A year ago, we began the ‘Vertical Collection’ series where we highlight watches from the same maison that are considered ‘must haves’. These watches may not be the most commercially successful, nor the most horologically significant. But they are selected on the basis that they represent the values of the brand and have become icons. We previously scoured the A. Lange & Söhne collection to name three essential Langes; now, we do the same for Patek Philippe, one of the oldest, most revered watch manufacturers in the world. As before, we intentionally limit ourselves to just three selections here to serve as a base.
The Vertical Collection
Since May 1st, 1839, Patek Philippe has been perpetuating the tradition of Genevan watchmaking and has done so without interruption. As the last family-owned, independent watch manufacturer in Geneva, Patek Philippe enjoys absolute creative freedom to design and produce its timepieces. It is one of the most respected watch brands in the world today, manufacturing some of the finest timepieces known to man. Over the years since its inception, Patek Philippe has enjoyed considerable success with its watches with many going down as icons. Here, we curate three essential Pateks that are a must to start a vertical collection with.
The word ‘icon’ is thrown around a little too lightly these days, yet it is the perfect word to describe the Patek Philippe Nautilus. Debuted in 1976, the first of its kind being the Ref. 3700, the Nautilus represented a significant risk as it was incongruous with the brand’s usual lines of classic dress watches. However, with the rise of the Royal Oak from the brand’s biggest rival, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe had to retort – and thus the Nautilus was born. History will tell you that a former jewellery designer Gerald Genta was responsible for the design of the Nautilus (and also the Royal Oak) but the account of how the man got his inspiration has become somewhat of a lore that is passed on from watch enthusiast to watch enthusiast. In a 2009 interview, Genta described how the design of the Nautilus came to be:
‘It is a watch that I designed during the Basel Trade Fair. I was at the restaurant of a hotel and some people from Patek were sitting in one corner of the dining hall, while I was sitting alone in the other corner. I told the head-waiter: “Bring me a piece of paper and a pencil, I want to design something” and I designed the Nautilus while observing the people from Patek eating!… It was a sketch that I completed in 5 minutes… It very quickly met with success. I made the prototype in my studio and its success was accelerated.’
The Nautilus, along with the Royal Oak belonged to a completely novel genre of watches back in the 1970s. They were the first luxury steel sports watches, as expensive as their gold, dressier counterparts. Today, having grown into lines of their own, the Nautilus and Royal Oak are perhaps the best-selling watches for their respective manufacturers. For the vertical collection, we have chosen to shine the limelight on the quintessential Ref. 5711/1A-010. The Ref. 5711/1A-010, introduced in 2006 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus, is fundamentally a modern interpretation of the seminal Ref. 3700. It remains faithful to the design cues of the original Genta creation with its steel construction, its time- and date-only display, its rounded octagonal bezel and its iconic ears. What really sets the Ref. 5711 and all Nautiluses apart from other sports watches is its superior finishing. It is not just how meticulously finished the case, bezel and bracelet are, but how Patek Philippe elevates every component with contrasting finish. There is a perpetual power struggle between the satinated and polished surfaces and it is glorious to behold. While superior finishing and manufacturing serves as the cornerstone of the Ref. 5711/1A-010, its dial provides the icing on the proverbial cake. The dial with its striking blue gradient finish and thick horizontal grooves is absolutely mesmerising and becomes a temple of solace within the symphony of cold hard steel on the wrist.
The in-house manufactured Calibre 324 S C that powers the Ref. 5711 is fitting for a modern day Nautilus. For reference, the original Ref. 3700 was powered by the Calibre 28-255 C, which was based off of the famous Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 920. The Calibre 324 S C features Patek’s proprietary Gyromax balance and Spiromax balance spring, operating at a contemporary 4 Hz beat rate. The movement also bears the prestigious Patek Philippe Seal (Geneva Seal before 2009) which in part ensures that it is finished to superlative standards – another aspect that distinguishes the Nautilus from your everyday run of the mill sports watches.
Indeed in the current collection there are several other Nautilus references that are far more complicated than the time/date-only Ref.5711. One prime example is the Ref. 5990/1A-001 with travel time and chronograph function.
There are also those that are crafted entirely in precious metal and adorned with diamonds, such as the 40th Anniversary Nautilus Ref. 5711/1P rendered in platinum with baguette diamond hour markers. But at the end of the day, the Ref. 5711/1A-010 remains THE essential Nautilus reference. Maybe it’s because it is made of non-precious metal, as the watchmaking gods intended it to be. Or maybe it’s because it greatly resembles the beloved Ref. 3700. Either way, the Ref. 5711/1A-010 remains the most sought after Nautilus reference today and this shouldn’t be the least bit surprising.
