Although many were hoping that the demise of the Nautilus 5711 was just a marketing ploy – which it wasn’t – Patek Philippe had a couple of surprises up its sleeve, including the new Annual Calendar Travel Time 5326G. And new in this context means brand new, not just a new dial colour/finishing as in the case of the Chronograph 5172G or the Worldtimers. This highly practical combination of an annual calendar with a GMT function marks the first time these two complications appear in one watch at Patek Philippe. Powered by a movement protected by eight patents, the Annual Calendar Travel Time 5326G synchronises the date with the time zone selected. Although long-time collectors of Patek watches might have been floored by its overtly vintage vibe, unusual granular dial, modular case construction and more casual presence, we fell in love with the watch. Firstly, for its impressive level of practicality and secondly, for its refreshing design, a clear signal of the new direction the brand is taking with Thierry Stern at the helm.
Breath of fresh air
The 2022 edition of Watches and Wonders might have taken more conservative Patek Philippe collectors aback for several reasons. The news about the discontinuation of the Nautilus was true after all, and why, they might have asked, are there more and more vintage-inspired models appearing in classical collections like the Calatrava?
Steering a revered brand like Patek Philippe on a new course is a daunting task that Thierry Stern took on after his father, Philippe, left the company’s direction in 2009. Slowly but surely, Thierry Stern is breathing new life into the brand’s collections. Who can forget the turbulence surrounding the launch of the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time 5524 in 2015, the bold pilot’s watch from a brand not associated with the genre with overt retro design cues? Or, in an even more radical move, his decision to discontinue the Nautilus in 2021 that sent tidal waves across Lac Léman? Without forgetting the military/vintage Perpetual Calendar 5320 of 2017, which appeared again this year in a vintage attire with a gorgeous salmon dial.
Although the design language is less classical and more retro-oriented, we are still talking about Patek Philippe here, and everything exudes quality. It’s clear that Thierry Stern is speaking to a younger generation of collectors who have no qualms about wearing their watches, even minute repeaters, instead of locking them up in a safe and gingerly taking them out for a few minutes of chiming action. He is also more in tune with the tastes of a new generation of Patek Philippe clients who want something less conservative, less classical and more robust and retro.
a new Calatrava case
The new 41mm polished white gold case with its chamfered bezel of the 5326G is spectacular. Its complex architecture, featuring a central module flanked by inclined pyramid-like lugs attached to the caseback, is unlike anything in the Calatrava collection. The reason for this construction was to incorporate the beautiful Clous de Paris or hobnail guilloché pattern that decorates the entire circumference of the caseband. This hobnail motif, composed of tiny shiny pyramids, did not appear out of the blue; it was used to decorate the bezel of the 1985 Calatrava 3919, a reference that defined the collection for over 20 years, but that is now used in a different position on the case, for a more dynamic result.
Vintage dial with texture
Again, the texture of the dial is unlike anything you might find at Patek. The granular surface of the charcoal grey dial gives the watch its unique personality. Made by Cadrans Flückiger in Saint-Imier, a dial specialist owned by Patek Philippe since 2004, the unique texture of the dial picks up on the bumpy surface found on old cameras originally intended for better grip. The dial also has a trendy gradient effect as the grey colour intensifies and slightly darkens as it reaches the perimeter.
Like the hour numerals used on the retro military-inspired Perpetual Calendar 5320G, the white gold applied Arabic numerals are filled with beige luminous material. The syringe-style hands with pointy tips are also filled with beige lume, underscoring the vintage mood of the watch. The beige colour scheme extends to other details on the dial, like the railway tracks for the minutes and small seconds, the inscriptions for Local and Home night/day indicators and the brand name at noon.
Weekdays and months are displayed in two horizontal rectangular windows at noon, while the date is positioned in the lower half of the moon phase counter at 6 o’clock; all three indications with highly legible white backgrounds and black inscriptions. The three calendar functions can be adjusted with small correctors in the caseband.
A third openworked syringe hour hand with no lume is used to indicate home time, although it is not accompanied by a 24-hour track. Instead, the two round apertures below the central axis are used to indicate night/day for local and home time; white represents day, blue is for night. In a final ode to vintage watches, the dial is protected by a box sapphire crystal. Given the amount of information relayed on the dial, it is balanced, legible and remarkably uncluttered.
Tandem of practical complications
Patek’s Annual Calendar is a full calendar with day/date/month that requires one manual correction once a year on 1 March. Launched in 1996, the innovative mechanism automatically distinguishes between months with 30 and 31 days. One year later, Patek released its Travel Time mechanism, indicating a second time zone with a second central hour hand. Now, in 2022, the Annual Calendar and Travel Time join forces in one watch. Based on the movement used inside the In-Line Perpetual Calendar 5236 of 2021, the resulting calibre 31-260 PS QA LU FUS 24H benefits from the 20% gain in barrel torque, the increased winding power of the platinum micro-rotor, the frequency of 4Hz (28,800 semi-oscillations per hour), and a reduction wheel that uncouples the automatic winding when the watch is manually wound, which reduces wear.
Harnessing two complications is a challenging task. Apart from fitting them inside one case, they have to interact so that the displayed date corresponds to local time. To achieve this, the Annual Calendar is controlled by the Travel Time function, using the local time hour wheel to drive the calendar. Additionally, Patek’s engineers had to modify the Annual Calendar mechanism to reflect the fact that in a conventional annual calendar, the displays advance at around midnight and last about 90 minutes. This could result in a date misalignment if the time zone were adjusted in this time frame. To counter this problem, the time of the display advance was shortened five times to about 18 minutes. In all, eight patents were filed to cover the innovations developed to harness the two complications.
User-friendly Operations via Crown
In a departure from the original Travel Time mechanism that relies on two pushers on the left side of the case (as seen on the Calatrava Pilot, the Aquanaut 5164A, or the Nautilus 5990A), the local time of the new ref. 5326G can be adjusted directly via the crown. By pulling the crown to the middle position, you can adjust the local time hour hand in one-hour increments in either direction without affecting the precision rate of the movement. When the crown is fully extracted (third position), you can adjust the home time. Furthermore, there is a stop-seconds mechanism to set the time with one-second accuracy, only active when the crown is in its outermost position. And, in case you are not about to embark on a trip, the second hour hand can be hidden behind the main hour hand with the crown to look like one hand.
Calibre 31-260 PS QA LU FUS 24H
As mentioned, the calibre is new but leans heavily on the movement developed for the Perpetual Calendar 5236P. Wound by a platinum micro-rotor and running at 4Hz, the power reserve is on the short side ranging from 38-48 hours. The back reveals a beautifully executed calibre with a beautiful cascade of finger bridges and the superlative finishings that you’d expect from Patek Philippe.
Adding to the casual vintage look, Patek Philippe has equipped the Annual Calendar Travel Time 5326G with two straps. One is a beige calfskin strap with a nubuck finish (photographed here), and the other is a black strap with beige stitching with an embossed fabric pattern. In yet another move that is in tune with today’s trends, the quick-release spring bars let you exchange the straps in an instant.
Thierry Stern’s leadership is steering the brand into more contemporary terrain, which in today’s language means a return to retro. Obviously, this direction is never at odds with Patek Philippe’s venerable status, and everything that issues from the Maison is of the highest quality. Without getting too cheesy, perhaps the brand’s new inspirational phrase might be Roy T. Bennett’s quote, “the past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.”
The price of the Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Travel Time 5326G is EUR 68,800. More details at Patek.com.