Is This Patek Philippe the Greatest Watch Ever?
Patek Philippe has a long and storied history of making Perpetual Calendar chronograph watches. Since the early 1940s, the Swiss house has produced six versions, and I think this one, the reference 5970 in yellow gold, is the best in Patek's vault of “grand complications.”
The 5970 was first released in 2004, and of all of Patek's grand complications, it had the shortest production run - a mere six years. And out of the 2,800 or so 5970s said to be out there, the yellow-gold ones, surprisingly, are the rarest. Generally, if a watch is made in a series of metals, yellow gold will be the most common, and platinum (or sometimes stainless steel) the hardest to get. It's speculated that just 300 were made in 2008, the only year Patek is said to have produced them. (Patek, being an extremely private company, won't publicly reveal how many of any watches they produce.) But that's not why it's the best iteration of this series. To me, there's something about the yellow-gold case and creamy white dial that sets it apart from all the others.
Patek's tight production isn't about creating artificial scarcity. It's simply impossible to hand-make more than a limited number per year. It boggles the mind that so many complications fit in such a clean design at all. "Perpetual calendar" means the date adjusts to leap years and basically never has to be reset. It also has a moon phase and a chronograph, powered by the legendary Lemania-based movement, which was swapped out for Patek's own in-house caliber after the 5970 was retired.
If you get the chance to try one on, do it. At 40 mm in diameter and 13.5 mm thick, the 5970 is ideally proportioned. The shape, from the square pushers (a throwback to the 1941 original) to the swooping lugs, is pure class, the perfect balance between Patek heritage and modern watchmaking. Even with eight hands, the dial is perfectly composed. There's nothing to add or subtract - everything is in its proper place. (That's the true beauty of Pateks. They fly under the radar.) And despite the functionality packed into the dial, you can look at it quickly and actually tell the time, which is the most important feature of all.
There's no point in owning a six-figure watch if it's so over-designed you check the time on your iPhone.
It's too early to tell what the legacy of the yellow-gold 5970 will be (it's not even “vintage” yet). But this could be one of the most significant Pateks ever created. (Collectors seem to agree - yellow-gold 5970 fetched around $100,000 at Christie's in 2017. And the few examples available online are selling for in the neighborhood of $150,000.) Really, it's a fantasy watch. But if you manage to get one, the 5970 will end your horological addiction. Because it's the last watch you'll ever need.
Photography: Joyce Lee