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Review: Same Beast, Different Skin – The Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Regulator Ref. 5235R

by Frank Chuo on May 7, 2019

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Regulator Ref. 5235R

When the Ref. 5235 debuted in 2012, it became Patek Philippe’s first ever regulator wristwatch. Interestingly, the watch (in white gold) was both impressive and divisive at the same time. It was impressive – at the time – because it incorporated the fruits of Patek Philippe Advanced Research, including the Spiromax balance spring from 2006, and the Pulsomax escapement from 2008. But why was it divisive? Many felt that the styling of the watch was way too contemporary and “un-Patek”. This year, the esteemed Geneva manufacturer releases a new version of the watch that – based on overall sentiment – is perhaps easier on the eyes. Enter, the Annual Calendar Regulator Ref. 5235R.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

Identical to the seminal Ref. 5235G, the Ref. 5235R has a case that measures a modern 40.5 mm in diameter and 10.0 mm in thickness. While the case isn’t the most nuanced to emerge from Patek Philippe’s manufactory, it still is finely crafted. The top of the case and lugs are polished to a sheen, while their sides are satin-finished for a delightful contrast. On the case band are the crown at 3 o’clock, adorned with the Calatrava cross, as well as multiple recessed pushers that allow the user to adjust the calendar display.

The case design of the Ref. 5235R is clean and much simpler compared to certain other Patek Philippe references.

Nothing has changed on the dial of the latest Ref. 5235, except for the colour scheme. The original Ref. 5235G had a brushed dial that was silver toned; the Ref. 5235R has one that is dark grey in colour. In addition, the minute track, along with the perimeter of the dial, sub-dials and the calendar display discs, is now rendered in black. As a result, white print is used as opposed to the blue in the original to enhance legibility. The one exception applies to the Patek Philippe marquee at 3 o’clock where the print is in black – a smart move, in our opinion, to minimise distraction. For consistency, all three baton hands on the dial are also coloured white.

The two-tone dial is gorgeous though some may dislike its contemporary flair.

Black/grey dials, especially in combination with a coloured gold case, are trendy right now, which may in part explain why sentiments around the release of the Ref. 5235R are more positive. In terms of layout, the dial is perfectly balanced. The calendar indications are well-integrated and nothing sticks out like a sore thumb. This should probably come to no one’s surprise, as Patek Philippe has always been the master at designing uncluttered, legible dials. While some design aspects of the dial will be universally celebrated, others will prove to be more polarising. For instance, the traditionalists may find the watch with its two-tone dial to be too contemporary. Others may also find the typography and the baton hands too austere and uninspiring. But no matter one’s preferences, rest assured that the craftsmanship of the dial and case is impeccable.

The Movement

Driving the Ref. 5235R is the 313-part, 31-jewel Calibre 31-260 REG QA. It is the very same movement that powered the original Ref. 5235, with a 48-hour power reserve and an unorthodox 3.2 Hz beat rate. The calibre may be seven years old, but it is still a technical masterpiece today. Hailed as avant-garde in 2012, the movement features a host of Patek Philippe’s finest innovations, including the Gyromax balance and – as previously mentioned – the Pulsomax escapement and Spiromax balance spring. Another Patek Philippe achievement that can be found in it is the annual calendar function. The manufacture was the first to introduce the annual calendar watch back in 1996. The annual calendar sits between the perpetual calendar and the complete calendar in terms of complexity. Being able to tell apart months with 30 or 31 days, it requires just one correction per year, at the start of March. Suffice to say, Patek Philippe had gone all out on this movement; it isn’t merely a base, workhorse movement with an annual calendar module.

The Calibre 31-260 REG QA as seen through the sapphire crystal caseback.

From a finishing standpoint, the Calibre 31-260 REG QA shines as well. The top surface of the bridges is adorned with Geneva waves while the edges of the bridges are chamfered and polished. There are also numerous exterior angles to be found on the movement, often a tell tale sign of a high end movement. The gold micro-rotor is decorated with circular waves and engraved with the Calatrava cross. Beneath it, the base plate is finished with tight and even perlage. All in all, the finissage of the movement does not pale in comparison to its technicality.

The devil is in the details: sharp exterior angling, even perlage and pronounced Geneva waves are among the many decorative techniques applied to the movement.

The Competitive Landscape

The Annual Calendar Regulator Ref. 5235R is priced at CHF45,700. High end annual calendar watches remain fairly uncommon in the market, at least when compared to their complete and perpetual calendar counterparts.

The Ref. 5235R sits with proportion and security on the wrist.

That said, one brand that has enjoyed a strong annual calendar presence in its collection is A. Lange & Söhne. The Saxonia Annual Calendar, introduced in 2010, represents a solid alternative for anyone who may not be used to the Ref. 5235R’s unorthodox styling. The watch is highly legible and packs a bonus moon phase display. It arguably has superior finishing to the Ref. 5235, especially in the movement department. The Saxonia Annual Calendar in pink gold is priced similarly to the Patek Philippe, at EUR45,900 or approximately CHF52,300 at the time of writing.

The Saxonia Annual Calendar is one of two annual calendar timepieces by the young German brand, the other being the 1815 Annual Calendar.

Interestingly, in 2018, Longines unveiled its own annual calendar timepiece: the Master Collection Annual Calendar. Priced at just SGD3350, the watch is, to the best of our knowledge, the most affordable annual calendar watch in the market. The Calibre L897.2 that drives the watch is an ETA movement designed for Longines. It is heavily machine finished, which is to be expected given its price tag. Nevertheless, the Calibre L897.2 is reliable and that’s what counts. On the front end, the watch features a barleycorn-stamped dial and blued steel hands. The date and month are displayed through apertures at the 3 o’clock position. Overall, we feel that the Master Collection Annual Calendar is a handsome piece that would look complete with a solid case back (why display a machine-finished movement?). The watch is a splendid alternative for those who wish to have an annual calendar timepiece but are unwilling to break the bank.

Longines Grand Collection Annual Calendar oblique view with crown
A simple steel case with polished surfaces that fits perfectly on the wrist. The case is voluminous enough to look good even on a bigger wrist.

Concluding Thoughts

The Annual Calendar Regulator Ref. 5235R isn’t your typical Patek Philippe watch. If the regulator display doesn’t make you think this, then the contemporary styling would. Some will find the watch lacking in identity, while others will delight in its modern design and the manufacturer’s efforts in staying relevant. Regardless, one thing is certain, and that is the quality of the timepiece. In addition to top craftsmanship, the Ref. 5235R is also anointed one of Patek Philippe’s most innovative movements. This release is more than just a cosmetic update; it serves as a reminder of how Patek Philippe has thrived for almost two centuries and will continue to do so.

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