Introduced in 1932, the Patek Philippe Calatrava watch has become synonymous with understated elegance in the world of luxury watches. In this guide, we’ll explore the history of one of the world’s finest timepieces and discuss its various models and reputation in the luxury marketplace.
The year was 1839 and a watchmaker from Poland named Antoni Patek began making pocket watches in Geneva with his friend and partner Franciszek Czapek. Considered a pioneer in watchmaking, Patek decided to leave his friend half a decade later. In 1845, he partnered with legendary French watchmaker Adrien Philippe who was well known for his invention of the keyless winding mechanism. In 1851, they founded the brand known as Patek Philippe & Co. Trailblazers in the Swiss watch industry, they soon developed a reputation worldwide has the creators of the split-second hand, the perpetual calendar, the minute repeater and the chronograph.
Just a few years shy of the beginning of World War II, the Henri Stern Watch Agency in New York brought the brand to wealthy Americans, where it began to sell as a sister brand of Universal Genève. Renowned watch author of the vintage Patek Philippe official reference books, Alan Banbery, a former horologist for Gerrard & Co in London, took the reigns and became their director of sales in the mid-1960s.
Known for creating the finest timepieces in the world, Patek Philippe has produced some of what critics consider the most collectable timepieces ever designed. Known for producing the entirety of the watch from design to distribution in-house, Patek has set the bar for the rest of the Swiss watch industry.
The History of Patek’s Signature Timepiece
Patek Philippe didn’t introduce its flagship timepiece until 1932 after it was certain all previous designs had culminated in the perfect watch creation worthy of their customer’s attention. A tribute to German Bauhaus design and architecture as well as Patek Philippe’s avant-garde philosophy, the name Calatrava comes from the cross used as the watchmaker’s emblem.
The first timepiece produced by Patek Philippe was the Ref. 96. Despite its age, the vintage watch still sells today for more than most Rolexes and can easily fetch upwards of $30,000.
At just 31mm in diameter with a slim 9mm thick case, the Ref. 96 was a game changer in the watch world due to its slim, exquisite design and remarkable engine. With a manual 18 jewel movement finished with Geneva stripes on the pocketwatch-styled bridges, the Ref 96 is one of the most collectible timepieces in the world.
Considered a timeless grail watch, the perfectly round case is a direct reflection of its circular movement and the creaminess of its dial showcases clarity not often found in wristwatches. It is, all things considered, a showcase of purity and grace.
Despite 37 models being released since the birth of the Calatrava, the actual design has barely changed. Known for its sleek lines and understated elegance, the timepiece has endured through the ages thanks in part to its simplicity that acts as a wrapping for one of the most complicated and beautiful movements ever created. The movements have changed slightly based on the models, and they are regularly tweaked.
Regardless of whether your timepiece is 34mm or 36mm, has an extra thin case, the quintessential hobnail pattern or a wide polished bezel, there is no mistaking the Calatrava as it is instantly recognizable regardless of the model. Patek Philippe has long used the tagline that you never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation.
In the case of the Calatrava, nothing could be more accurate. The watch is renowned for its lifespan. It often passes from generation to generation and still keeps ticking due to the materials used, the craftsmanship employed in creating each watch and the fact that every timepiece is made by the hands of the world’s foremost watchmakers. While many other watchmakers have been accused of making fewer quality watches in recent years, Patek has maintained its pursuit of perfection and continues to make grail watches that are revered for their quality and artistry in comparison to competitors.
The Calatrava Range of Models
Of the 37 models produced in the Calatrava range, the most popular has been the 3919 which features the iconic guilloché “Clous de Paris” bezel that Patek introduced in 1985. Despite Patek’s hesitation to follow watch and style trends, they did retire the model and replace it in 2006 with a larger 5119 model, since men began to prefer a larger wrist watch. Many collectors have expressed their displeasure with Patek succumbing to the trend. However, Patek remained steadfast in their efforts and didn’t listen to the popular opinion. They again replaced the inaugural Ref. 96 model in 2004 with a significantly larger 5196. This reincarnation of the original 96 featured the same iconic design that the 96 was praised for but added some extra oomph. They took it from the smaller sized timepiece (that is now considered slightly feminine in comparison) to the larger timepieces that have become common, to a more conservative 37mm and added the celebrated calibre 215PS movement. Despite some purist collectors being upset by the modifications, today the 5196 is considered the most lovely and the most traditional model across all of Patek Philippe’s collections due to its pure design that emulates the inaugural Calatrava designs.
