Diary of a Patek Philippe collector – which modern Calatrava to buy? (9th February 2020)

Which modern Calatrava is worth buying?

I have a love for Calatravas. I didn’t start out aiming to build up a collection of such pieces, but it did evolve into a collection. Of course there are several in the vintage era that are definitely on the “own” list. Ref. 3417. Ref. 2526. Ref. 570. Ref. 565. Ref. 3483. Ref. 2570, Ref. 2552. One could go on and on. Vintage era is definitely a plain on which to hunt. Within the modern era, I have already written quite extensively about the fabulous Ref. 5212. Yes, I think it is a great watch to own. However, I think there is another from the current production that I would place alongside the Ref. 5212 as a Calatrava to own. Namely, the Ref. 5196P.

The mother of all Calatrava models is the Reference 96. This was first produced in the early 1930s and continued through to the 1970s. That is an incredible production run for a reference. The Reference 96, however, came with a case size of just over 30mm, and for the modern era it became clear that a new Calatrava was needed. Of course, there have been many iterations between the 1930s and 1970s that addressed this issue. The Reference 570, known as the “Grand Calatrava”, was released in the late 1930s with an almost identical dial layout to the Reference 96, but with a case size of around 35mm. In its day, this 35mm reference was seen as very large and radical. But for the new millennium, something bigger still was required. One such offering was the Ref 5196.

Coming in four precious metals, the 37mm case of the Ref. 5196 offered a modern rendition of the Ref. 96. The white, yellow and rose variants were all quite similar in dial approach, but the platinum variation was markedly different. It is often the case that Patek Philippe will depart from a reference genre for platinum, and that is very much the case for the 5196P.

What do I like about it?

  • I like the fact that it is a manual wind watch. It is just a personal preference for this type of watch. With a 44 hour power reserve, it is very usable.
  • I like the fact that it is a platinum variation that differs in style to the other 5196s.
  • Two tone silver/grey dial is very attractive to my taste. In different lights, the nuance of the dial and its texture plays around into many forms. Also, the dial itself has many areas of interest. The dial is almost comparmentalised into different zones. Fascinating to look at.
  • Breguet numerals are a taste issue. I don’t like full Roman for example (and that has ruled out many former Calatravas for me). I love Breguet numerals.
  • A case size of 37mm and height of 7.7mm makes this an exceptionally easy watch to wear. Extremely comfortable and, depending on the choice of strap, very versatile.

What drawbacks do I see?

  • The biggest drawback is that the movement is way too small for the case. The 215PS calibre has a diameter of 21.9mm compared with a case size of 37mm. The practical drawback from this is that the second hand is too close to the centre of the watch. Further, for a see-through case back, the movement would look quite strange.

OK, it is solid because it needs to hide something. On the other hand…

To deal with this issue, Patek Philippe chose to make a feature of the sub-dial, ensuring that it is quite bold and most clearly having it not bite into the 6 marker. For the caseback, the 5196s have solid casebacks. In this modern era, most watches now have visible casebacks because it is seen as part of the attraction of ownership to be able to view the movement.

This would not work for the 5196, so it is one of the very few (if not only) production watches that has a solid caseback. In this sense, it is the last of its era, and I find that quite attractive. Would I prefer that it had a bigger movement that fitted the case better and had a crystal case back? Yes. But at the same time, I find the solution that Patek Philippe found for the 5196 to be a good one.

On the wrist, the watch feels and looks fantastic. As a modern Calatrava that is versatile enough to be used formally or casually, the 5196P certainly ticks a lot of boxes. For me, I see it as a watch that would need to be featured amongst possible modern targets. One is now in my collection.