The Patek Philippe Ref. 5236P In-Line Perpetual Calendar was part of the exciting package of releases for 2021. We get up-close with the world’s first with the in-line perpetual calendar display in a wrist watch.
The perpetual calendar is a complication that is deeply intertwined with Patek Philippe’s history and has always been prominently featured in the brand’s collections. In 1925, Patek Philippe presented the first wristwatch with the perpetual calendar complication, the No. P-72, now on display in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. It wasn’t until decades later that the in-line calendar display was first implemented. In 1972, the manufacture had crafted pocket watches with an in-line calendar display for the American market. Customers from the United States were partial towards complicated watches that were easy to operate and can be read at a glance. One such timepiece, also currently on display at the Patek Philippe Museum, is the No. P-1450 pocket watch that features a calendar format “à l’américaine” (month, day, date). The manufacture never had a wristwatch with a full calendar on a single line – that is, until this year.
Review: Patek Philippe Ref. 5236P In-Line Perpetual Calendar
Designated the reference number 5236P-001, Patek Philippe gives its perpetual calendar wristwatches a new face. The watch, unveiled during Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021, is the culmination of Patek Philippe’s design and watchmaking know-how. Here, we give you the low-down and our thoughts on the Patek Philippe Ref. 5236P in-line perpetual calendar watch.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the Ref. 5236P-001, rendered in platinum, is inspired by the Ref. 5235 Annual Calendar Regulator. Its proportions are modern, measuring 41.3 mm in diameter and 11.5 mm in height. The case features a chamfered bezel and is entirely mirror polished by hand. Slightly angled strap lugs extend the line of the chamfered bezel and assure optimised comfort on the wrist. The case flank at the 6 o’clock position is adorned with a small diamond, denoting that it is indeed a platinum case by Patek Philippe. Also on the case flanks are recessed pushers that allow for calendar adjustments.
As beautiful as the case is, it is the dial of the Ref. 5236P that will inevitably capture the lion’s share of admiration from onlookers. The blue dial with the black gradation to the periphery creates a harmonious contrast against the silvery shimmer of platinum. The vertical satin finish adds a complementary textural element to the visual spectacle that is the dial. Two central baton hands tell the time in hours and minutes while a lancet hand within the seconds sub-dial at 6 o’clock indicate the seconds. The hours are marked by multi-faceted white gold appliques. Contrastingly, the minutes and seconds are marked by railroad scales printed onto the dial.
The biggest talking point on the Ref. 5236P, the linear calendar display, may take some getting used to initially. But once you get over the hump, you will find that it is as ingenious as it is elegant. Printed in blue on white, the day, date, and month displays are supremely legible. Patek Philippe has always had the knack for designing clean, easy-to-read dials but the manufacturer has outdone itself this year. It has found (or rather, rediscover) a way to further declutter its already intuitive perpetual calendar displays. While the single-line calendar display may not seem like a big deal, it kind of is from a technical perspective – a fact that will be covered in the next section. The Ref. 5236P is also the first calendar wristwatch to utilise this style of display, which makes it interesting from a design aspect as well.
The other displays on the dial will be familiar to the discerning enthusiast: the moon phase display at 6 o’clock, the day/night display at 8 o’clock, and the leap year display at 4 o’clock, all of which are displayed through their respective apertures.
The movement that drives the new Ref. 5236P, Calibre 31-260 PS QL, is based on the Calibre 31-260 REG QA that was originally launched in 2011 along with the Ref. 5235 Annual Calendar Regulator. It is given the 31-260 designation because it retains the diameter and height of the basic movement (31.74 x 2.60 mm). The letters that follow, ‘PS’ and ‘QL’, imply that the movement has a subsidiary seconds (petite seconde) and an in-line perpetual calendar (quantième perpétuel en ligne) function, respectively.
The Calibre 31-260 PS QL features a host of technical improvements over the base movement. It has been “tuned” to drive the particularly energy-hungry perpetual calendar mechanism. The torque of the spring barrel was increased by 20% and the winding power boosted with a platinum minirotor that has more mass than the 22K gold minirotors normally used by Patek Philippe. Rate stability was improved by increasing the frequency from 3.2 to 4 Hz (28,800 semi-oscillations per hour) which also simplifies precision adjustments to the rate tolerance specified by the Patek Philippe Seal. Moreover, the Calibre 31-260 PS QL is fitted with a reduction wheel that uncouples the automatic winder as soon as the movement is being manually wound. This is a Patek Philippe invention patented in 2019 that reduces wear.
