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Review: Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5119R-001

Hands-on analytical review with high resolution live photographs.
by Frank Chuo on August 21, 2017

Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5119R-001

The Calatrava – widely considered to be the flagship line of Patek Philippe timepieces – was first introduced in 1932, the first of its kind being the Ref. 96. Even after so many years (85 years and counting), the design of the Calatrava has barely changed from the original. Known for its subtle elegance, the Calatrava is timelessness incarnate and impervious to short-lived trends that are so systemic in today’s watchmaking industry. Arguably one of the most emblematic Calatravas ever made is the Ref. 5119R-001 that debuted in Baselworld 2006. We went hands-on with this beauty and found that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Here, we bring you the technical details of the Calatrava Ref. 5119R-001 and our thoughts on this charmer of a dress piece.

 

The case, dial, and hands

In an era where dress watches are no longer defined by size, it is refreshing to see one that still plays by the old rules. The Ref. 5119R has a rose gold case that measures a restrained 36 mm in diameter and 7.2 mm in thickness. The watch cuts an exceedingly elegant silhouette on the wrist at these proportions, but it is not apologetic. It has more than enough charisma to stay relevant on the wrist in spite of its dainty size and this is partly due to its nuanced bezel. The famous ‘Clous de Paris’ hobnail pattern on the bezel of the Ref. 5119R borrows heavily from the venerable Calatrava Ref. 3919. The diamond guilloché adds to the character of the watch exponentially and enhances not just the visual, but also the tactile impact of the watch. The aesthetics of the case is rounded off with satin-finished sides, mirror-polished straight lugs, and a slightly domed crystal.

 

The case of the Ref. 5119R is vintage-inspired and incredibly nuanced.

 

The dial of the Ref. 5119R embodies the saying “less is more”. Indeed, this is a timepiece that is extremely confident in its simplicity. Simple designs are often devastatingly effective, and in the Ref. 5119R, Patek Philippe has achieved just that. In our opinion, everything from the typography to the layout is perfect; everything is in a state of equilibrium. The elongated, black Roman numerals (including the “watchmaker’s four”) scream of eloquence and serve to make the white lacquered dial appear even more luminous. The seconds sub-dial with its balanced positioning and discreet scale also contributes – in no small part – to the beguiling image of the watch. But what we particularly appreciate on the face of the Ref. 5119R are the hands. We feel that credit must be given for the choice of hands used to tell the hours, minutes (leaf-style hands) and seconds (baton-style hand). The hands – all of which are rendered in black nickel-plated gold – are fittingly delicate and appear graceful, almost gentle as they sweep across the dial. Separately, these dial elements show traits of insightful design and execution. Together, they create a visage that is both charming and timeless.

 

A simple time-only timepiece has nothing to hide behind and must therefore be perfect in design. Patek Philippe has achieved just that in the Ref. 5119R.

The movement

The heart of the Ref. 5119R is the 130-part, 18-jewel Calibre 215 PS (PS for petite seconde). At just 2.55 mm thick, it is one of the thinnest in Patek Philippe’s collection. The manually-wound Calibre 215 PS has a power reserve of about 44 hours while operating at a contemporary 4 Hz beat rate. Bearing the prestigious Patek Philippe Seal (the Geneva Seal pre-2009), the movement holds up against the brand’s strict standards on reliability, precision (maximum deviation of -3/+2 sec/day) and finishing. Indeed, when it comes to the rate and functionality of its movements, we can be confident that the basic pieces fare just as well as its grand complication brethren – but is aesthetics compromised at the entry level? If the Calibre 215 PS is anything to go by, we’d say that appearance is taken very seriously by Patek Philippe at every level. Inspired by the Patek Philippe pockets watch movements of old, the Calibre 215 PS is architecturally pleasing, which is more than what anyone can say about most base movements.

 

The pocket watch-inspired movement beating inside the Ref. 5119R can be viewed through a sapphire crystal caseback.

 

The bridge layout of the movement results in superb visibility of the wheels. Though lacking in internal angles (which are the most difficult type to produce), there are plenty of external angles on the bevelled edges of the bridges. These require a great number of  hours and an even greater level of skill to form and polish without flaw. And the result is visually spectacular. In a nutshell, the Calibre 215 PS may be a ‘bread-and-butter’ movement but there is nothing dull about its aesthetics. Its charming pocket watch architecture and meticulous finish puts it above the rest of the brand’s basic movements, at least in looks.

