When you think Chronograph (voluntarily with a capital C), you probably have in mind a Daytona, a Speedmaster, racing cars, space exploration, timing sports competitions… In other words, you think sports watches. However, chronograph watches can be elegant, small, restrained and wearable with a suit – and here I mean that there are chronographs intended to be worn like that, not sporty chronographs that you decide to wear with a suit (and there’s nothing wrong in wearing a Speedy with a suit). In the category of dress chronographs, you might think of the Datograph and another one… that surprisingly (or not…) comes from Patek Philippe: the 5170G. Here is our take on the Patek Philippe 5170G.
It’s a “back to basics” watch
The Patek Philippe 5170G Chronograph is the purest definition of a Patek Philippe, a watch that represents the greatness of Patek Philippe. It is also a watch that looks like those superb 1940s chronographs that Patek made. This is also true for the recently introduced ref. 5370p (but this one costs an arm and two kidneys…) and for the ref. 5270 (because mixing a perpetual calendar and a chronograph is in the DNA of Patek, however the 5270 isn’t that vintage oriented). However, compared to those two, the Patek Philippe 5170G is simpler, cleaner, more in the vein of what a chronograph by Patek should be.
The 5170 can be seen as a modern Patek Philippe Ref. 130 – and oh yes, these watches were splendid. “Back to basics” because it is a simple chronograph that only does what is it’s name actually means: measuring (and displaying) time. That’s all. No calendar, no split-seconds, no date window, no extreme features neither diamonds. It’s clean, it’s pure and it’s simple.
It’s cool because it’s super elegant
Look at it and try to imagine this watch in a racing car or on a flying suit… Not the best association, right. The Patek Philippe 5170G is clearly made for being a dress watch, with the extra feature of the chronograph. Because it’s super clean and basic (relatively speaking), it has nothing shocking or “bling bling”. Of course, it can be worn with a pair of jeans and a sweater but clearly, it will be more relevant with a fine tailored suit and a shirt (look at the photo below and you’ll understand).
It is elegant also because it’s extremely restrained. It only comes in white metal, with a white or a black dial. No blued hands, no warm gold, no super-sized case, no champagne dial (which I love but they are not the easiest to wear), no strange and over-designed lugs or bezel… Simplicity at its best. It’s smooth, clean, flat… However, it isn’t boring. The case is rather sharp and not too round, not too soft, giving it a bit of a bold design (that is quite reminiscent of some old ref. 130). The dial is not too loaded with hands, scales, logos or inscriptions – and it features applied Breguet numerals, that are, too me, simply the best looking numerals that the watchmaking industry created so far. It just works as a dress watch, even with the chronograph function.
It comes in two very close but quite different editions
The Patek Philippe 5170G exists in two editions, both in 18k white gold: the 5170G-001 with a white dial and the 5170G-010 with a black dial. The older ref. 5170J in yellow gold with a white dial, introduced in 2010, is not in production anymore, leaving to us the choice between these two new white gold editions. However, the difference of these two new editions is not just the dial colour. There’s more, much more… with a lot of subtlety.
The first option is the classical, and understated (for some maybe too understated) Patek Philippe 5170G-001, which is the white dial edition. This edition does not only define itself with a white dial but also with its hands – simple, polished, white gold baton hands for the hours and minutes. And this is also the case for the chronograph hands that you can find in the sub-registers. The second and main difference, which completely changes the face of the watch, is the presence of a pulsation scale, making this Patek Philippe 5170G-001 a sort of doctor’s watch (as vintage collectors love to call them). In fact there are two tracks around the dial, as you’ll also find a second track (practical to measure elapsed times).
The Patek Philippe 5170G-010 has a black dial… and there’s more as it also comes with different hands. The only one that is similar to the white dial edition is the central chronograph second hand (but in white here and not in black). For the other hands, Patek chose a more subtle and rounded leaf-shape hands – for the two main hands and also for the sub-counters’ hands, which even feature a counterweight (something the white dial edition doesn’t feature). The second change comes from the tracks – all the tracks, on the periphery of the dial but also on the periphery of the sub-registers. First, this Patek Philippe 5170G-010 gets rid of the pulsation scale and only leaves the second track. Then, the sub-dials’ track are also cleaner, with a single rail-road track.
These small changes have a rather important incidence on the face of the watch. Because a black dial with white inscriptions and tracks shows more contrast than a white dial with black tracks and inscriptions, Patek Philippe decided to have the black edition cleaner. That appears to be a very wise choice. The result is that the black 5170G-010 looks more opened, less clustered than the white dial, mainly because the numerals are applied further from the center of the dial and because the periphery is less busy. This black dial has more space, more air. Thus, on my cool-wall (© Top Gear), the Patek Philippe 5170G-001 is already very cool and the Patek Philippe 5170G-010 becomes cool +1 (sub-zero in Top Gear terms).
