Thursday, October 22

Review: The Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5180/1R – No Skeletons In This Closet

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Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5180/1R

The Patek Philippe Calatrava is many things: elegant, dainty, simple, dressy, thin. One thing it is not, is exhibitionist – well, at least not until the Ref. 5180 came along. First available in white gold, Patek Philippe’s openworked wonder was, to say the least, polarising. But that didn’t stop the brand from releasing a rose gold iteration back in 2017, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Calibre 240 that drives the watch. The Ref. 5180/1R possesses even greater shock value than its white gold sibling due to its striking rose hue. While many find the watch distasteful, others see merit in the ornate timepiece; we, too, belong in the latter camp. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the Calatrava Ref. 5180/1R.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the Ref. 5180/1R measures an elegant 39 mm in diameter and 6.7 mm in height. It is entirely polished to enhance its dressiness. Matching the rose gold case is a supple bracelet also made of the same material. Because of the tiny size of each link, and the fact that there are 15 of them in each row, the bracelet is superbly flexible, really moulds to your skin, and is remarkably comfortable.

The case is delightfully thin, delicately crafted, and immaculately polished; the same can be said of the supple bracelet too.

But as eye-catching as the full-gold bracelet is, the dial of the watch (or lack thereof) is what really draws attention from every onlooker. Strictly speaking, there isn’t any dial left to speak of. The hands are still there though, one for the minutes and another for the hours, both located centrally. They are rendered in leaf-style and blackened. The rest of what makes the visage of the Ref. 5180/1R is movement proper.

It isn’t often that you see a completely dial-less Patek Philippe timepiece. This makes the Ref. 5180 all the more special.

The Movement

Driving the Ref. 5180/1R is the tried and true 159-part, 27-jewel Calibre 240 SQU (for ‘Squelette’). The self-winding movement has a minimum power reserve of 48 hours and operates at a stately 3 Hz frequency. Now that we’ve managed to get the dry bits out of the way, let’s talk about how the movement has been skeletonised with extreme prejudice. A quick glance is all it takes for one to realise that the Calibre 240 SQU looks almost unrecognisable to the austere Calibre 240 (sans SQU). Almost every component of the former has been pared down to the maximum extent possible to create a seductive view, but at the same time, without compromising the reliability and functional integrity of the movement. The work involved requires not only artistic flair and a steady hand, it also calls for the skill of a watchmaker who knows exactly where the limits of skeletonisation lies. It takes more than a week to create the filigreed transparency of the movement and it’s not hard to see why. Not only have the bridges been openworked to bare bones, the multitude of edges that are newly created are also chamfered and polished. In addition, numerous sharp inward and outward angles adorn these new edges, both of which are testament of a finisseur’s skills. The plate is openworked even above the barrel, exposing the coiled mainspring beneath the pierced contour of the Calatrava cross.

The Calibre 240 SQU as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

At this point, the decorative work on the Calibre 240 SQU is far from over. The next steps take place on the workbench of the engraver who invests more than 130 hours to decorate the remaining structures with vivid arabesques and volutes. The brand marque is engraved on the remaining parts of the barrel frame around the Calatrava cross, which itself is also decorated. Interestingly, the ‘PP’ logo of the respected Patek Philippe Seal makes its first appearance on the 22K gold minirotor, a space normally reserved for the Calatrava cross.

Being only 27.5 mm in diameter, the Calibre 240 SQU is nowhere near the size of the actual watch itself at 39 mm. To fill the gap, the Calibre 240 SQU is framed by a movement holder ring (as is always the case with small movements and much larger cases) in 18K rose gold. To help it ‘blend in’, the ring is also skeletonised down to 12 spokes that serve as hour markers.

The plates and bridges of the Calibre 240 SQU is elaborately engraved – a stark contrast to the plain movement holder ring cum hour markers.

