This is the Patek Philippe Ref 5170. A pure chronograph that made its debut in 2010. For around a decade or so, it was the brand’s go-to in-house chronograph. Before being usurped by the new Ref 5172G, that is. When that happened, its price got a healthy – and not unexpected – bump on the secondary market. But is that alone enough to make it collectible? And more to the point; do collectors actually love the Patek Philippe Ref 5170? Or is it just more hype?
It’s an interesting question to try to untangle. On the one hand, this watch has historical significance to the brand. On the other, it’s been a consistent but not strong seller. Which might be the perfect recipe for a collectible watch. Or it might not. Read on and decide for yourself.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Patek Philippe Ref 5170
To understand the place of the Ref 5170 in the Patek timeline, you need to understand what came before it. And that is the Ref 5070, a pure chronograph that – for reasons that will soon become clear – is very collectible. Launched in 1998, the Ref 5070 was the first manual-wind, pure chronograph from the brand in over 30 years. Its nearest relative is the iconic Ref 1463. Better known to collectors as the “Tasti Tondi”. A reference to the model’s round pushers with distinctive “grippy” finishing. Production on that watch stopped in 1965.
The design inspiration for the Ref 5070 actually came from another model though. The Ref 2512. A split-seconds chronograph from 1950 which Christie’s sold for $1.5m back in 2000. (Hat tip to the team at Hodinkee for that little nugget.) The Ref 5070 isn’t a split-seconds chrono, but you can see the similarity in the dial layout. At 42mm, it was also huge for the time (much like the Ref 2512, which was even bigger at 45mm!). To balance this, the case height was a svelte 11.6mm. Making the watch more wearable than it might first appear.
Part of the enduring appeal of the Ref 5070 is its symmetrical dial layout. Although to some – myself included – it always felt a little crowded. The central time display uses thin, leaf-shaped hands. Next are two large sub-dials. So large that they each overlap the respective Arabic numerals both above and below. One is at 3 o’clock for the 30-minute counter. The other is at 9 o’clock for the small seconds. Note how they both line up with the centre of the dial. Collectors pay real attention to that type of detail.
Around the periphery is a seconds track for the chronograph with 1/5th of a second graduations. This chapter ring also serves as the minutes track. Next is the tachymeter scale, which unusually appears inside of the minute track. It’s a famous design quirk of the Ref 5070, making it that extra bit special. Completing the look are square chronograph pushers and a well-proportioned winding crown.
The other thing that makes the Ref 5070 a bit special is the movement inside. Visible through the sapphire case back, the manual wind CH 27-70 is gorgeous. It’s also based on an outsourced Lemania calibre. Unthinkable now but common practice for Patek up until the last decade or so. A column wheel chronograph, it oscillates at a slower 18,000 vph and delivers a 60-hour power reserve. Which is pretty impressive for the period. The Ref 5070 was the last time we would see a Lemania calibre in a Patek. Which is yet another reason why it is the darling of collectors.
As they say though, all things must come to an end to make way for new beginnings. Which is where the Ref 5170 comes into the picture.
The Patek Philippe Ref 5170 Version 1 – The Doctor Dial
As mentioned earlier, the Ref 5170 came to market in 2010. As the successor to the Ref 5070, it introduced several changes. For a start, the case shrunk to a refined, vintage-y 39.4mm. In spite of the smaller case size though, the spacing of the dial was actually improved somewhat. Baton markers replaced the Arabic numerals of the Ref 5070. Except at 12 and 6 o’clock, which featured Roman numerals. The sub dials were smaller too, although they now cut into the chapter ring, which I was not a huge fan of.
The two chapter ring set up was also rethought. Leading to the removal of the inner tachymeter scale. Instead a pulsometer scale found its way to the periphery of the dial. (Hence the reference to the ‘doctor’ dial.) Which seemed like a bit of an odd move I have to say. Although I will note that this made it the first production chronograph from the brand with such a scale. One reason could be that the ALS 1815 Chronograph – a direct competitor to the Ref 5170 – also had a pulsometer scale. Or Patek’s designers may have thought it would help the Ref 5170 look more vintage. In any event, it seems they weren’t quite satisfied with the end result.
The Patek Philippe Ref 5170 Version 2 – Breguet Numerals
Three years later, in 2013, Patek made its first, subtle tweak to the dial of the Ref 5170. And I do mean subtle. The baton markers and Roman numerals disappeared. And in their place came more modern looking Breguet numerals. It was a welcome update, but it was clear there was still room for improvement with regards to the dial. And kudos to Patek for having the willingness to make those improvements.
The Patek Philippe Ref 5170 Version 3 – The New Dial
Five years after the debut of the Ref 5170, Patek made the bold move of issuing the model with a new dial altogether. The changes focused on further improving the dial layout and legibility. Key to this update was the removal of the pulsometer scale – which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to begin with. This opened up some much-needed breathing room. Plus, it allowed Patek to make the chronograph registers bigger. Yet now they don’t encroach on the minute track at all. And their design is simpler and easier to read.
