A hundred and seventy-eight years is an eternity to a social media influencer living on Internet time, but not for the explorer whose vista spans millennia. For cosmically inclined souls such as Sir Isaac Newton, who in later life learned mysticism, humankind is engulfed, atomised and birthed repeatedly in the cycle of the planets.
Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe turned 178 just last year. It made the first known wristwatch incorporating a perpetual calendar in 1925: a hand-crafted algorithm that syncs precisely with the known universe that also fits onto your wrist. This was the first smartwatch, one with no need for silicon augmentation or battery anxiety. Model 97975 was fitted with a movement originally made for a ladies’ pendant watch in 1898, and had finely engraved lugs.
At this year’s Baselworld, the Patek Philippe Ref. 5320G made its debut. It has a perpetual calendar that now automatically accounts for the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar, leap years, right up to 2100 when the date display must be manually adjusted.
The Ref. 5320G embodies the distinguishing qualities of the Patek Philippe lineage; models of the ’40s and the ’50s such as the Ref. 1518 (1941), a perpetual calendar with a chronograph; and the Ref. 1526 Perpetual Calendar (1942), without a chronograph. The dials of both models sport a double aperture for the day and month displays at 12 o’clock, and a subsidiary dial at 6 o’clock for the analogue date and moon phase. To these, the classical cream-coloured dial of the Ref. 5320G adds a small round day/night aperture between 7 and 8 o’clock. Aesthetic symmetry is maintained with a round aperture for the leap year cycle (with Arabic numerals from 1 to 4) between 4 and 5 o’clock. The Arabic numerals are applied with gold, while the five-minute cabochons have luminous coatings and the fine-tipped baton hands contain phosphorescent pigments called Super-LumiNova (a nod to the 1950s Ref. 1463 chronograph).
The Ref. 5320G is powered by the calibre 324 SQ (S for seconds, Q for quantième perpétuel, or perpetual calendar) a refinement of the self-winding movement 324. It features a large central rotor in 21k gold and has a maximum rate deviation that ranges between -3 and +2 seconds per day, as specified by the Patek Philippe Seal benchmark. The synchronicity of a modern Patek Philippe moon-phase display keeps time for 122 years before needing to be adjusted by a day. The bridge side of the movement boasts round-chamfered and polished edges, Geneva striping and gold-filled engravings, screws with polished, chamfered slots in bores with polished countersinks.
Housing it all is an 18k white-gold case, its flanks made sleek by the use of “box-form” sapphire-crystal glass that extends across the bezel and is cambered so the dial retains its no-nonsense legibility regardless of viewing angle. A sapphire crystal case-back shows off the mechanical movement, but shy and retiring types can opt for the solid 18K white-gold back. Still, there’s no escaping the Ref. 5320’s sexy lugs that are inspired by the Ref. 2405 from over 60 years ago. Their slim, three-tiered profile lend an art deco dynamism to the restraint of the classical overall aesthetic that Patek calls “contemporary vintage”.
After the not-a-hair-out-place, controlled flamboyance of the Ref. 5320, the cushion-cased, rose gold Ref. 5940 falls on the eye like, well, vintage rose champagne from 2015: the inverted triangle of its day, date and month indicators sits comfortably stylishly with the moon phase indicator. No apertures here, but hands that indicate leap years and matching Bregeut numerals in place of terse sans serif fonts. Like the Ref. 5320, it has a sapphire-crystal case-back with the option to cover up.
To choose the latter is to cover up a delicate and beautifully engineered movement of the slim Calibre 240 Q that beats at a relaxed 3hz instead of the usual 4hz (infra-bass frequencies), a resonance that conserves energy while keeping precision timing. This patented self-winding movement was introduced in 1977 at the height of the Swiss watch industry’s quartz crisis. Forty years later, or almost two generations on, it shows why clear-sighted and bold decisions inevitably pay dividends over the sweep of time. The Ref. 5940 is just one of the latest models to benefit from the low-profile Calibre 240 Q, and is almost ineffably beautiful. Elegance, as they say, begins from the inside.
This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of Esquire Malaysia.