Diary of a Patek Philippe collector – The Greatest Ref. 5970 ever made? (12th April 2020)

Collectors use the term “Best” way too frequently. To be the best requires something very special. This article takes a look at one such example of what I consider to be the best Ref. 5970 ever made.

Forged from a tradition of pioneering major complications for much of the last century, Patek Philippe has come to be recognised as sitting at the top of the horological table. To own and wear a Patek Philippe watch has always been something very special. Any Patek Philippe watch holds this special caché.

Yet, within Patek Philippe there emerges certain watches that are touched by something extra. Whether it is absolute rarity or simply that the popularity of a watch rises so much that it becomes iconic. Few watches attain such status. The Ref. 2499 comes to mind as one that many consider to be one of the finest watches ever made. An icon. One could readily list multiple references that have attained high status within Patek Philippe. Obviously, this list could be extended much further, but I would consider the following as Patek Philippe icons; Ref. 570, 1518, 1526, 2497, 2526, 3417, 3448, 3700, 5070, 5970. This list is not exhaustive. Such watches are of the very highest order. All of these are what I would call “Best of Breed”.

However, there exists an extension even beyond this point. Rarefied air of the highest level. For within each of these “best of breeds” category, some watches rise even higher. This week, on Instagram, @Horology_Ancienne showed us one such watch. The “piece unique” 5970P white dial.

One of the benefits of being the sole owner of this blog is that it gives me carte blanche to say what I want and allows me to review watches within the framework of my own taste. I will say that when it comes to evaluating a watch of this nature, a few boxes need to be ticked to elevate it into the superstar status territory. For example, I own a Ref. 5650G. It is a limited edition of 500. It is historic for many reasons. And it certainly belongs in the “Best of Breed” category. But does it belong in the superstar status category? Absolutely not.

Firstly, it is a limited edition and not a piece unique. Some may say that this is not so relevant. I think it is. Secondly, the dial on the 5650G is ubiquitous. They are all the same. To be truly special, a watch needs to have multiple differences in its dial layout to mark it as something special. When a watch has just one difference to the standard model, it just isn’t enough to make it a superstar. For example, when a watch is made with hands of a different colour as the only differentiator, then, to my mind, that marks it as rare, but it is not enough to make it a superstar. Watches that have just a dial colour difference are similarly just not different enough. To be marked by something special, a superstar watch needs to have a number of notable differentiators.

The choice of metal for the case is also, to my mind, quite critical. Patek Philippe reserves the very best of its watches for platinum cases. Like it or not, watches in platinum are just higher on the foodchain. I love my Ref. 5650G, but I tell you I would love it even more if it had been made in platinum. Platinum elevates a watch’s status.

Another factor that elevates a watch’s status is its place in Patek Philippe history as well as its place in horological history. The 1518 was the very first ever serially-produced perpetual calendar chronograph by anyone. It was a ground-breaking technical innovation and one that came to signify Patek Philippe as at the vanguard of complicated watches. Its place in history is set in stone. Superstar watches more often than not have an historic relevance.

This now brings me to the watch owned by @Horology_Ancienne and kindly shown on Instagram this week. The Ref. 5970 clearly belongs to the “Best of Breed” category, but the Ref. 5970P that he showed us is, without doubt, a part of that elite group of watches that one can consider superstar status. “Best of the Best.”

The 5970P with white dial and multiple dial differentiators is, perhaps, the finest Ref. 5970 ever made. @Horology_Ancienne described it as “quite possibly the most important” 5970 ever made. I would agree. What makes it so?

  • The dial has been modified in a number of distinctive ways. The tachymeter which is so typical of the 5970 standard model has been removed and the replacement minute track pushed slightly forward from the circumference.
  • Further, this reference has a white dial. The standard 5970P comes with a black dial. But this is no ordinary white dial. The most pure white was specifically requested.
  • Further, this dial comes with Breguet numerals as another departure from the standard dial.
  • Special mention should also be given to the hands and applied numbers of this 5970P. Perhaps paying tribute to the Ref. 2499P, the applied numbers and hands on this 5970P were not sandblasted but rather polished. Yet another differentiator to the standard Ref. 5970.
  • The watch was commissioned by Eric Clapton. Clapton is, without question, responsible for creating a design genre that has come to be as distinct to Patek Philippe as Paul Newman is for Rolex. One sees a specific (and lets be honest) extraordinarily rare dial variant that has Clapton’s signature mark on it, and that watch becomes touched by something quite special. This is, perhaps, the most famous of any of Clapton’s watches. From an historical perspective, it is then very important. Clapton has created within Patek Philippe a genre of dial that makes Paul Newman dials appear commonplace.
  • A white dial Ref. 5970 with a platinum case. In terms of rarity, it doesn’t come any rarer than this. Rightfully crafted in platinum, I have to say that it would have been a shame if this King of Watches had been made in any other material. Platinum offers a purity of aesthetic that elevates the feel of the watch with its purest of white dials and Breguet numerals into a category that is unbeatable. This is the Best of the Best.

So what does it look like against a “standard” 5970P? On the left there is my own “standard” 5970P with all the regular features. On the right, there is the King.

Detailed changes, even to the extent of the finishing of the numerals and hands!

@Horology_Ancienne calls it the spiritual son of the Ref. 2499P. I can see exactly why that description is proffered. This Ref. 5970P has a coolness and purity to it that is hard to define. It is clinical. Refined. Tasteful. I have looked at its two brothers. One with a salmon dial and one with a black dial. Initially, I thought I would prefer the black dial variant as that is very much to my taste. However, having spent some time looking at this white dial 5970P (actually a lot of time), I would have to declare my hand and say that in my opinion this is indeed the top of the tree for me. The finest Ref. 5970P ever made. It has it all.

Last week’s competition results

Last week’s bit of fun ended up with a lot more entries than I had bargained for. Guesses ranged from 130 mph up to 190 mph. There were, in fact, two joint winners who both guessed 175 mph. I only have one travel box so will try to find something else to send. Can the winners please email me their addresses so that I can send their gifts.