Review: The perfect circle is an ellipse: Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R

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Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R

Think of Patek Philippe and you think of watches like the Nautilus, the Calatrava and the perpetual calendar chronograph. Rarely will anyone bring up the Golden Ellipse, if at all, as if it was a fringe product of Geneva’s most revered maison. But did you know that the Golden Ellipse is in fact the second oldest watch in the Patek Philippe collection after the Calatrava (1932)? First launched in 1968, the theme behind the Golden Ellipse is to have an elliptical case with dimensions that respects the golden ratio. This year, to celebrate the 50th birthday of the enigmatic Golden Ellipse, Patek Philippe has extended its regular collection with a new rose gold/black dial grand taille model. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R.


The case, dial and hands

One might be tempted to think that designing a time-only, two-handed watch is easy – after all there aren’t any other functions or displays to worry about, right? Quite the contrary, it’s actually even harder to design compared to a complicated watch as you have absolutely nothing to hide behind. Any flaws in design will be exposed completely and relentlessly and without distraction. In true Patek Philippe fashion, the Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R is one of those time-only pieces that have got it oh-so right. First off, the case. Elliptical in shape (a cross between a circle and a rectangle), the case is crafted in 18k rose gold. It measures 34.5 mm x 39.5 mm, which is a palpable increase from the preceding Ref. 3738’s 31.0 mm x 35.5 mm dimensions. This up-size, we feel, is reasonable as it allows the watch to cater a bit more to the contemporary crowd while still retaining an elegant form. Combined with its absolutely slender 5.9 mm height, the Golden Ellipse becomes the perfect companion for formal events as it slips under the dress cuff with ease. And it’s not just about the size, but also the aesthetics. The case is entirely polished on the flanks and the bezel for dressiness (but brushed on the back for some contrast) with the edges rounded. At 3 o’clock is the winding crown with a black onyx carbochon set in it – if we had to pick the defining feature of the piece, the cherry on the icing, it’d be the gorgeous crown.


The onyx carbochon set into the crown of the Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R.


The dial of the Ref. 5738R is simplicity incarnate. It is (what Patek Philippe calls) ebony black with a sunburst finish that radiates from the center. At 12 o’clock is the company marquee in white and at the opposite end, the word ‘Swiss’ denoting the Golden Ellipse’s heritage. The darkness of the dial serves as the perfect backdrop onto which the stick hands and hour markers are set. Crafted in rose gold, they can’t help but stand out spectacularly even in spite of their no-frills shape. And it bears repeating that the Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R is about understated dress elegance and not about seeking attention. We think it’s achieved its goal. Thoroughly so.


As the saying goes: less is more. The dial of the Ref. 5738R is minimalist.

The movement

The movement that dwells within the Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R is one that needs no introduction to any Patek Philippe connoisseur worth his or her salt, for it is none other than the legendary Calibre 240. The Calibre 240 started its illustrious career inside the Golden Ellipse Ref. 3738/1 way back in 1977 and celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. It is only fitting that Patek Philippe’s go-to ultra-thin automatic movement be fitted into the new Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R. The 161-part, 27-jewel movement is only 2.53 mm thick, playing a key role in the watch’s overall slenderness. The thinness of the movement was made possible in part because the off-center 22k gold minirotor is completely recessed into the bridge plane. The Calibre 240 might operate at what most would consider an old-school beat rate of 3 Hz, but its functionality has been heightened by the innovativeness of Patek Philippe. It features the brand’s proprietary Gyromax balance equipped with the patented Spiromax balance spring for improved rate accuracy. Overall efficiency from the winder and the spring barrel to the escapement has been improved with a totally new going train featuring optimized toothing geometry and polished teeth.


The Caliber 240 as seen in the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 6006.


It’s just such a shame that the movement cannot be seen from the outside, as it is hidden behind a brushed, solid case back. But if one were to open said case back, one would be greeted with a movement stamped with the Patek Philippe Seal. The Calibre 240 boasts superlative finishing and decoration, with Geneva waves across the bridges and minirotor, bevelled and polished edges, and tight and even perlage across the base plate. A beautiful movement for a beautiful timepiece.


The Golden Ellipse has a solid case back.