It’s cool because it’s small and thin
The introduction of the Patek Philippe 5170 gave echo to the death of the previous Ref. 5070 (a watch introduced in 1998, as the first simple chronograph from Patek, after 40 years of the ref. 1463). The 5070 was huge (42mm), in fact too huge to my taste, for 3 reasons: it was simply too big to be a dress watch and, despite that ‘sporty size’ it didn’t look like a sports watch. Thus, for me, this 42mm diameter wasn’t appropriate. Then, this huge diameter was associated to a fat bezel, which, to me, wasn’t very elegant and refined. Finally, considering the Lemania-based movement, the 5070 was featuring sub-dials too close from the center of the watch, which, again, made this watch bulky.
As with the Patek Philippe 5170G, the case measures only 39,4mm, which is, for a modern chronograph, very small (most of the modern chronographs are larger than 40mm, if not over 42mm, a diameter that requires a strong wrist). Thus, such a size directly categorize the 5170 as a dress watch. Then, it is also a rather slim watch – not a super-slim “under 5mm” watch for sure, but at approximately 11mm (although it wears thinner), it remains slim (for a chronograph) and wearable under your cuff. Considering the goal of Patek Philippe and the overall restrained look, it would not make sense for Patek to come with a bigger case. And this is, for me, very cool.
It’s cool because it has a fully in-house movement
The Patek Philippe 5170G is cool because it features the best of what Patek can do: the in-house calibre CH 29-535 PS. Before this new movement, Patek relied on a Lemania-based movement for the chronographs (both for the simple chronographs, as well as for the complicated chronos with QP or even the ones with additional split-seconds). There was nothing wrong with the old Calibre CH 27-70 PS (in fact, it is one of the nicest chronograph movements ever), however it was clearly not a modern movement. Then, in 2006, Patek introduced the Calibre CH 28-520, the first automatic, integrated chronograph movement of the manufacture (associated to an annual calendar), in the ref. 5960. However, it was time for Patek to have their own classical, manually-wound, chronograph movement – and one with modern features and a superlative finish.
That’s what they did at the end of 2009, by introducing the Calibre CH 29-535 PS (and they did it first on a ladies’ watch, the ref. 7071). Then, at Baselword 2010, Patek came with this ref. 5170 (at that time the J edition in yellow gold, discontinued in 2013) equipped with the in-house chronograph movement. Thus, I think the Patek Philippe 5170 is cool because it’s the first men’s watch of the collection to feature the new movement, making it an important milestone in Patek’s history. Furthermore, this Calibre CH 29-535 PS is modern (wheels with patented tooth profiles, self-adjusting hammers, a modern 4hz frequency, a variable inertia balance wheel and 65 hours of power reserve) and it is finished to perfection. Maybe it lacks a bit of the vintage feeling of the old CH 27-70 PS but it also looks more technical, feels more modern, winding is much more pleasant, the pushers are smoother, the power reserve is longer, it will be more precise… Well, it is a pretty good movement.
It’s cool because… It’s a Patek Philippe (darn, I said it)
Yes, the fact that the 5170 is a Patek Philippe makes it cool… It is hard for me to admit this, not because Pateks are bad, overrated or not to my taste, but it could be seen as based on intangible facts – or simple snobbery… Which is not the case. The truth is that the cool-factor of Patek Philippe is based on tangible reasons: the history of the brand, the aura of the vintage watches, the fact that it is still a family owned business, with known faces on the top (Philippe and Thierry Stern) or the fact that whatever Patek does (even a strange Pilot watch…), it is seen as something to love. And all of this is even more true concerning the 5170, because a simple, elegant, manual chronograph is, for me, the true essence of a Patek Philippe. This watch is not only a watch, it’s a testimony of 100 years of chronographs by a manufacture, with decades of heritage, and the knowledge to make, what is supposed to be a sports watch, look like an extremely elegant, refined (and desirable) timepiece.
Can we spot some weaknesses on the Patek Philippe 5170G? Well, we can always argue a lack of boldness for the white dial edition and a dial that is a bit clustered. However, this was not the case on the 5170J (yellow gold) mainly because of the rich tone of the case (that adds a bit of presence) and because of the different indexes (batons and thin Roman numerals). This edition is however not in the catalogue anymore. The white dial / white gold edition might a bit too cold and its dial not clean enough (the combination of Breguet numerals and a twin scale is maybe a tad too much). On the other hand, this ‘flaw’ is not present on the black dial edition, which is to me, cooler than ice-cream. With its clean, black dial and the new leaf-shaped hands, Patek Philippe certainly found the right recipe. The one thing that stops me to buy one (or a least that slows me down…) is the price: 71,500 Swiss Francs. I can (and have to) wait a bit…