This year was the year of steel for Patek Philippe. Alongside the huge surprise of the sporty Annual Calendar Chronograph 5960/1, we’ve presented you with in an extensive hands-on article on the new Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph ref. 5990/1A, a complicated edition of the Gerald Genta designed icon. In addition to this trend toward steel (which itself was an answer to several collectors’ requests) we mustn’t forget that Patek’s specialities are dress and complicated watches. In the 2014 collection, one in particular has captured our attention: the Patek Philippe 5496P-014 Perpetual Calendar Retrograde, with its new ‘honey brown’ dial and its unique layout, sort of a ‘controlled eccentricity’ in a world of traditions.
The Patek Philippe 5496P isn’t properly a new watch, as it was presented at Baselworld 2011 with a white dial. Likewise, the movement and its quite unusual layout is not specific to this reference, as the calibre 324 S QR was already powering the 5159. The latter was somehow one of the most ‘off-the-beaten-path’ watches of Patek’s collection back then (except for a few very rare and limited editions). It came with an officer case (meaning straight lugs with screws on the side and a hinged dust cover on the back side), a guilloché dial with large Roman numbers and unusual hands. In 2011, the first edition of the 5496P was the soft and sober (maybe too sober) declination of the layout, with its Calatrava case and pure dial design. For 2014, Patek Philippe brings back – with all the reserve we have come to anticipate from this brand – a bit of eccentricity, a warm and pleasant colour dubbed ‘honey brown’.
The layout itself can be seen as a departure for a Patek Philippe, as we are used to seeing Perpetual Calendars with 3 sub-dials (e.g., the iconic reference 5140). Don’t forget that we are talking about a brand built around traditions and classicism. What could constitute a total lack of originality in another, younger brand has to be taken within the context of one of the most conservative – and deeply respected – manufactures. Patek Philippe does not create MB&Fs of Urwerks. They are elegantly and soberly producing refined and classical watches. So, in a sense, this layout is actually less conservative than we’ve come to expect from this revered brand.
In the lower part of the dial sits the moon-phase indicator, represented with a blue disc and silver printings for the moon and stars. The perpetual calendar’s information is displayed in 3 apertures: day at 9, month at 3 and leap year at 12. The date is indicated by a retrograde hand that moves backward to its original position between 7 and 4. Time is classically displayed by ‘dauphine’ hands in the centre of the dial.
When the first Patek Philippe 5496P was introduced with its white dial, it was certainly an elegant watch but seemed to have, perhaps, a lack of temerity, a certain starkness. The new colour creates a warmer atmosphere without breaking the classical codes of the brand. The ‘honey brown’ dial is indeed less conventional but it has a lot of charm. Playing with the light – due to a sun-ray pattern – it goes from a soft caramel tone to gilded reflections in the sun. No ostentation here, just an added dose of restrained originality. The other advantage of this colour is that it provides a higher contrast with the polished white gold hands and indexes, while the apertures of the day, month and leap year pop out clearly from the dial itself.
The case uses the traditional Calatrava style, with its bevelled bezel and flat case-bands. Just as it was in the white dial edition, this 5496P-014’s case is made of platinum, which the diamond set at 6 (between the lugs) attests. All the settings are made with recessed pushers integrated between the lugs or next to the crown, preventing any button or pusher from disturbing the purity of the design. The Patek Philippe 5496P has very reasonable dimensions – 39.5mm in diameter and 11.19mm in height – which contribute to its “dress” feeling as well as to how comfortable it is to wear. On the wrist, the large opening of the dial and the simple design of the case slightly accentuate the size of the watch, giving it a pleasantly authoritative presence. But once again, no worries: it is never showy.
From the sapphire caseback (which is interchangeable with a full back) we can observe the movement and its pleasant layout and nice finish. Unlike the icon 5140 that comes with the ultra-thin Calibre 240 Q and its micro-rotor, the Patek Philippe 5496P is powered by the 324 S QR. From these rather barbarous codes, we can deduce that it possesses a sweep central second (clue: the S), a perpetual calendar (clue: the Q for quantième – calendar in French) and a retrograde hand (clue: the R). The base movement, the Calibre 324, has a self winding mechanism with a central rotor, boasts 45 hours of power reserve and comes with the usual, but efficient, Gyromax balance wheel – a free sprung balance wheel developed by Patek Philippe that keeps a very good chronometric rate. The perpetual calendar is a module added on top of the base movement. The total height of the ‘engine’ is, nonetheless, very reasonable at only 5.35mm.
The finish is of course in line with what you can always expect from Patek Philippe: hand polished bevelled angles, Geneva Stripes on the bridges and circular graining on the main plate, polished head screws and several gold chatons around the rubies. The rotor in solid yellow gold is also very well finished, with circular Geneva Stripes and a nice engraving. A high level of detail, as guaranteed by the Patek Philippe Seal (a sort of improved and in-house Geneva Seal).
The Patek Philippe 5496P-014 is a very refined and classical watch for sure, but with a tiny bit of eccentricity – because of its layout and its dial’s colour – that we really appreciate here at Monochrome-Watches. Far from being showy or unwearable, it is a warm and elegant watch which is just complicated enough to fulfill the image we have of Patek Philippe.
The Patek Philippe 5496P-014 is already available in retail and priced at € 87.960 Eur.