Collector’s Guides • 18 Aug 2017

Explaining Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendars

by Victor Toth


Every mechanical watch is capable of a simple yet incredible feat: tracking the intangible passing of time with tiny gears and springs. While a fascination with this fact endures in the heart of every watch enthusiast, it is also natural to seek a watch that is clever, more complex, and yet more useful. The answer lies in perpetual calendar – a watch that just knows, magically, that the Earth orbits around the Sun and rotates on itself.

Today, we will focus on the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar ref. 5320G, a new addition to the collection for 2017, but only after a quick look at the complication itself as well as exploring the key junctures in the history of Patek Philippe perpetual calendar wristwatches.

Wheels, cams and levers interact as scarcely as once every four years in a perpetual calendar, yet the hands are always indicating the correct calendar, telling its busy owner that another day, month, or even year has just passed. A perpetual calendar is one that works forever, essentially, without any adjustment or interaction from the owner – so long as the watch remains wound. This truly mind-boggling mechanism has been programmed to keep track of individual days and months, including February, even during leap years.

Perpetual calendars are perpetual up to a point: all perpetual calendars do need to be adjusted in February of every century, except the years that can be divided by 400, due to a quirk in the Gregorian calendar. While the year 2000 was a leap year, 2100, 2200 and 2300 won’t be. That being said, even with the extended life expectancy of the modern age, that centurial adjustment won’t be an issue for most people.

Now let’s go back in time to 1925 when Patek Philippe, partly by chance, created the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch. Bearing the serial number 97975, the movement inside was actually produced back in 1898 and put into a women’s pendant watch. The watch wasn’t exactly a hot seller – it spent some 27 years on the shelf before someone took it apart, rescued the petite, 12’’’ movement and placed it inside a gold, hand-engraved case, creating the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch. It was then sold on October 13, 1927 to an American client. The watch ultimately found its way back home, to a shelf at Patek Philippe, just that this time around the shelf is in the Patek Philippe Museum, where the watch is now on permanent display.

Patek Philippe Perpetual calendar 97975 

Patek Philippe 97975 First wristwatch with perpetual calendar
The first wristwatch with perpetual calendar bearing the serial number 97975. (Credit: SJX)

Before we move on, let us take a quick look at the features of the watch numbered 97975, because it is a typical perpetual calendar, but with a few interesting quirks. The date is displayed not in a window, as is so popular today, but rather by a central-mounted hand that points to the track on the periphery of the dial. The month is indicated in the sub-dial at six, while the day of the week is at day, and the phase of the moon indication, another typical perpetual calendar feature, is displayed neatly by three o’clock. Running seconds are at nine. Nearly the entire calendar was shown in sub-dials, but Patek Philippe would try something different for its first ever, serially produced perpetual calendar.

Patek Philippe Perpetual calendar 1526 and 5320G

The new ref. 5320G, however, is inspired by the ref. 1526 of 1941, equipped with the cal. 12-120QP. The ref. 1526 was Patek Philippe’s first serially produced perpetual calendar, with a total of 210 pieces having been made over the course of 12 years. An elegant 34mm in diameter, the ref. 1526 was ground-breaking because of the mesmerizingly clear and graceful dial. Applied Arabic numerals and dot indexes emphasise legibility, while the two calendar apertures serve to indicate the day and month, and the date is displayed by a blue hand over the six o’clock sub-dial.

Interestingly, while the pioneering ref. 1526 put the display in windows, subsequent Patek Philippe perpetual calendars in the latter half of the 20th century tended towards sub-dials for the calendar display. The quintessential Patek Philippe perpetual calendar of the 1980s and 1990s, the ref. 3940, showed the calendar entirely with sub-dial.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 5320G-001 Automatic White gold Crocodile skin Men's watch/Unisex Sapphire Glass Champagne
Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 1526. (Credit: Matthewbaininc)
Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 1526 Automatic White gold Crocodile skin Men's watch/Unisex Sapphire Glass Champagne
Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 1526. (Credit: Galaofvanities)

Being a throwback to the original, the Ref. 5320G is what Patek itself terms “A new perpetual calendar for eternity.” Appearing for the first time at Baselworld 2017, the 5320G positively surprised even long-standing fans and collectors of the manufacture. The cream lacquer dial is elegant and relaxed, perfectly capable of adapting to various mood and outfits. The calendar now includes two thoughtfully placed apertures that flank the sub-dial at 6 o’clock. To the left is the day-night indicator that’s useful when setting the calendar display, while the leap year indicator is between 4 and 5 o’clock. While the leap year indicator resembles the date display found on more ordinary timepieces – the little window serves as a reminder of the remarkable technical prowess of the mechanism that lies underneath the dial.

Caliber 324 S Q

Speaking of which, the caliber 324 S Q inside is an in-house movement that is 32mm, made up of 367 parts but is only 4.97mm high. Sporting a patented, adjustable mass Gyromax balance with a Spiromax hairspring in silicon, the movement features Patek Philippe’s latest innovations that are geared towards greater reliability and superior timekeeping.

Patek Philippe_Caliber 324 SQ
Caliber 324 SQ (Credit: WatchTime)

The 5320G may have been a surprise from Patek Philippe, but underneath that fantastic cream dial beats a movement with a history that can be traced back over seventy years to the famed ref. 1526. What more can one ask for in a modern Patek Philippe?

 

Find out more about the history of the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph here.

For more information, please schedule an appointment with our Sales Consultant here.


Victor Toth

Victor Toth is a Prague-based, professional photographer-turned-watch enthusiast and freelance journalist, whose journey into the complex world of fine watchmaking had begun a number of years ago. Over this time it has become his passion to share his understanding of the finer details of beautiful timepieces, all in an effort to encourage a more thorough appreciation of this wonderful and complex universe of fine mechanics.


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