The Calatrava cross, registered by Patek Philippe as a trademark on April 27th, 1887, was a sympathetic allusion to the Spanish Catholic order of knights who defended the city of Calatrava (Nuova Castiglia) in 1158 from Arabian invaders. Comprising the Greek cross with fleur-de-lis on its ends, the Calatrava cross was only extensively featured on the crowns, casebacks, and clasps of Patek models from the 1960’s onwards.
The Calatrava was introduced by Patek Philippe in 1932, the same year Charles Henri and Jean Stern, who owned the eponymous, first-rate dial maker Cadrans Stern Frerès, purchased a stake in and then entirely acquired Patek Philippe within a year. The Genevan watchmaker, reliant on the American market, had suffered significant financial duress during this period; the previous three years of the Great Depression, which was to last another decade, had taken its toll. Rather than assuming the helm imminently, the Stern brothers employed Jean Pfister, watchmaker and horologist as chief executive; the latter remained technical director until his retirement in 1958. Among other improvements made to the modes of production and distribution of watches, the Sterns implemented a taxonomic, numerical system to categorise watches: previous means involved long strings of numbers alluding to the movement dimensions, the nth piece produced by the company, and so on.
The new reference 96, the preeminent Calatrava of 1932, was the company’s first move in this direction; it was also Patek Philippe’s first watch to feature an in-house movement developed from the ground-up; it pioneered the Bauhaus design language contemporary to the period. This 31-millimetre watch featured Le-Coultre’s 12 ligne movement for its first two years, subsequently fitted by Patek Philippe’s proprietary 12’’’120 movement, developed under Pfister, for its remaining years of production till 1973. Under his sight, the company developed ten new calibers from 1934 to 1939, absolutely staggering prowess, particularly considering the lack of computer-aided manufacturing and design. Across its four decades of production, the ref. 96 featured various dial aesthetics – petite seconds, central seconds, no seconds; applied baton markers, Breguet numerals, Arabic numerals, scientific “sector” dials, all of which subscribed to its minimalistic, elegant, time-only philosophy.
It was with the larger ref. 570, introduced in 1938, that Patek addressed a preference for more masculine sizing; sitting at a then-“oversized” thirty-five-and-a-half millimetres, it was offered in white, yellow, and pink gold as well as platinum – very rarely in stainless steel, with the choice of a petite seconds display at six o’clock, or central seconds. The 570 also featured two-tone dials, rarities that have been described by eminent collector Alfredo Paramico as “delicious”. The ref. 565 was designed to be a more sporty, practical Calatrava; cased in steel and featuring more angular lines and a screw-down caseback, it was also available in the variety of dial aesthetics as the ref. 570.
The reference 2526 introduced in 1953 was Patek Philippe’s first self-winding wristwatch (alongside the ref. 2526 ‘Disco Volante’; Rolex’s patent for its self-winding Perpetual movement had expired by then) – in a still-relevant 36mm case, it featured an enamel dial, and was predominantly offered in yellow gold, with some examples in white and rose gold, in addition to platinum. Fewer than six hundred units were produced. The new, self-winding cal. 12-600AT (12 lignes, 6mm-thickness, Automatic), featured a beautiful, engine-turned guilloche central rotor, demonstrating the watchmaker’s exemplary commitment to excellence despite its being obscured by a solid case-back.
Manufactured in no more than seven thousand examples, and widely-considered one of the very best automatic movements ever executed, the 12-600AT featured a variable-inertia ‘Gyromax’ balance, a swan-neck regulator, Breguet-style balance spring, and quite possibly the first decorated rotor in history.
Patek Philippe claimed that the watch would have a maximum variance of one second per day! Priced very closely to Patek’s second-ever perpetual calendar chronograph, the venerable ref. 2499 – a demonstration that this pursuit of exceptionalism stopped at nothing – the ref. 2526 epitomises what is most admirable about this watchmaker.
It is with the ref. 3520 that another iconic characteristic of the Calatrava was introduced: the Clous de Paris, or hobnail bezel, also featured on the much more contemporary, but also discontinued refs. 3919, 5116, and 5119, arguably the archetypal Calatrava. The 5116 features an enamel dial, is offered only in rose gold, and is one of the most exclusive of the modern Calatrava line (barring the Rare Handcrafts collection).
