There are many ‘firsts’ strewn throughout the rich history of Patek Philippe. First keyless watch? Checked. First Swiss wristwatch? Checked. First complicated ladies’ wristwatch? Checked. First serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph? Absolutely checked. And these were all achieved before World War II had even concluded. If we had to single out one of Patek Philippe’s many achievement’s from the modern era, it’d have to be the invention of the annual calendar wristwatch. The year was 1996, and with the introduction of the Ref. 5035, Patek Philippe had just unleashed a revolutionary, new calendar complication in the form of the annual calendar. Thenceforth, annual calendar wristwatches, Patek or otherwise, would typically be priced lower than perpetual calendar equivalents while being more sophisticated than its triple calendar counterparts – the best of both worlds.
Annual Calendar Travel Time Ref. 5326G
This year, a new first has materialised for Patek Philippe: the Ref. 5326G. It’s not quite as epic as inventing a whole new category of mechanical wristwatch, but it’s nonetheless significant. The Ref. 5326G is the brand’s first annual calendar travel time wristwatch, uniting two highly practical complications under one dial. Sounds simple enough, right? Well the challenges lie in more than just trying to accommodate two complications in one case. It’s more to do with getting the mechanical interactions between two distinct mechanisms absolutely spot on. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the new Annual Calendar Travel Time Ref. 5326G.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
If it isn’t apparent already, the entirety of the Ref. 5326G screams “new beginnings” – starting from the white gold case. At first glance, the case looks like any that you would find on a Patek Philippe Calatrava. A closer look, especially on the flanks, reveals that this is a case with a brand new design language. Because this is the first time that Patek Philippe has incorporated a Clous de Paris pattern onto the case band. This hobnail motif isn’t exactly a novelty – it has been implemented on the bezels of previous and current Calatrava models and to great effect. Moving this signature decoration to a new location on the case can be seen as the brand’s attempt to freshen things up. The rest of the case is austere by comparison – a sloped bezel and four trapezoidal lugs, all of which are simply mirror polished. Measuring 41 mm in diameter and 11.07 mm in height, the Ref. 5326G is by no means a dainty timepiece, nor is it unreasonably large. For a watch its complexity, the proportions are to be expected. Two interchangeable straps, one in beige calfskin with a nubuck finish and the other in black calfskin with an embossed fabric motif and beige topstitching, complete the audacious look of the Ref. 5326G. The decision to pair the reference with not one, but two easygoing, casual straps is another indicator of Patek Philippe trying to woo a younger demographic.
Yet the biggest sign of things to come is the dial, which could easily be mistaken as something from an entirely different brand. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this is Patek Philippe’s most casual dial design ever. Part of the reason is down to the dial surface. It resembles the grainy surface texture of old-timer cameras intended to improve grip. For added dramatic effect, the charcoal grey dial gradates from darker on the periphery to lighter in the centre. The trendiness of the dial is further compounded by hands and hour markers coated with beige luminescent material. It feels a little bit like the dreaded “fauxtina” but it is not; this is a few shades lighter and fresher. Syringe hands and Roman numeral markers aside, the minute and seconds tracks are also rendered in beige. To indicate the second time zone, the Ref. 5326G utilises a skeletonised syringe hand (surprise, surprise – also in beige) to point out the hour at home. Two round apertures display the day/night indication for local and home time. Three more apertures at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions display the day of the week and month, as well as the date. The moon phase display, while not technically part of the annual calendar, adds visual appeal and whimsy to an otherwise intense dial.
Driving the new Ref. 5236G is the equally new 409-part Calibre 31‑260 PS QA LU FUS 24H. The movement has a shorter-than-average power reserve at 38-48 hours and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency. Its key complications include the annual calendar and the travel time, both of which don’t just co-exist, but are also functionally linked. The annual calendar function, which requires just one correction annually on 1 March, is linked to the local time hour wheel. As such, the date that is displayed always pertains to that of local time. No fewer than eight patent requests have been filed for the Calibre 31-260 PS QA LU FUS 24H, relating to elements improving precision, efficiency, reliability, security and user friendliness. One of our favourite quality of life improvements that has been implemented into the movement is the shortened amount of time it takes for calendar displays to advance, reducing the chances of mishaps during the critical transition phase. There’s also the ease of setting both local and home time – both are done via the crown. Pulling the crown out to the middle position allows for the quick adjustment of local time in one-hour increments in either direction.