The competitive landscape

It’s important to note that there is also another, more baroque Golden Ellipse introduced at Baselworld 2018 to celebrate the line’s 50th anniversary: the Ref. 5738/50P-001. Unlike the Ref. 5738R, the Ref. 5738/50P-001 is platinum, comes with an enamel dial with hand-engraved volutes, and a commemorative model made in a limited edition of 100 pieces only. The Ref. 5738/50P-001 comes with a price tag of SGD119,500 (CHF80,000) while the regular production Ref. 5738R is priced much lower at SGD40,700 (CHF27,200). Both timepieces are delivered with matching cuff links.


The Ref. 5738R is delivered to clients with matching cuff links.


While there are plenty of two-hand watches in the market, few are actually as refined and dignified as the Golden Ellipse Ref. 5738R. Few, but they do exist. One such timepiece hails from a certain small town in Saxony: the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin 37 mm. With dimensions of 37.0 mm x 5.9 mm, a clean silver dial, baton hour markers and only two-hands to tell the time, the Saxonia Thin 37 mm is very much the dress watch purists’ wet dream. Its manually wound, three-quarter plate movement is sure to please connoisseurs with a penchant for history and tradition. And for those with a fetish for fine finishing, the Calibre L093.1 possesses finissage that would make even Patek Philippe blush. But here’s the real kicker: at ‘only’ SGD21,300 (or half the price of the Ref. 5738R) it is also one of the most affordable ultra high-end gold two-handers in the market. Naturally, it’s impossible to say that one timepiece is objectively better than the other, but if you have an affinity towards more austere, German-designed timepieces, you’d have to be crazy to not consider the Saxonia Thin 37 mm.


Even today, many still deem the Saxonia Thin 37 mm to be the most “value for money” ultra high-end time only watch in the market.


Now, say you prefer the Swiss design and want something other than, but with a matching pedigree to a Patek Philippe, where do you look? A good place to start would be at Vacheron Constantin and its Patrimony line. The 2016-released Patrimony 42 mm is not technically a two-hander, but it is a time-only dress watch with a minimalist approach to its design, much like the Golden Ellipse and the Saxonia. It is a tad larger at 42 mm in diameter and as such would be better suited to those with more modern tastes. The Calibre 4400 AS that powers the watch is hand-wound and finished to the high standards of the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva. In other words, one can expect its finissage to be similar in quality to that of the Calibre 240. Priced at SGD31,000 for the gold variants and SGD52,000 for the platinum (with grey dial), the Patrimony 42 mm is priced between the Golden Ellipse and the Saxonia. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of these amazing dress watches. It’s all pretty much down to preference.


The Patrimony 42 mm comes in a trio of flavours: platinum/grey dial, white gold/white dial, and rose gold/white dial.

Conclusive thoughts


On the wrist, it is the perfect accompaniment to the bespoke shirt cuff and suit, especially with the matching cuff links.


The Golden Ellipse is not one of Patek Philippe’s more popular offerings, but there’s no absolute reason why it shouldn’t be so. The Ref. 5738R is one of the most regal two-handed, time-only watches we’ve come across. And in a market dominated by round cased watches, we think its unique case shape is a breath of fresh air. Patek’s decision to stick with the grand taille case was a smart one because it allows the watch to become appealing to the contemporary crowd while staying well within dress watch dimensions. There will no doubt be a long-line of clients waiting to get their hands on the commemorative platinum model but we hope that the rose gold model will enjoy a similarly positive reception from the community, because it genuinely is a gorgeous timepiece.



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1 Comment

  1. Kunal Khemka on

    Frank, thanks for this Excellent Review. I have always been intrigued by the PP Golden Ellipse. And I like this new one even more so. A nice change from typical round dress watches.

    Regarding the competitive landscape, I would like to point out the following VC’s as wel:

    a) VC Traditionelle – 38mm – Calibre 4400 (the size of the movement is perfect for the 38mm case).
    b) VC Patrimony – 40mm – Calibre 1400 (while no transTraditioparent caseback, this 40mm is perfect side for Patrimony).
    c) VC Malte – Calibre 4400 – Maybe VC’s take on a non-round dress watch.