As we start the new decade with smoke clouds from the bushfires in Australia making a full circuit around the globe, it’s hard not to be overcome with anxiety. Images of the smog remind us of the mess we’ve got ourselves into as humans. Hopefully 2020 will give us better insights — 20/20 vision, so to speak — on how to better respect our planet and fellow human beings.
Reflecting on the dire state of global affairs, it hardly seems appropriate to obsess over a frightfully expensive timepiece, but there are lessons to be learned from the manufacture of some of the very finest watches in the world. First of all, Patek Philippe makes fewer, better-made watches intended to be passed on for many generations. This means less haste and more careful observation of how things are done, correctly, down to the tiniest detail — of which its grand complication pieces are the finest examples. Among these is the elegant 39.5mm Patek Philippe 5496P-015 Perpetual Calendar with Retrograde Date Hand, first released as the 5469P in 2011.
This reference, with its platinum case, takes its design cues from an earlier Ref 5050 (in production from 1993 to 2002), the first series-produced retrograde date based on the Ref 96 from 1937. Being the perfectionist at the helm of this family-owned company, president Thierry Stern wanted to update the Ref 5496P with “the most beautiful”, hand-set, solid-gold date numerals, which are normally printed on the dial due to their size and intricacy. Stern had to be patient but, some years later, we have these perfect numerals elegantly displayed in an arc over the top half of the dial. The silver dial, with its vertical satin finish, highlights the hands, hour markers, and minute scale. Day, leap year, and month are displayed in rose gold-framed apertures at three, nine, and 12 o’clock respectively, while the moon phase is positioned at six o’clock.
Pope Gregory XIII threw out Julius Caesar’s calendar in 1582 and replaced it with the Gregorian calendar, which took account of the discrepancies between the calendar and solar years by adding February 29 once every four years. Now, for a complication to accommodate February 29 in leap years as well as months with 28, 30, and 31 days, the movement requires a highly sophisticated mechanical “memory” of four years. This is where Patek shines as the unrivalled master of the perpetual calendar complication.
In 1925, it created the very first perpetual calendar wristwatch, and was the first to introduce a perpetual calendar with retrograde date with the Ref 96 — the 96 in 5496P no doubt alluding to this unique piece. Patek also created the first self-winding perpetual calendar in 1962. The 5496P-015 Perpetual Calendar with Retrograde Date Hand is powered by the self-winding Calibre 324 S QR, which beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour and has a power reserve of 35 to 45 hours. This movement also features in the more elaborately decorated 5159R and 5160/500G perpetual calendars. The watch comes with a shiny chocolate-brown, hand-stitched, alligator strap with fold-over clasp.
• From the February issue of Wanted 2020.