Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar
The Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar was unveiled at Baselworld 2019. The watch is housed in a 40mm stainless steel case, a rare occurrence for a Calatrava model. The model is equipped with the self-winding Calibre 26-330 S C J SE and employs two red-tipped hands to indicate the prevailing day and week. Mark McArthur-Christie explains why this watch keeps drawing you back to look again and again.
As well as your heart rate, a reminder to call your dentist and how many emails you haven’t read, your smartwatch can be persuaded to tell you which week of the year it is. It’s easy enough to do if you’re good with these sort of things – you just download an app that displays it on the screen. Then you can sit in meetings and say, authoritatively, “Well, we’re in week 33, so we need to have harvested the low-hanging fruit and reached out to those stakeholders by week 40.” And people will, if they’re a little uncharitable, quietly snigger at you.
But a smartwatch (they’re really wrist computers, but that sounds far too nerdy) has all the romance, joy and delight of a refrigerator. It’s a disposable domestic appliance of a watch and the horological equivalent of driving one of those Korean plug-in electric cars. It’ll work without any fuss but it won’t ever make you smile. No, if you’re going to do this sort of thing properly you need levers, toothed wheels, cams and springs – things you can interact with, see, maintain and repair for generations. The sort of things you’ll find inside a Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar.
First, a little history… Back in 1955, Patek made the ref. 2512. This was a sizable 46mm, 18ct gold-cased, manual wind three-hander sold by Sotheby’s in 2012 for just under a $1M. So, given it has apparently nothing in common, what has it got to do with the ref. 5212A? It’s really all about the case design. The newer watch echoes the stepped lugs and sandwich case of the ‘55 watch, albeit in a smaller 40mm stainless steel case. There’s an echo in the reference number too; the new model’s designation reverses the first two digits of the original. There’s also something of the dial’s simplicity and railtrack design carried over. It’s an influence rather than a full-on line of descent but it’s clear to see in the new watch.
The Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar is the first steel Calatrava since the Pilot’s Calatrava 5522A in 2017. Before that, you’d need to look back at the 1970s and the ref. 96 and ref. 570 to find a Calatrava that wasn’t gold. But just because it’s not precious doesn’t mean it’s unimpressive. Patek Philippe make their own stainless cases by cold-forming them in high-tonnage presses – this makes them harder and gives the metal greater tensile strength. Afterwards, each is hand-polished. It’s a case that seems, at first sight, to be pretty simple, basic even. But look at the stepping on the lugs and the way it flows into the case sides; it’s this sort of simplicity that makes you keep looking back.
Likewise, having a display that shows the day and number of the week is relatively simple, but far from easy. It’s taken Patek a completely new, 92-part sub-mechanism within the movement to do it. The only shame is that the complication is hidden on the dial-side of the movement – it really is beautiful to watch in action. It’s worth nipping over to the Patek Philippe website where, in the Tech News section, there’s a video of the movement working.
Right at the centre of the whole plot is the hour wheel. On this movement, it carries an independently moving seven-pointed star that controls the day of the week indicator. There is also a lever-driven 53-toothed week wheel that controls the week number hand. Why 53 teeth – surely there are only 52 weeks in a year? In fact, every five or six years there is a 53 week year – 2020 is one of them. And if you buy your new 5212A and want to adjust the week/month display, there are two handy push-pieces positioned on the side of the case at 8 and 10 o’clock. A gentle push with a pointer will move the hands forward.
Try changing an everyday movement like a Valjoux 7750 like this at the wrong time of day and you can strip the triangular tooth from the date wheel. It’s easily done, too. An invoice for fixing a 7750 will hurt, but you’d need at least two kidneys to cover a similar mashing of a Patek Philippe movement’s mechanism. Fortunately, as Patek themselves say “the user can perform such corrections at any time of day or night without risking damage to the movement. The Manufacture places great emphasis on convenience and user-friendliness.” Good job. Your internal organs (and firstborn) are safe.
All this cleverness is beautifully underplayed by the 5212A’s dial. Patek could have gone all subdialtastic and cluttered the face to make a point. Instead, they’ve deliberately chosen to be simple – and the watch is better for it. In fact, they’ve opted to take a very different route with the dial and used a handwritten typeface for the letters and numbers. It’s the sort of detail one might miss at a glance, but, just like the case, you’re likely to keep coming back to look at the 5212A’s dial. It’s the sort of watch you could happily keep staring at just because it’s there.
Part of the reason the dial works so well is that the hands all rotate around the centre pinion, the consistency between the hands and indices and the design of the hands themselves. The centre-point reduces any sense of visual clutter and the two different hand designs make their functions clear; dauphine hands in blackened white gold for the time and red-tipped hammer hands for the weekday and the week number. The hands have two lapped facets, again in blackened white gold, while the matching indices sport four facets.
The movement powering everything is the new Calibre 26-330 S C J SE. It’s probably simpler to understand cuneiform than PP’s numbering system, but it’s based on the cal. 324 and is thin for its capabilities at just under 5mm with a diameter of 26.6mm – hence the designation. “26-330” reflects the movement’s diameter of 26.6mm and height of 3.3mm.
It’s automatic with a power reserve of 45 hours and beats at 28,800 vph or 4Hz in new money. Patek specifies that it should run with a tolerance of no more than -3/+2 seconds a day.
Bland descriptions like this don’t even come close to doing justice to the quality of the movement though. For example, the Gyromax balance isn’t conventionally adjusted by moving anything as uncouth as a regulator. Instead, the balance carries eight tiny weights with a slot cut in each. Move the weight on its individual pivot and you change the poise of the balance. Think about that for a second… The accuracy of the watch is controlled by the position of the slot in something so tiny you’ll need a magnifying glass to see it. And even then, you’d still need to look very closely indeed to see whether the slot faced in or out.
The Spiromax balance spring is made from Silinvar – an alloy developed by Patek along with Neuchâtel’s CSEM, Rolex and Swatch. It’s a third of the mass of steel but twice as hard, non-magnetic (handy, given the number of magnets surrounding us in laptops and tablets) and needs no lubrication. No lubrication means no lubricating oil to attract microscopic pieces of grit or to slowly evaporate, leaving the balance running dry.
The firm has reworked and refined the self-winding system too. They’ve altered the winding rotor with two rounded recesses on both sides of its axis of rotation (other PP rotors have either a straight edge or a tick-shaped cut out) As well as this, the Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar has a clutch that decouples the winding weight (rather than a traditional yoke and pinned spring) when it’s not powering the mainspring barrel. That saves wear and should improve the life of the movement (not that PP had protesters waving placards complaining about a lack of movement longevity outside their Plan-les-Ouates atelier).
Yes, you could look at the calendar on your laptop to tell you the week number. Your phone – or even your cooker – will tell you the time. But that’s absolutely not the point here. Yes, the 5212A will let you know the time (-3/+2 remember), the date, the day, the month and the week number. But that’s not why you’d buy it, is it? You’d buy it because, no matter how clever silicon chips from Silicon Valley get, they simply don’t draw you back to look again and again even when you don’t need to know the time.
- Model: Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar
- Reference: 5212A-001
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 40 mm; height 10.79mm; water resistance 3ATM (30m); sapphire crystal to the front and exhibition case back.
- Functions: Hour; minutes; central sweep seconds; day; week number; date
- Movement: Calibre 26-330 S C J SE; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 50 jewels; power reserve = 35-45 hours; 304 components
- Bracelet: Light brown, hand-stitched calfskin leather strap paired with a steel pin buckle
- Price: £25,610 (RRP as at 17.7.2020)