Patek Philippe doesn’t do Baselworld previews. News of new watches made by the family-owned Genevan watch house remain under lock and key until the first day of the show. But as soon as the gates fly open and word spreads of a new ‘grande complication’ or a steel Nautilus, it’s a shot-gun start for buyers the world over hoping all those customer events they’ve rocked up at will have scored them enough retailer loyalty points to jump the queue.
Why the rush? The simplest answer is that Patek Philippe makes the world’s most collectible watches. That’s not hyperbole. Its watches routinely top auction results. At the end of May this year, at an auction hosted by Phillips in Hong Kong, a Ref 5002G Sky Moon Tourbillon fetched nearly $1.1m. At the same auction, an open-faced Patek Philippe pocket watch sold for 16 times its estimate, achieving a world-record price of $814,086.
While these were exceptional pieces, rarity isn’t strictly the explanation for the extraordinary returns made by Patek watches when sold on, although most references are hard to come by. According to company data, Patek makes 62,000 watches a year. That’s around 10 times A. Lange & Söhne’s output, and more than 20 Parmigiani’s. But the supply-and-demand curve is heavily weighted against the consumer. Scarcity rather than rarity is Patek’s winning hand – it could sell its annual production several times over.
At Baselworld this year, the company unpouched a raft of new pieces. Here, Dubai Watch Week picks out three that look set to be stars of the future.
A future bellwether
Ref 5520P Alarm Travel Time
A controversial first pick. When Patek launched the Pilot Travel Time Ref 5524G in 2015, there was plenty of cynicism. The company has little if any pilot’s watch heritage to speak of. What was it doing flying in formation with the rest of the industry? But it must have worked commercially, because this year the four-eared flyboy returns, beefed up with a weapons-grade alarm complication and the honour of being Patek’s first water-resistant chiming watch (albeit only to a puddle-proof 30 metres).
The 24-hour alarm can be set to the nearest 15 minutes (should we expect that to be improved in years to come?) and recorded by a digital double-aperture at 12 o’clock. Above that is an aperture in the shape of a bell that turns from white to black to indicate the alarm is set. The impressive alarm sound is a traditional hammer-and-gong striking mechanismthat chimes at a frequency of 2.5hz over 40 seconds – roughly 90 chimes in total.
Nestled behind that function is the GMT function from the original, which shows home and local time and carries day/night indicators for both. The whole thing is cased in 42.2mm of platinum.
A future classic? It might ring alarm bells for Patek purists, but the company’s offbeat models can fetch tidy sums further down the line.
A week in the life
Ref 5212A-001 Calatrava Weekly Calendar
We’re told that the merits of a weekly calendar won’t be lost on a certain calibre of businessman, although many will be left to wonder what use it is to know whether it’s the 33rd or 34th week of the year. The wherefores of the new Ref 5212A-001’s signature complication to one side, this is a landmark watch, for a number of reasons.
The first is that it is Patek’s first weekly calendar watch. Yes, the comparatively modest folk at Oris may have trodden this ground last year (as an aside: Oris also introduced a GMT function that could be adjusted forwards and backwards in one-hour jumps at the push of a button before Patek, too), but any new complication at Patek is a red-letter day because you can guarantee it will have put a unique spin on it.
And it has. Inside it is Caliber 26-330 S C J SE, a completely new base movement spawned from the fabled Caliber 324automatic that has been in development for, according to Patek, several years. It boasts a number of innovations that make it more energy-efficient and more user-friendly. For example, the date indications change ‘semi-instantaneously’ to avoid energy consumption peaks; and those same indications can be corrected at any time without risking damage to the movement, otherwise a common problem in mechanical watches with date functions.
And then there are two curiosities. One is that this becomes the only steel Calatrava in Patek’s regular collection, a current trend also sparked by auction results. The other is that the handwritten typeface developed for this watch is based on original sketches made by the watch’s designers. A light-fingered flourish from a brand known typically for its rigid conservatism.
Ref 6300G-010 Grandmaster Chime
Describing any Patek Philippe watch as a future auction wildcard is almost certainly ridiculous, but there’s still something about the Grandmaster Chime that doesn’t quite convince. That might be because its function and position in Patek’s collection has too big a say in its overblown form. Few have ever claimed it’s a pretty watch, not in the way the 5170 chronographs were (these, incidentally, have been replaced by this year’s Ref 5172G), but by virtue of being Patek’s most complicated wristwatch with 20 complications, including five chiming functions, the Grandmaster Chime is inescapably important. By that token, any addition to the line merits attention, even if only to say that it’s now available in white gold and with two – the case is still reversible – blue opaline dials. Future auction bidders might like to know it comes with matching cufflinks. Hardly a dealbreaker, but still. Detail is detail.