So, what makes the Ref. 5180/1R so divisive? They say you can have too much of a good thing, and it most likely is the case with the Ref. 5180/1R, or more specifically, the Calibre 240 SQU. No one is criticising the skills or effort poured into creating the Calibre 240 SQU; rather, it is the “excessive” nature of the work done that is under scrutiny. People see Patek Philippe watches as classicism personified: clean, elegant, legible, and classy. When you completely remove the dial of a watch, skeletonise every part of the movement to extreme ends and engrave every milimetre of whatever’s left with ornate floral motifs, it’s understandable how some may feel that the aforementioned qualities are lost. Then there’s also the unusual decision to not only reveal the huge movement holder ring, but also to incorporate it as part of the package. The thing is, movement holder rings tend to be viewed negatively by watch collectors. When a manufacturer wishes to recycle a movement and can’t be bothered building a movement from ground up to fit a case, they call upon the power of the movement holder ring. The sight of a tiny movement in a ridiculously large case is pretty damning too – like a teenager wearing his dad’s ill-fitting suit. Could the Ref. 5180 have done without the movement holder ring cum hour markers? Definitely.

Of course, taste is subjective and while most find the Ref. 5180/1R distasteful, others adore its artistic beauty; we sit on the fence on this one, but quietly revere its ornate beauty. The way we see it, the Ref. 5180/1R is more akin to a museum showpiece, demonstrating the full extent of Patek Philippe’s know-how in watchmaking, engraving, and openworking – not necessarily a piece designed to be worn daily. If everyone started to see the watch this way, then they’d realise that the Ref. 5180/1R is a pretty epic specimen meant to be celebrated.

The Calibre 240 SQU features the best efforts of openworkers, engravers, and finisseurs, but is it just too much of a good thing?

The Competitive Landscape

In the history of watcmaking, the first openworked pieces were the covers of pocket watches. It wasn’t until the 16th century that watchmakers started to openwork the bridges of balance wheels. Today, skeletonised watches are fairly common. What’s rare, though, are skeletonised watches worthy of the highest echelon of watchmaking, and no matter how you slice it, the Ref. 5180/1R undoubtedly belongs there. Sure, the design might rub some people the wrong way but the craftsmanship – from the watchmaking and finishing to the engraving and openworking – is of the literal highest level. And what is the price of such excellence? The Ref. 5180/1R is priced at an eye-watering SGD134,400.

The Ref. 5180/1R sits elegantly on the wrist thanks to its sub-40 mm diameter and thin profile.

The extreme level of transparency possessed by the Ref. 5180/1R reminds us starkly of a timepiece that is very different to it: the Angelus U20 Ultra-Skeleton Tourbillon. Like the Ref. 5180/1R, the U20 lacks a dial and thus the movement is completely exposed. It is based on a sapphire crystal main plate, with the rest of the calibre supported by blue skeletonised satin-finished titanium bridges. Priced in the ballpark of USD70,000, the U20, also equipped with a flying tourbillon regulator offers great value.

The Angelus U20 Ultra-Skeleton Tourbillon

For something a little less modern, look no further than this year’s Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton. You may be tempted to think that the tilted design of the watch is Cartier’s attempt at being contemporary, but the Tank Asymétrique and its design dates back to 1936 – the watch is one of the oldest variations of the Tank line. Of course, the original never was skeletonised, but if you were going to skeletonise a Cartier watch, it may as well be something unique in design like the Tank Asymétrique. The brand has done well with the openworking, with the dial completely gone, the movement plate carved into hour markers, and the other parts appearing to float in thin air. The finissage and decoration of the movement is not quite as elaborate as the Ref. 5180/1R but the Tank Asymétrique Skeleton is no less captivating. Available in platinum, yellow gold, and pink gold, the watch is priced up to USD70,000 (the same as the Angelus U20) depending on the version.

The Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton

Final Thoughts

The Ref. 5180 has its fair share of detractors. But that didn’t stop Patek Phillipe from introducing a new variation of the Ref. 5180 in an even more striking hue in 2017. Clearly, the brand doesn’t see the reference as a skeleton in its closet, because if it did, it would have done well to let the original Ref. 5180 be a one-off and forgotten. The truth is, while the watch has its critics, it also has plenty of admirers. If you can look past the excessive ornamentation (which some genuinely and understandably like), the timepiece reveals itself as nothing less than a labour of love by elite craftsmen of multiple disciplines.

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