The following is a guest post written by OJ Whatley, CEO & Founder of WatchUWant, and is the first entry in our new ‘WatchUWant Wednesdays’ series.
Men’s dress watches aren’t “making a comeback”; they’re back. The big-watch backlash is in full swing, and it’s a fait accompli.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava 5127J
This watchuwant.com pre-owned luxury watch showcase highlights a signature reference from last week’s “birthday boy.” Now 175 years-old, Patek Philippe ranks among the undisputed leaders of the luxury watch industry’s renaissance of classical dress watches.
In Patek, luxury watch buyers find a champion of enduring beauty whose commitment to traditional dress watch aesthetics spans generations of bygone design fads. The family-owned firm continues to offer a distinctive take on the contemporary men’s formal watch.
Patek Philippe deserves praise for refusing to vacate this sector during the mid-2000s onslaught of Big Bangs, Extremes, Xtremes, Tsars, King Powers, and Submersibles that left jewelers’ cases groaning from Shanghai to San Francisco. The Geneva stalwart built its name on formal watches, but amid all of the auction-circuit hype driven by Patek complications, it’s important to note that the company’s modern icon remains the 1932 Calatrava. A simple three-hand watch, it practically defined the rules for a men’s dress reference.
Designed under the aegis of Henri Stern shortly after his father, a dial manufacturer, purchased Patek Philippe during the nadir of the Great Depression, the basic Calatrava aesthetic endures with mild refinements in this reference 5127J. Produced from 2005 to 2012, the 5127J exhibits the calling cards of a classic Calatrava.
The tapered case lugs anchor every complementary element of the design. Henri Stern’s original “Reference 96,” later dubbed the “Calatrava” by 1980s collectors, broke with the 1930s convention for marking sharp distinctions between case and soldered lugs. Whereas most round watches of the era featured a jarring transition from round case to straight lugs, the Calatrava blended the two into a seamless continuity that flowed from lug to lug.
The effect softens the look of the watch and imparts and upscale impression.
In the 5127, Patek Philippe‘s signature “Calatrava” lugs merge with a case that measures 37mm in diameter. It’s large enough to retain a masculine presence alongside modern watches, but it retains the effortless elegance of the original. The 5127J breaks with its interwar antecedent via sculpted crown guards that visually extend the case and modernize the whole. Patek‘s stylists cleverly leveraged the crown guard to broaden the shoulders of the watch and create the impression of a larger timepiece without resorting to a larger case – very clever.
Critically, the 5127 projects an aura of confidence; because it has survived the trials of time and buried legions of transient vogues, the Calatrava is an ideal match for a man who stands above the self-conscious fashion fray.
Why stoop to the rat race when you’ve already won?
Dauphine hands and stick indexes are true to the Calatrava’s heritage, but Patek forgoes the subsidiary seconds dial of the original in favor of center seconds better suited to the Caliber 315 automatic movement. The dial real estate vacated by the seconds subdial is re-purposed to support a date window at three o’clock.
And what of that Cal. 315 movement? It’s a gem. The movement is a manufacture product of Patek’s own design bureau and finished to Geneva Hallmark standards. Each surface bears evidence of excruciating artisan effort. Many Swiss movements exhibit fine finish, but a Patek Philippe Geneva Seal mechanism is a singular effort among masterpieces.
Examine the movement with a ten-power loupe: no discrepancies. Now employ a twenty-power unit; you can see your reflection in the mirror finish within the well of a screw slot. While the owner may never have the pleasure of inspecting the dismantled Cal. 315, his watchmaker will marvel at the fact that even the undersides of the screw flanges exhibit the same painstaking attention to detail.
And that’s just the screws. Consider that every single element of the movement incorporates the same degree of hand-wrought added-value, and it becomes clear why Patek Philippe employs 25 percent as many employees as Rolex to complete five percent as many watches per annum. Details such as these do not translate well even in the most revealing online photos; a Patek Philippe movement must be seen firsthand to be appreciated. But once viewed, the difference is startling even to the naked eye.
Moreover, Patek Philippe phased out the Geneva Seal in July of 2009. All watches produced since that time feature the interlocking Patek Philippe “double P” symbol. While the quality of the watches remains undiminished, any watch that bears the seal has unique potential to become an historic collectible. As with vintage Rolex references, small distinctions between models can create inordinate collector competition; future interest inspired by the Geneva Hallmark/PP Seal schism has potential to surpass the usual hysteria over dial variations by orders of magnitude.
From an artistic standpoint, Patek‘s machinery counts few peers, but the Stern family’s empire owns every frontier of horological excellence. The Cal. 315 is a contemporary architecture that improves upon the reliability of the original in-house Cal. 310 while incorporating traditional Patek innovations. A 21,600 VpH beat rate ensures a stately sweep of the seconds hand and accounts for a large measure of the improved toughness relative to its predecessor.
The centerpiece of the movement is Patek’s Gyromax balance, a free-sprung design that shifts the responsibility for timing regulation to the mobile blocks on the balance wheel. As a result of this innovation, the watch can be adjusted with ease by a watchmaker, but the shock that accompany life on the wrist cannot displace the balance block.
In conventional index-regulated movements, rapid motion of the wrist can shift the lever that regulates the hairspring, and the result of a momentary shock can be enduring rate timing errors.
This Patek Philippe Calatrava 5127J is available from watchuwant.com with all factory accessories: just the way Patek Philippe collectors prefer their watches. The 5127J presents as a new watch despite original sales papers that record an authorized dealer transaction date of October 2007. Given full documentation from new, every box, paper, and all accouterments, the owner of this watch will possess everything he could have expected to receive at an authorized Patek Philippe dealer in 2007 – except the MSRP.
While the mainstream media is heralding the “return” of the men’s dress watch, Patek Philippe aficionados are entitled to chuckle. Given watches like the Calatrava 5127J, it’s clear that the very best men’s formal watches never left the scene.
About the Author: OJ Whatley is the CEO and Founder of Hollywood, Fla.-based pre-owned luxury watch dealer watchuwant.com. Since 2001, Whatley and watchuwant.com have examined, authenticated, bought, and sold tens of thousands of luxury watches for a global clientele.
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