Today, most of the references (i.e. Ref 96) available come in yellow gold, rose gold and white gold among other precious metals. While the dials differ based on models, most of the dials are the standard white or cream face and some models also feature an elegant black face for evening wear. There are still other models such as the 6000G-012 which use a far more contemporary blue sunburst and silvery gray dial. Across the range, the standard Calatrava features just an hour and minute display, sometimes with seconds. There are a few models that also feature a date function such as the 5227. However, these models tend to be slightly less popular. Despite Patek having used quartz movements in other timepieces, the Calatrava only features a manual or automatic movement and is considered one of the finest engines ever created. The entire watch is crafted by hand in-house and new models start at the reasonable price of just $19,000 which may seem expensive to non-collectors but is rather competitive in the world of high-priced horology. If you compare it to fine art, Patek Philippe is the Picasso of the watch world and when you purchase a Calatrava, you’re getting an original piece.
Patel Philippe’s Triumphs in the Industry
Globally, Patek Philippe is considered the most prestigious watchmaker in the world and a member of what collectors call the holy trinity of watchmakers (Patek, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin). And although the Calatrava is their flagship model, it has been the more complex and intricate complications and ultra-complications that have netted Patek Philippe their world records. Despite the Calatrava models selling at fairly high prices for both new and vintage watches, it was the other rare timepieces that have solidified Patek Philippe’s position as the leading Swiss watchmaker.
The Henry Graves Supercomplication that was crafted in 1933 for the famous banker is a pocket watch with 24 complications. In 1999, it was auctioned by Sotheby’s and sold for $11 million to Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani of the Qatari royal family. At the time, it was considered the most expensive watch ever sold, but then in 2014, it broke its old record and sold again at a Sotheby’s auction for $24 million.
Other famous watches sold for record numbers include:
- A chronograph Patek Philippe Wristwatch sold on May 10, 2010 for 6.26 million Swiss francs ($5.50 million US) to a Swiss Museum through Christie’s in Geneva.
- A 1953 Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 chronograph in yellow gold that featured a perpetual calendar and moon phase display sold online through Auctionata to a California-based collector for $611,000 US)
Who Should Own a Calatrava
The Calatrava is an ideal timepiece for anyone seeking a quintessential dress watch with a timeless, classic look. If you have the money, it makes a perfect commemorative gift for an achievement or as a watch for your personal collection.
Unlike most watches, Patek Philippe timepieces tend to hold their value over time. They make excellent heirloom pieces and are ideal for most office environments as well as formal affairs.
Where to Purchase Patek Philippe Calatrava Watches
Due to the prestige of the watch and its relatively simplistic design, the Calatrava remains one of the most counterfeited timepieces in the world today. In fact, there are many counterfeits that are so well produced it takes an experienced watch collector to open it up and look at the movement before they can even determine if it’s truly a fake. Because of this we do not recommend purchasing online or through grey-market dealers unless you are an experienced watch collector or it’s sold through a very reputable dealer that stands behind the product. Occasionally, there are great deals to be found on eBay but the risk is often not worth the reward.
There’s the adage that if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, con artists have wiggled around this due to the Calatrava’s high price point and will often sell these counterfeits for obscene amounts of money that are just a few thousand less than you would pay for a real one. Since most people would realize that a Calatrava being sold for $200 on eBay is most certainly a fake, these sellers will price them at $15,000 or $10,000, but the watch you’ll end up with may only be worth just a few hundred dollars.
Therefore, we strongly suggest only purchasing from authorized retailers, Patek Philippe branded boutiques or reputable vintage stores such as Tourneau.
The Calatrava is one of the finest timepieces ever created and possibly the most quintessential dress watch a man can own. Like an expensive piece of art, this is more than just a watch. It is an heirloom that will be passed on from one generation to the next. Do you own a Calatrava? What’s your favorite dress watch?