 

Gyromax balance and Spiromax balance spring. The design of the Calibre 215 PS may be inspired from the successes of the past, but its smooth operation is made possible by today’s innovations.

The competitive landscape

The Calatrava Ref. 5119R-001 is an entry-level Patek Philippe timepiece, though that’s not to say that it can be bought with grocery money. The Ref. 5119R is priced at about USD21,400 or SGD29,000 and that is a lot of coin to part with for what the general public considers to be an obsolete time-telling device. Being a luxury good, it isn’t just unneeded for daily living, it also comes with a bloated ransom. But that is the inevitable price that we have to pay to satisfy our curiosity and wants, to own something that has been painstakingly and superfluously crafted and decorated. As long as we see value in craftsmanship and heritage, a fine mechanical timepiece – the Ref. 5119R included – will be worth its price. The real question is though: how does the Ref. 5119R compare in value to equivalent products from competitors?

 

Fine craftsmanship and heritage is what one ultimately pays for in the Calatrava Ref. 5119.

 

The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 42 mm from SIHH 2016 is a timepiece that is, in many ways, akin to the Ref. 5119R. It has a simple, classic design; a slim profile; an in-house movement with finishing that is similar; and importantly, a comparable price tag of SGD31,000. There is one important specification however that significantly differentiates the Vacheron from the Patek and that is the case diameter. While the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5119R measures an old-worldly 36 mm, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 42 mm comes in at, well, 42 mm. From the purist’s point of view, the Patrimony 42 mm is oversized while the Ref. 5119R retains the proportions of a true dress watch. As such, the Patrimony 42 mm may be better suited to those with contemporary tastes and those who like a timepiece with a little more wrist presence. Meanwhile, the Ref. 5119R remains perfect for those with a penchant for tradition and history.

 

The contemporary proportions and design of the Patrimony 42 mm may be more appealing to the younger crowd than the Ref. 5119.

 

Also competing against the Ref. 5119R for the wrists of clients is the acclaimed Saxonia Thin 37 mm from German powerhouse A. Lange & Söhne. The Saxonia Thin 37 mm, which was introduced mid-2016, followed from the release of the 40 mm Saxonia Thin at SIHH earlier that year. While the 37 mm sizing may deter some, we feel that the proportions on the Saxonia Thin 37 mm are better than its 40 mm sibling. The gorgeous Calibre L093.1 which powers both watches fits much snugglier in the 37 mm variant. While the watch lacks the rich heritage that empowers the Patek Ref. 5119R, it makes up for it with better movement aesthetics. The 2.9 mm-thick Calibre L093.1 features movement finishing and decoration that is richer and more detailed than in the Patek Calibre 215 PS. Design wise, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is superbly clean and sleek owing to the lack of a seconds sub-dial and the use of a plain but well-finished case. It is a more austere look than the Ref. 5119R but also one more fitting for the modern era. What is also more ‘austere’ in the Saxonia Thin 37 mm compared to the Ref. 5119R is pricing – the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is priced at an approachable USD14,800 or SGD21,300. Unless one is a big history buff, there is much value to be had in what is likely to be the best watch priced under USD15,000.

 

The ultimate bang for buck? At under USD15,000 and with craftsmanship that is, at the very least, on par with the Ref. 5119 and Patrimony 42 mm, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm offers tremendous value.

Concluding thoughts

The Ref. 5119R-001 speaks volumes of its maker, not in spite of its classic design, but because of. If the perpetual calendar chronograph symbolises complicated watchmaking on one side of the Patek Philippe coin, then the Calatrava represents the other side of the coin that thrives on perfecting the traditional time-only dress piece and its design. Make no mistake, the Ref. 5119R-001 will not be for everybody especially given its petite size, but it stays true to itself. As such, its design and craftsmanship will remain relevant for the forseeable future; it is a true classic and thus its legacy is unassailable.

 

On the wrist, the Ref. 5119 is both discreet and charismatic at the same time. It is perfectly matched with a glossy alligator leather strap.

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