The high functionality of the Calibre 31‑260 PS QA LU FUS 24H is matched in equal parts by its form. The finger bridge architecture of the movement is reminiscent of old pocket watch movements and is most apt for a retro-inspired reference such as the Ref. 5326G. As expected of a Patek Philippe Seal-stamped movement, the finissage on the Calibre 31‑260 PS QA LU FUS 24H is superb. Geneva waves span across bridges evenly as the base plate is covered by ample perlage. Every edge is beveled and polished while every wheel is brushed. There are also plenty of sharp outward angles to feast upon (although there is a distinct lack of inward angles). The highlight of the movement, however, remains the platinum micro-rotor, decorated with circular Geneva waves, an engraved Calatrava cross, and chamfered edges.
The Competitive Landscape
On their own, the annual calendar and travel time complications aren’t that rare to find in high-end wristwatches. Combined, they become somewhat of a unicorn hunt. This is how the Ref. 5326G stands out in the market, well, apart from the left-field aesthetics. Younger collectors (to which the Ref. 5326G is targeted) are seen as those who are more likely to wear the watches they buy. The highly practical combination of the annual calendar and travel time, along with the trendy and casual cosmetics, makes it likelier for the Ref. 5326G to be worn daily and thus more appealing to the aforementioned demographic. The Annual Calendar Travel Time Ref. 5326G, a regular production piece, is priced at EUR68,800.
The combination of the annual calendar and travel time complications in the form of the Ref. 5326G might be a first for Patek Philippe, but Blancpain has had an equivalent for many years: the Villeret Quantième Annuel GMT. As its name would suggest, the watch features both annual calendar and GMT functionality. Yes, unlike the Ref. 5326G, the Blancpain is a true GMT watch as it displays time in a second time zone in a 24-hour format, rendering the day/night indicator redundant. The aesthetics of the Blancpain is more classic and dressier, if a little too sober. Priced at around the EUR30,000 mark, the Villeret Quantième Annuel GMT in stainless steel offers genuine value. It is neither as well-finished as its Patek counterpart, nor encased in precious metal – but at less than half the price, the Villeret Quantième Annuel GMT warrants serious consideration as an alternative.
For something a little more rudimentary (but not really), look no further than the Villeret Quantième Complet GMT. It’s Blancpain again but this time without the annual calendar functionality. The watch displays as much information as the Quantième Annuel GMT but requires correction multiple times a year instead of just once in March. There’s a lot going on on the dial because the date and GMT are displayed in a radial format and indicated by central hands. Plus, there’s also Blancpain’s trademark moon phase display at 6 o’clock. If you don’t mind the clutter, the Quantième Complet GMT – with its blue serpentine date hand, red-tipped GMT hand, and smiling moon – is infinitely more charming than its annual calendar sibling. Because it is a lesser complication, complete calendar watches do tend to be much less expensive as well. The Villeret Quantième Complet GMT, at its debut, came with a price tag of USD15,000 for the stainless steel version and USD26,700 for the red gold version (shown below).
The Ref. 5326G is an objectively fantastic watch from a mechanistic and functional point of view. Its aesthetics, however, is a more subjective matter. While the watch is excellently finished, its retro-inspired, trendy looks risk isolating Patek Philippe connoisseurs who may see the watch as an unholy aberration. On the flip side, the Ref. 5326G will certainly find suitors among younger collectors, which is probably what Patek Philippe management is aiming for. Love it or hate it, you have to give credit to the brand for proactively trying to stay relevant. Changing times call for new strategies; if history is anything to go by, Patek Philippe are going to be just fine.