The most novel and innovative aspect of the Calibre 31-260 PS QL is, quite obviously, the single-line calendar display with four rotating disks. This mechanism alone requirs 118 additional parts in comparison with a conventional perpetual calendar display, including several bridges and wheels with jewel bearings that reduce energy consumption, especially of the two date disks. To keep all the indications on one plane without any overlap, a display system composed of two coplanar double ball bearings was developed, for which a patent application has been filed. The synchrony of the two date disks is optimized with an “anti-double-jump” feature for the units disk to prevent disk bounce in the event of a jolt or when a date correction is being performed (second patent application). The transition from the 31st day to the 1st day of the next month is the subject of the third patent application for a mechanism that immobilizes the units disk.
Relative to the base Calibre 31-260 REG QA, the aesthetic appeal of the Calibre 31-260 PS QL is subtly evolved with two distinctive bridges for the escapement and the fourth wheel. This configuration affords a better view of the movement’s wheel train and overall architecture. It goes without saying that the finissage of the movement is exceptional with decorations and techniques such as Geneva waves, black polishing, anglage, perlage, circular graining, and engraving all visible through the sapphire crystal case back. Also worth mentioning is that if you’re impartial to missing out on the view of the gorgeous movement, the exhibition back can be substituted with a solid platinum back that is delivered along with the watch.
The Competitive Landscape
In spite of its complexity, perpetual calendar watches are fairly ubiquitous in the market. The ones that are as finely crafted as the Ref. 5236P, however, are harder to come by. At present, there is nary a wristwatch – other than Patek’s – with a similar type of calendar display. While there is a handful that are as clean (or cleaner) in design, none are quite as intuitive to read. The Ref. 5236P is an exemplary timepiece from a design standpoint, made possible by smart watchmaking. Of course, such excellence comes at a price, and that price is USD130,110.
The year 2021 is shaping up to be the year of the perpetual calendar watch, because apart from the impeccable Ref. 5236P, the watch world is also presented with the new Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar by A. Lange & Söhne. While the Patek opted for a concentrated calendar display on the Ref. 5236P, A. Lange & Söhne goes the opposite direction by dispersing each display evenly on the solid pink gold dial of the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar. This way, the dial is harmoniously balanced – fully utilised yet uncluttered. The best part of the watch is arguably the moon phase display, which doubles as a day/night indicator thanks to the rotating disc that depicts the sky behind the moon. As expected from Lange, the watch in its entirety is magnificently finished, a characteristic shared by every current timepiece from the illustrious Saxon brand. The price, as one might imagine, is at a similar level to the Ref. 5236P: SGD157,300 in white gold with pink gold dial (limited to 150 pieces), and SGD141,700 for the pink gold variant.
When it comes to minimalist calendar displays, one cannot go without mentioning the H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Perpetual Calendar. While it is not as informative and intuitive as the Ref. 5236P, it certainly has a cleaner design. Instead of a window or a subdial display, the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar indicates the month with an arrow hand and the hour markers, with each one representing a month in the year. And instead of placing the mostly-irrelevant leap year indicator dial-side, Moser wisely decided to relegate it to the back of the watch. Let’s be honest, the leap year is virtually only useful when you need to set the watch (and the calendar function) after prolonged disuse. Priced at CHF54,000 for the white gold version, the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar remains one of the more competitively priced high-end perpetual calendar wristwatches in precious metal.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5236P In-Line Perpetual Calendar might not be the most exhilarating release of Spring 2021 but it certainly is one of the most fascinating from a watchmaking perspective. It’s not just the novel, linear calendar display that impresses, but also the sophisticated, unseen mechanics behind the dial that makes it possible. Patek Philippe has always kept their perpetual calendar watches highly legible and clean; with the Ref. 5236P, the bar has certainly been raised higher.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5236P was photographed in the Patek offices in Singapore. Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 and HC 2.8/80 with H28 extension tube. Profoto strobes.