The Annual Calendar
The annual calendar is often considered to be the bridge between the full and perpetual calendars. It is able to differentiate between 30- and 31-day months, meaning no corrections are needed on months with only 30 days. But unlike the perpetual calendar, it does not take account of the month of February (which has less than 30 days) and of leap years. The annual calendar therefore requires intervention once a year, at the end of February.
The uninitiated would (understandably) think that the annual calendar was invented before the perpetual calendar, given that the latter is more sophisticated than the former. But they’d think wrong. The annual calendar is in fact a very young complication. In 1996, Patek Philippe was awarded the Swiss patent for a novel calendar indication, the annual calendar, and produced the world’s first wristwatch featuring the complication: the Ref. 5035J. To put things into perspective, the first perpetual calendar wristwatch (also by Patek Philippe) came about seven decades earlier in 1925. Nevertheless, the birth of the annual calendar was a pivotal moment for Patek, for it would subsequently go down as one of the brand’s best-selling complications.
The Patek Philippe family of annual calendar watches has achieved many milestones since its inception with the Ref. 5035J. Notably, in 2005, the very first Patek Philippe Advanced Research timepiece came to be in the form of the Ref. 5250, an annual calendar watch.
The ‘Advanced Research’ series of watches serves as a platform to show off the brand’s latest advancements in materials and its applications. The Ref. 5250 represented the perfect blend of tradition and innovation, for beneath that traditional dial laid a revolutionary friction-free silicium escape wheel – a first for Patek. In the years to come, the brand would release two more ‘Advanced Research’ annual calendar references (the Ref. 5350 and 5450), incorporating innovations such as the Spiromax balance spring and Pulsomax escapement in Silinvar.
In 2006, the brand’s first Annual Calendar Chronograph (with flyback function) was realised and christened the Ref. 5960P. It is worth noting that inside it was also Patek’s first self-winding chronograph movement. Interestingly in 2014, Patek Philippe unveiled a new Ref. 5960 in a form nobody so saw coming: a steel case with steel bracelet. Additionally, the dial was designed to evoke a sporty vibe with jarring signal red chronograph second and minute hands fronting a black on silver backdrop. This was no doubt an effort by the manufacturer to lure younger customers to its traditional line with youthful design and accessible pricing. The reality however is that the watch has split the watch community into two camps. While many appreciate its rambunctious design and steel construction, others saw the design as a departure from the manufacturer’s DNA and the bracelet as tacky. Whether one loves or hates the Ref. 5960/1A, one thing’s for certain and that is that it will continue to be a subject of debate in the years to come.
All of this leads us to a more recent release from the Genevan manufacturer, and our second selection for the Patek Philippe vertical collection: the Ref. 5396R-012. The Ref. 5396R-012 was introduced in 2016 to mark the 20th anniversary of the annual calendar. Its design and aesthetics aren’t just beautiful – they pay tribute to the brand’s rich heritage. The Ref. 5396 is reminiscent of Patek Philippe’s first automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch – the Ref. 3448 from the 1960s – with its twin aperture windows at 12 o’clock and moon phase display at 6 o’clock. This layout is iconic and is now used not just by Patek Philippe, but also by other Swiss brands. What we love in particular are the applied Breguet numerals on the dial, a special treat normally reserved for limited-edition complicated timepieces from the brand. Along with a case size of 38.5 mm in diameter, the Ref. 5396 conforms to the DNA of a company that makes the finest dress watches in the world.
The 347-part, 34-jewel Calibre 324 S QA LU 24H powers the Ref. 5396R-012. It features Patek’s proprietary Gyromax balance and Spiromax balance spring, beating away at 4 Hz. In addition to the annual calendar mechanism, the movement is also equipped with a moon phase and 24 hour indicator. As to be expected, it is also stamped with the Patek Philippe Seal certifying in part that the movement is highly reliable, precise and excellently finished. This is a movement that celebrates not just the pinnacle of Genevan watchmaking tradition but also the various innovations that have emerged from Patek’s R&D endeavours.
In a nutshell, the Ref. 5396R-012 deserves a spot in an ultimate three-watch Patek Philippe collection because: 1) it is an annual calendar wristwatch, a genre that began with Patek and, 2) its design and movement accurately reflects the heritage and watchmaking prowess of its maker. One could also opt for the Ref. 5396G-014 that was released alongside the Ref. 5396R-012, or even the Nautilus Annual Calendar Ref. 5726/1 to kill two birds with one stone. But we stand by our choice of the Ref. 5396R-012 over the other two for its dressier, more classical styling.
The Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Speak of any Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph and you are treading on sacred ground. The perpetual calendar chronograph, put simply, has been the poster child of complicated watchmaking at Patek from the very start. Nobody else has mastered the QP (quantième perpétuel; French for perpetual calendar)/Chrono like it has and no other combination of complications in the brand’s catalogue can ever overcast its regality. It is the Ref. 1518 that holds the honour of being the world’s first serially-produced perpetual calendar chronograph, way back in 1941 – yes, during a world war. The twin aperture, triple sub-dial dial layout was not only pleasingly balanced but also by far the most legible way to display so many indications. The Ref. 1518’s dial layout and design was so well-executed that it would eventually become the blueprint for future Patek QP/Chrono dials. As far as Patek Philippe grails go, the Ref. 1518 has always been considered to be the holiest of them all, a sentiment that was echoed recently in 2016 with the sale of a steel variant for USD11,000,000.
Several years after the release of the Ref. 1518, came the Ref. 2499 – another cult favourite. The Ref. 2499 was similar in design to its predecessor although depending on the series (of which there were four), the type of pushers and hour markers will vary, as well as the presence or absence of a tachymetre scale. The most famous example of the Ref. 2499 was an incredibly rare platinum variant that belonged to Eric Clapton; the watch sold at an auction in 2012 for an eye-watering USD3,630,000.
Much like the Ref. 1518, the Ref. 2499 was powered by a Valjoux-based movement. It would later become the last Patek QP/Chrono reference to use a Valjoux-based movement as the brand switched to the Calibre CH 27-70 Q which was based on the legendary Lemania Calibre 2310. The Calibre CH 27-70Q was the movement that powered the Ref. 3970, as well as the deified Ref. 5970. Many acquainted with Patek Philippe consider the Ref. 5970 to be the finest watch ever produced by the brand. With production beginning in 2004 and ending in 2011, the Ref. 5970 had a relatively short run of 7 years. Couple that fact with a modern case size and a dial design/layout that is perfectly balanced and you have an ultra-desirable watch. The Ref. 5970s have been fetching a pretty penny at auctions with prices already hitting several fold the original retail – incredible, given the fact that it has only been 6 years since its production ceased.
The Ref. 5270 was put forth as a worthy successor to the Ref. 5970 in 2011 and is still in production at the time of writing. Its coming signalled the end of Patek Philippe’s dependence of Lemania-based movements to power its perpetual calendar chronographs.
Inside the Ref. 5270 beats the in-house developed and manufactured Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q, featuring no less than six patented innovations that optimise functionality. With this new calibre, the day/night and leap year indicators are now displayed via apertures at the 4:30 and 7:30 position – this helps reduce clutter in the sub-dials. Furthermore, the centre of the left and right sub-dials have also been slightly lowered from the horizontal axis of the watch.
So far, there have been three generations of the Ref. 5270 since its introduction. The first generation lacked the tachymetre scale that was found on the Ref. 5970 and in the subsequent generations of the Ref. 5270. In 2013, the controversial second generation was launched and while it did bring the tachymetre scale back, it also brought with it ‘the chin’. ‘The chin’ (as it is now monikered) refers to the odd warping of the the chronograph scale at 6 o’clock, a design ‘feature’ that was derided by the watch community. Because of ‘the chin’, the chronograph seconds hand does not touch the scale at around the 30 second mark which makes reading time measurements a bit problematic. Patek Philippe however were quick to remedy this issue as by 2015, the third and current generation (which no longer has ‘the chin’) was rolled out. In our opinion, the third generation features the best design elements from the first and second generation, namely the railroad-style minute track and the tachymetre scale, respectively. While they do cause the dial look a little busier, they also add unparalleled charm, character and depth to the watch.
The watch that we have selected to complete our Patek Philippe trifecta is the Ref. 5270G-019, a third generation Ref. 5270. Its divine combination of a white gold case and a blue sunburst dial makes the Ref. 5270G-019 an easy favourite amongst Patek Philippe connoisseurs. With a functionally and aesthetically superior Calibre CH 29-535 PS Q (which, again, is making history as the brand’s first in-house QP/Chrono movement) backing the chiselled beauty of the Ref. 5270G-019, you have a timepiece that can really do no wrong. It is worth noting that production of the particular reference was shuttered earlier this year, giving it a short run of just 2 years. Reading between the lines suggests that the Ref. 5270G-019 might become a future collectible – but that’s still a big ‘might’.
The Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-001, the Annual Calendar Ref. 5396R-012 and the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270G-019; a sports piece, a dress piece and a grand complication piece – drop any one and the vertical collection crumbles. These watches were curated on the basis that they each have important stories to tell about the manufacturer from whence they came. We may have made our choice, but there is no denying that there are other candidates worthy of ascension, the world time and time-only Calatrava among others. This only serves to highlight the weight of Patek Philippe’s contribution to horology over the years and the sheer depth of its capabilities in watchmaking. Whether one believes it or not, owning a Patek Philippe timepiece is much more than just that – one inevitably subscribes to the rich heritage of not just the manufacturer, but also watchmaking in general.