To fill some of the remaining space, the Breguet numerals were also enlarged. Another subtle tweak is the introduction of leaf-shaped hands. Like those from the Ref 5070. The first version of the Ref 5170 had stick hands. The result is a dial that is much cleaner and easier to read. If lacking a little in character.
The Patek Philippe Ref 5170 Version 4 – The Platinum Edition
In 2017, Patek unveiled yet another version of the Ref 5170. This time cased in platinum. And, you guessed it, it too featured a new dial. This one with a stunning, gradient blue sunburst finish. And applied baguette-cut diamond baton markers. Patek also changed the design of the sub-dials for this version. And introduced a tachymetre scale to the periphery of the dial for the first time. This is the version of the Ref 5170 everybody talks about. It’s also far and away the most expensive, with a recommended retail north of US$96,000.
The New In-House Calibre
All four dial versions of the Ref 5170 are easier to read than their predecessor. But this improved legibility did come at a cost. The symmetry that was so prized on the Ref 5070 is no more. Take a close look and you’ll notice that the sub-dials now sit a bit lower than the center of the dial. For the OCD collectors out there – of which there are quite a few – this is a sticking point. It throws off the whole Feng Shui of the dial if you will.
There is a reason for this change though. It’s because the Ref 5170 features a new movement. And not any new movement. But the Calibre CH 29-535 PS. Patek’s first in-house, manual wind chronograph movement. 5 years in the making and boasting no fewer than 6 patents. Complete with column wheel and large, four-spoke Gyromax balance-wheel with four poising weights. Operating at a frequency of 4 Hz (28,800 A/h), it delivers a guaranteed power reserve of 65 hours. And in line with the requirements of the Patek Philippe seal, its accuracy rating is -3 and +2 seconds daily. Which is better than industry standards for a chronometer. And did I mention it’s a joy to look at as well as operate?
Price & Availability
This is where things get a little sticky with the Ref 5170. Before coming out of commission, recommended retail price was around US$81,000. That’s approximately US$20,000 more than the ALS 1815 Chronograph. Which is a big pill to swallow. Especially when you consider the movement inside the Lange. Some will say you can’t compare the two. Patek is Patek after all.
Still, price disparity aside, the Ref 5170 does not sell for US$80k on the secondary market. Instead, you can expect to pay closer to US$70k for a good example. Like this one from our retail partner WatchBox. (Affiliate link.) That said, it does depend somewhat on what dial variation you go for. The less popular Ref 5170J – with the baton markers – tends to trade in the mid US$50k range for example.
Availability on these models is generally pretty good by Patek standards. The market is not swimming in them but if you want one, you can find one. Unlike other chronographs from the brand, such as the elusive black dial Ref 5960 Annual Calendar.
Do Collectors Love The Ref 5170?
When you think of collectible Patek chronographs, the Ref 5170 doesn’t jump to the top of the list. That doesn’t mean collectors don’t still love this reference. It’s just not the first one they’re rushing out to add to the collection. Boasting the brand’s first in-house, manual wind chronograph movement is a big drawcard. As is the fact it’s the only pure chronograph from Patek. Plus, it remains very wearable and practical for everyday use.
At the same time though, it’s also expensive for what it is. Even more so in the case of the platinum version. Especially compared to the competition. That said, you’re unlikely to lose much money on one if you buy at the right price. Whether it will appreciate further in value over time though is less clear. Which in the current market is almost a prerequisite for collectors now. As they say though, only time will well
Technical Specifications: Patek Philippe Ref 5170 Chronograph
- Case: 39.4mm x 10.8mm height – gold or platinum, polished and brushed – sapphire crystal on both sides – 30m water resistance.
- Dial: white, black or gradient blue – polished fixed bezel – Baton markers with Roman Numerals / Breguet numerals / Applied baguette-cut diamonds (platinum case only) – straight or leaf-shaped hands (depending on the version).
- Movement: Calibre CH29-535 PS – in-house – chronograph – central chronograph hand – instantaneous 30-minute counter – column-wheel chronograph – center chronograph hand, 30-minute counter, instantaneous 30-minute counter, small seconds – Diameter: 29.6 mm. Height: 5.35 mm. Parts: 270. Bridges: 11. Jewels: 33 – Power reserve: With the chronograph disengaged: min. 65 hours – Balance: Gyromax®, vibrations/hour: 28 800 (4 Hz) – balance spring: Breguet – Hallmark: Patek Philippe Seal.
- Bracelet: Leather strap with buckle.
- Price: Discontinued ~ USD 70,000.
This article by TheWatchLounge has been sponsored by our partner WatchBox.