed in true pilot’s watch fashion: wide face with an even wider case (46 mm in diameter); a substantial onion crown; and giant numerals and hands. It is, however, executed in precious metal – red gold to be exact – and comes with a mesmerising midnight blue dial. As such it is a more casual (even dressier) interpretation of what would otherwise be a very masculine pilot’s watch. The movement that powers the Big Pilot Annual Calendar is the Calibre 52850 with 7 days of power reserve and fitted with an annual calendar module. Its finishing is done at a competent engineering level – neat and flawless – but far from haute horlogerie, which, to be clear, isn’t a problem. Overall, the watch is as practical as it is gorgeous, even to those unfamiliar with “Le Petit Prince”. At SGD49,600, we think it is appropriately priced and a good middle ground between the Zenith and the Patek.
With the new Ref. 7234R and Ref. 5524R, Patek Philippe further solidify their involvement with pilot’s watches. Are they the most exciting timepieces from the brand this year? No, far from it. But what they do offer is choice for the brand’s well-heeled clients who may prefer a pilot’s watch with a more refined movement and finish. We leave you with video evidence of how truly immaculate the Ref. 7234R is.