At Patek Philippe, there are the chronographs. There are also the super-chronographs. There’s a über-chronograph too. And finally, there’s the 5204, which could be called the “king of chronographs“, a beautiful blend of a split-seconds chronograph and perpetual calendar, so-to-say, the proper essence of what Patek Philippe is. This watch is complicated, it is extremely demonstrative and it is a collector’s grail. For Baselworld 2016, this über-chronograph is now available in 18k pink gold, to be precise under the reference Patek Philippe 5204R-001. This seems to be the perfect occasion to have a look back at this split-seconds chronograph perpetual calendar.
The Patek Philippe 5204R is impressive. Right. So no big news here. Clearly, arguing that a split-seconds chronograph with perpetual calendar from Patek Philippe is an impressive watch is kind of an euphemism. But that doesn’t prevent us from drooling in front of it. The ref. 5204 was introduced at Baselworld 2012, as a substitute to the ref. 5004, the previous rattrapante QP of the brand. If the overall concept and the complications used in the watch weren’t changed, the watch brought several improvements and updates: a larger case (following the trend for larger watches), a brand new movement, based on the in-house manually-wound chronograph of Patek Philippe and a new layout for the perpetual calendar, aiming for a better legibility of the chronograph sub-counters (some liked it, some not). However, the overall look of the 5204 remained closed from the previous edition… you don’t over-change an icon!
First introduced in platinum with a white dial and black gold indexes and hands (ref. 5204P-001), it then came in another edition, a platinum case with a black dial (ref. 5204P-011). While the latter is still in the 2016 collection, the first one has been removed and somehow replaced by this 18k pink gold edition with white dial, the Patek Philippe 5204R-001.
The combination of a chronograph with a perpetual calendar is a sort of love story at Patek Philippe. We could even set it as the motto of the brand, together with the minute repeaters – and probably the Nautilus, the Calatrava and the world-timer too (there’s a lot of icons at Patek). This combination of a QP and chrono is a long lineage that began with the reference 1518, the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph, introduced in the middle of the 1940s. Since then, it has been part of the DNA of Patek and finally, it came to a pinnacle with the 5004, followed by the 5204, by adding the rattrapante function. So yes, the Patek Philippe 5204R is demonstrative, on paper… Itself, the watch remains rather restrained.
While the normal chronograph perpetual calendar ref. 5270 features a rather bold and massive case (41mm and highly sculptural lugs), you could imagine the 5204 to be even larger, by having a split-seconds function added. But no. That’s the beauty of this watch. It is only 40mm, which, considering actual standards, could be considered as a small watch – could be only, because the previous ref. 5004, with the same functions, had a 36.7mm case. Anyway, we can thank Patek for not having overly increased the size of the case. Then, this case is designed with all the classism of the brand in mind. It features the typical PP concave bezel together with the iconic stepped lugs, a design element found in PP watches for decades – often copied, never equaled. For Baselworld 2016, the novelty is in the material used, 18k pink gold, a first for this uber-reference (usually only in platinum).
At the time of its introduction, the dial also brought its dosage of updates, with the arrival of a new QP module, the same as used in the 5270. Instead of displaying the leap year and the day-and-night indicator into the chronograph sub-dials at 3 and 9, Patek wanted to improve legibility in keeping these counters as clean as possible and only focused on the chronograph functions. Thus, the leap year moved in a small window at 4h30 and the the day-and-night indicator in another window at 7h30 (changing from white to blue, depending on the moment of the day). If some applauded the gain in legibility, other collectors regretted the traditional layout. The rest of the dial remains classical for a chronograph with QP by Patek: day and month in windows at 12, date and moon-phase at 6. Another change that appeared in the new generation of chronographs by PP is the off-centered position of the sub-counters, slightly under the mid-axis of the dial – an anti-copy subterfuge…
This is the result of the adoption by all the chronographs of the new base movement, designed and produced entirely in-house, the CH 29-535 – the same base can be found in the 5170, the 5270 or the 5370. In the Patek Philippe 5204R, this base movement receives a split-seconds function and a perpetual calendar module. This movement that we already explained in details in the other 3 references is simply a feast for the eyes. It is deep, complex, extremely finished and technically impressive.
This calibre CHR 29-535 PS Q is a mix of a classical architecture (manual winding, column wheel, split-seconds) with modern technologies (wheels with patented tooth profiles, self-adjusting hammers or a modern 4hz frequency). It also brings innovations directly linked to the rattrapante, like a newly designed isolator that uncouples the split-seconds wheel from the chronograph wheel (to eliminate unwanted friction and prevent a degradation of balance amplitude) and a split-seconds lever that positions a ruby roller between two flat heart cam shoulders and keeps the chronograph and split-seconds hands precisely aligned. All parts are, of course, heavily finished and the movement bears the Patek Philippe Seal, guarantee of its exquisite execution and perfect running.
Again, it isn’t difficult to say that the Patek Philippe 5204R Split-Seconds Chronograph Perpetual Calendar is a beauty (you can’t cheat a cheater). To say that this new edition in Pink Gold in very attractive isn’t difficult too. It adds a warmer look, the beauty of gold, to a watch that used to be somehow cold in platinum. However, once passed the slap in the face of having such a watch in the hands, the Patek Philippe 5204R is impressive for good reasons. It is restrained, very faithful to the history of the brand (something that some recent watches in the PP catalogue don’t have…) and at the same time technically modern. Yes, it is extremely appealing… and certainly inaccessible to mere mortals. Price: 283,500 USD.