Review: Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270J

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Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270J

Just as the Calatrava is the face of Patek Philippe’s dress watches, so is the perpetual calendar chronograph the face of the Geneva Maison’s complicated watches. It was Patek Philippe who was first to produce in series the perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch. Debuting in 1941, the seminal Ref. 1518 would go on to become the template by which all future Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronographs are based on. The Ref. 1518 is regarded by connoisseurs as one of the most important wristwatches ever made, period. So rare and sought after the watch was, that in 2016, it sold for over USD11,000,000 at a Phillips auction. This was, after all, the very watch that introduced the majestic combination of the perpetual calendar and chronograph complications into a wristwatch.

The Ref. 1518 was powered by a Valjoux movement (extensively modified by Patek Philippe, of course), and the brand would continue to rely on suppliers for their perpetual calendar chronograph calibre needs for 70 more years. In 2011, Patek Philippe made a leap of faith to introduce the Ref. 5270, its first perpetual calendar chronograph with an in-house movement. This milestone was a big deal for a prestigious manufacturer like Patek Philippe as it signified the end of the manufacturer’s dependence on third parties to build movements for its iconic perpetual calendar chronographs.

This year, another milestone relating to the Ref. 5270 has been reached. Only days ago, Patek Philippe had announced that the Ref. 5270 will now be available in yellow gold for the first time. Naturally, this has excited many in the enthusiast and collector circles, as yellow gold is a classic alloy used in many past perpetual calendar chronograph references such as the Ref. 5970J and the Ref. 3970J. And so, without further ado, we now bring you the low-down and our thoughts on Patek Philippe’s new Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270J.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case design for the new Ref. 5270 remains unchanged. It is still the same nuanced case with notched/tiered lugs and a concave bezel. When you already have arguably the best looking case for any perpetual calendar chronograph timepiece, you really don’t have to force any design alterations. The only thing novel about this modern 41 mm case is in the material where it is now rendered in yellow gold for the first time for the Ref. 5270. For those that enjoy the traditional, vintage vibe that yellow gold offers, the Ref. 5270J is sure to thrill.

The case of the Ref. 5270 is majestically chiseled. It is by far the most nuanced case ever conceived by Patek Philippe for its perpetual calendar chronograph watches.

The dial design of the Ref. 5270 has undergone no less than two reworks over its 9 years of life so far, resulting in three generations of the reference. The first generation was by far the cleanest in design, with no tachymetre scale, no railway style tracks for the sub-dials, and no intersected chronograph seconds track. Perhaps feeling that the dial was too simple, Patek Philippe introduced a new generation of the Ref. 5270, now with a tachymetre scale instead of a chronograph seconds track, railway style tracks for the sub-dials, and the controversial ‘chin’. Dubbed the ‘Jay Leno’, the second generation Ref. 5270 had a tachymetre scale that warped around the date sub-dial, forming a ‘chin’. This didn’t sit well with many collectors at the time because it looked odd and went against the spirit of precision time measurement.

Patek Philippe has an uncanny ability to design balanced, legible dials on its grand complication watches – the Ref. 5270 is no exception.

The brand quickly remedied this ‘misstep’ the following year, when the third and current generation of the Ref. 5270 was released. Now, in addition to the tachymetre scale, there is also the chronograph seconds track. The unsettling ‘chin’ was gone, though at the expense of a continuous chronograph seconds track. The new Ref. 5270J, of course, belongs to this third generation – no design changes have been made to the dial. Patek Philippe has opted for a silvery opaline dial to allow for the brightness of yellow gold to stand out. Matching the case of the watch, the hands and applied hour markers are also gilded.

Note how the hands pertaining to the chronograph function are brownish compared to the rest. This enables the operator to easily differentiate between chronograph and non-chronograph hands and prevent confusion.

The Movement

Driving the Ref. 5270J is the same 456-part, 33-jewel Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q found in other variants of the reference. The movement, as mentioned above, is Patek Philippe’s first in-house perpetual calendar chronograph calibre. For a manufacturer that prides itself on being vertically integrated, this was an achievement worth celebrating. The Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q has a power reserve of 55-65 hours with the chronograph disengaged and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency, a staggering upgrade from the 2.5 Hz beat rate of its predecessor, the Lemania base calibre CH 27-70 Q.

The Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

Patek being Patek, it isn’t just the frequency of the balance that has been upgraded. The Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q was, and continues to be, one of the most advanced ‘traditionally built’ perpetual calendar chronograph movements around. The movement, when first introduced, had no fewer than six patented innovations incorporated into it. Without getting into too much detail, these innovations all have to do with improving performance (e.g. eliminating shaky chronograph hands) and increasing (energy) efficiency.

Up close shot of the proprietary Gyromax balance.

But what about looks? Interestingly, many connoisseurs argue that the old Lemania base calibre CH 27-70Q is superior in its architecture and layout – that it has more soul, if you will. We have to agree that the CH 27-70Q is indeed a stunner, but so is the new CH 29-535 PS Q. Just a look through the sapphire crystal case back says it all: the black polished column wheel cap, the continuous Geneva waves across the bridges, the polished bevels on the edges, the polished screw heads, the circular grained wheels, the tight and even perlage, and the gold-filled engravings, among other things. It is worth noting, though, that there is a distinct lack of inward anglage in spite of the numerous opportunities presenting themselves in the movement architecture. Inward angles are extremely difficult and time-consuming to execute, but we feel that an ultra high-end manufacturer like Patek Philippe should relish the challenge, not shy away from it to save time. Even the old CH 27-70 Q had at least one inward angle. Nevertheless, this isn’t really that big of a deal, and it’s just us nitpicking on an otherwise outstanding calibre.

While there are numerous rounded and outward angles, the complete lack of inward angles is palpable.

The Competitive Landscape

The Ref. 5270, in spite its overall excellence, has never quite escaped from the shadow of its predecessor, the Ref. 5970. Hardcore Patek fans say that the Ref. 5270 is too big, that the movement lacks soul, and that the dial lacks balance compared to the Ref. 5970. These are all fair albeit subjective points – the watch is not perfect – but the Ref. 5270 has so much going for it too. It has one of the most technically impressive perpetual calendar chronograph movements around; it has the most legible dial and certainly the most beautiful case among its classical peers. At the price of USD168,970, the Ref. 5270J will not be on the shopping list of ordinary folk, for it is one of the most expensive perpetual calendar chronographs in the market. Such is the price for technical, artistic, and brand prestige.

Despite its modern size, the Ref. 5270J sits on the average wrist with panache and security, and will slide under any dress cuff with ease.

Perhaps the closest rival that the Ref. 5270 has is the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual. While not as elegant nor as technically advanced as the Ref. 5270, the Datograph Perpetual more than makes up for these “shortcomings” with superior finissage, especially on the business end. The Calibre L952.1 has a more evocative architecture than the Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q, and finishing that would make the staunchest Patek fanboy go green with envy. As long as one can tolerate the mediocre 36-hour power reserve, the slightly thicker case, and the less legible dial, the Datograph Perpetual can serve as the ultimate alternative to the Ref. 5270, especially given its price tag of EUR124,300 (or USD141,900) – a significant USD27,000 less than the Ref. 5270J.

The Datograph Perpetual in white gold is currently the only regular production perpetual calendar chronograph in Lange’s catalogue.

If value for money is what you’re after, look no further than Chopard’s L.U.C Perpetual Chrono. By far the largest watch of the lot at 45 x 15.06 mm, the L.U.C Perpetual Chrono isn’t going to be for everyone. But let not its girth fool you into thinking that it is unrefined. The L.U.C Perpetual Chrono is fitted with the Calibre 03.10-L, a Geneva Seal (and COSC chronometer)-certified movement. Not only is it precise and reliable, the movement is also superbly finished, probably not to the extent of the Datograph Perpetual, but it certainly gives the Ref. 5270 a run for its money. The best part is, the watch costs ‘just’ over EUR100,000 – and that’s for the platinum 20-piece limited edition pictured below. This makes it, by far, the most affordable piece of the three here. And because the quality of the watch is haute horlogerie, the watch therefore also offers the biggest bang for buck.

The L.U.C Perpetual Chrono is a thoroughly contemporary watch, both in design and size. Paradoxically, it is finished in accordance to classical watchmaking, and to the highest level.

Final Thoughts

In 2018, we all thought the epic salmon dial Ref. 5270P was going to be the swansong of the Ref. 5270. The introduction of the more ‘down-to-earth’ but equally mesmerising Ref. 5270J proved that theory wrong. This may not have been an earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting novelty release – we’re not even sure if you can call it a novelty – but it is one that is most welcome. Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronographs and yellow gold cases play extremely well together and it is just such a pleasure to see this classic pairing finally implemented in the under-appreciated Ref. 5270.


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