Patek Philippe celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1989, releasing the most complicated timepiece in the world – with one piece made in each precious metal – the 33-complication Caliber 89, cementing it as the world’s greatest watchmaker. It also introduced a number of commemorative watches across its collections; with the Calatrava, the Ref. 3960 featured an Officer’s case, with a sapphire crystal display back protected by an additional, hinged ‘hunter’ caseback. With its enamel dial and despite its double caseback, it stood at a svelte 8 millimetres high, and also featured screwed lugs, blued steel hands and Breguet-style numerals for additional interest.
Within the Calatrava line today are the incumbents Refs. 5196, 5227, and 6006, as well as the 4897 for women. The 5196, as its nomenclature indicates, pays a significant tribute to the foremost Ref. 96; the white, yellow, and rose gold variants feature dauphine hands and prism-shaped hour markers, while in platinum, the hereditary blueprint of the ref. 570 is unmistakeable.
The 5196P features Breguet numerals as well as feuille, or leaf-shaped hands, framed by a two-tone dial. Phillips sold its forbear, a pink gold 570 with a multi-tone pink dial for in excess of 250,000CHF at its Geneva Watch Auction: One in May 2015. All the 5196 variants are equipped with Patek’s Caliber 215PS, a very slim, hand-wound movement beating at 4Hz and only two-and-a-half millimetres thick, housed in a modern 37mm case.
With the added functionality of a date, the stunning Ref. 5227 Calatrava offers a decidedly contemporary 39-millimetre case behind a very classical dial; ivory, with a depth and gloss that only twelve layers of lacquer avail, it is framed with sharp dauphine hands, trapezoidal hour markers, and a rectangular date window framed with white gold at the 3 o’clock position. Look closer and you realise how sculpted the case is; the gently scalloped case sides (reminiscent of the 5905 Annual Calendar Chronograph) flowing into the perfectly-proportioned lugs. The overall ethos is quintessentially Calatrava, that is, harmonious, orderly, and beautiful.
Turn the watch over and there is another layer of interest: the hunter’s-style hinged caseback – Patek Philippe elected to use an integrated hinge, in keeping with the Calatrava’s streamlined appearance. Hunter’s casebacks are a vestigial feature of pocket watches; Patek Philippe employs them as a whimsical allusion for that reason and also to enable their personalisation with a family crest, or coat-of-arms, or for a significant occasion. Behind the caseback and a layer of sapphire crystal is the Cal. 324 SC, a full-rotor, self-winding movement with Patek’s paramagnetic Spiromax hairspring. Despite the automatic movement and hunter caseback, the 5227 sits no higher than a touch above nine millimetres.
Set apart from the conventional Calatrava simplicity while still offering clarity of purpose and legibility is the ref. 6006G, that like the aforementioned 5227, also displays the date, but by virtue of a pointer hand on a radial track on the periphery of its dial. The dial is monochromatic, save for the red-tipped date hand; the baton hands are skeletonised. It is a geometrically fascinating watch – immediately striking is the petite seconds subdial sitting between 4 and 5 o’clock. Finished in white, as are the hour and date numerals, it is juxtaposed against a jet-black background. The track of the small-seconds subdial is geometrically similar to the minutes track bordering the inboard periphery of the hour markers, with their black-and-white circles, rectangles, and triangles.
What many may initially miss is the depth and juxtaposition of detail offered in a Patek Philippe dial: a loupe examination reveals that the inner black circle (where “Patek Philippe” is printed) features a sunburst finish, while the silvery minutes track is finished in a fine guilloche. Where the hour circle is very finely brushed, the date track features a fine grained finish. Black and white, circumferential and radial – sitting at 39 millimetres wide, the 6006G is an elegant, modern extrapolation of Art Deco style, executed to the finest standards.
Editor’s note: The more complicated Calatrava watches, namely the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time and Calatrava Weekly Calendar, will be covered in the upcoming weeks under a dedicated Complications piece by David Chan. Stay tuned for the next instalment on Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts.
[Editors Note: In the lead-up to the 2019 Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition David wrote a series of articles covering the gamut of watches Patek Philippe makes, including: Part 1 The Calatrava, Part 2 Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts, Part 3 The Patek Philippe Nautilus, Part 4 The Patek Philippe Aquanaut, Part 5 The Patek Philippe Complications, Part 6 The Patek Philippe Grand Complications and Part 7 Patek Philippe Astronomical Exceptionalism]
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