Buying a Calatrava?

For the last 100 years or so, there has always been a Calatrava within the line-up of Patek Philippe watches. Starting with the Reference 96 from the early 1930s and the Reference 570 which started in the late 1930s all the way through to the recent novelty, the Reference 5212A. There have been literally dozens of iterations in between. There are two questions that come to mind. First, why should one consider buying a Calatrava? Second, what are the options to consider?

570G – this one from the 1970s

Why consider a Calatrava?

Patek Philippe is a famous brand for many reasons. One of those reasons is their pioneering work in the field of making highly complicated watches. Ironically, another reason is for producing perhaps the most iconic simple complication, the Calatrava. It is a watch style of purity and simplicity. I love complications, but I have to say there is something quite special about wearing a Calatrava. It has that under-stated simplicity that allows me to know that I am wearing something special on my wrist but at the same time will go unnoticed by essentially everyone else. Perfect for wearing in an office environment or actually anywhere. Perfectly at home as a dress watch but at the same time at ease with a pair of jeans. Yes, the Calatrava is a highly versatile watch. As much as I love complications, I feel that the diversity to my collection from owning a Calatrava is necessary. It provides a totally different feeling to wear. So, yes, I think there would be a hole in my collection if I did not own a Calatrava – from a historical perspective but also from the perspective of wearing something that brings real panache to the game.

What options to consider?

Unlike perpetual calendars or chronographs, the arena of the Calatrava is enormous. There are literally dozens of different references that one can consider with a price range starting at comfortably under $10,000 all the way up to comfortably over $100,000. It is a genre that offers tremendous opportunity. Obviously taste will vary according to what metal one likes, sizing, dial display and so on. The Reference 96, for example, started at 30mm and that will be simply too small for many. The Reference 570, on the other hand, known as the “Grand Calatrava”, comes in at around 35mm, and its case design wears larger. For many, this has become the iconic Calatrava to own. There are, literally, so many different styles of Calatrava to consider at different budget levels. The Reference 3445 is one of my favourites. Produced in relatively high numbers, the 3445 can be found at very reasonable prices. Likewise, the Reference 2509 – a model of purity and class.

Ref. 2509J

On the upper end, I would say that my all-time favourite Calatrava is the Reference 3417A. Confirmed production of just 900 watches, the 3417A represents the only steel watch produced by Patek Philippe with Amagnetic written on the dial. A pure tool watch in steel by Patek Philippe. That is, for me, a very special Calatrava, but one that would likely cost comfortably over $50,000 now.

Ref. 3417A …. the “Amagnetic”

Much to like about the 5212A

In the modern era, I would consider the 5196 as well as the most recent novelty the 5212A. In many ways, the 5212A is an anomaly for a Calatrava. One cannot say that it has a simplicity to it. In fact, it has the opposite. It is a Calatrava that is actually quite complicated with a dial design that has no precedent within Patek Philippe. What do I like about the 5212A?

  • Very few Calatravas over the last 100 years have been made in steel. I love steel watches for both their aesthetic appeal as well as their durability. It is a watch that can be worn.
  • Houses a brand new self-winding movement, the Caliber 26-330.
  • It has a completely new complication – the weekly calendar.
  • The letters and numerals on the dial have been produced explicitly for this watch to look exactly like handwritten characters, adding a hint of vintage to the feel of the watch. Again, this has no been seen on a Patek Philippe watch before.

At 40mm it is a decent size. For me, anything between 35-42mm works, but it does depend on the shape and height of the case. The 5212A has a height of 10.79mm, a touch less than the Nautilus 5726.

This is a watch that needs to be appreciated. It is, for me, the antithesis of the classic Calatrava. And for this reason must be considered by anyone who collects Calatravas. With a silvery opaline dial, it has no less than 5 different hands, each defining a different purpose. The hour and minute hands, in Dauphine blackened white gold, providing a stark contrast to the opaline dial. I particularly like the hammer-shaped hand with red hammer head in the middle of the dial, highlighting the day of the week. Likewise, the same style hand but elongated to indicate the week number and month on two concentric scales. It is a watch that would have me staring at the dial a lot.

This watch is a thoroughly modern rendition of a Patek Philippe classic, but several hints of vintage have been applied. It has, to coin my old expression, borrowed from the past without stealing from it. The case design is another expression of this feature. The watch is inspired by the Reference 2512, which was made in 1955. The 2512 is a one-of-a-kind marvel that is housed in the Patek Philippe Museum. It is also the 2512 that inspired the design of the Reference 5070. The modern 5212 has the same numerals as a nod to its past.

The 5212A has incorporated many new innovations. It has a very distinctive personality. For me, it offers something quite special within the entire Calatrava range and would most definitely need to be considered as one to buy.