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Timeless insignia

Michelle Zhu
Michelle Zhu • 4 min read
Timeless insignia
Journey through more than 80 years of the Calatrava, one of the most emblematic Patek Philippe collections.
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Journey through more than 80 years of the Calatrava, one of the most emblematic Patek Philippe collections.

Engraved on the crowns of most Patek Philippe watch models is a distinctive Calatrava cross emblem, whose origins can be traced back to Calatrava la Vieja in 12th-century ­Castile. It is this insignia that has become the hallmark of Patek Philippe, with its very first flagship timepiece — the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref 96 — launched in 1932 to mark the beginning of the brand’s signature line of dress watches named after its manufacturer’s emblem.

Drawing inspiration from the Bauhaus school of architecture whose founder, Walter Gropius, advocated the philosophy of “form follows function”, the original Calatrava’s case was round to reflect its movement’s circular shape. Its dial and hour-minute markers were kept simple to ensure maximum legibility for the wearer. This guiding principle of simplicity has been maintained in the models’ designs in the decades that followed.

A fine example of the effort made to preserve the Calatrava’s clean aesthetics is the Ref 5227: It reinterprets the classic Officer’s style gentleman’s wristwatch with “invisible” hinges on the protective back cover, which remain undetectable even to the expert eye due to the unique engineering of its architecture. The dust cover of this particular model can be opened via a tiny hairline joint and lip on the caseback, which can be seen only upon close examination. Opening it reveals the self-winding automatic caliber 324 SC through a sapphire crystal cover.

At their most complicated, the Calatrava models would sport subtly integrated functions such as date and seconds indicators or moon phases, while still adhering to the classic Calatrava code of purity and discretion. Notably, the guilloched hobnail-pattern bezel, achieved by diamond-point engraving, grew into a distinctive feature in the 1980s collection. This decorative technique stems from the architectural and artistic heritage of the Middle Ages, and was particularly widespread among the works of cabinetmakers to Louis XIII before Parisian jewellers revived the art as their own and renamed it as Clous de Paris (nails of Paris).

The limited-edition Ref 5000 (left) was highly sought after by collectors for its dash of sports appeal. Ref 6000 (right) boasts enhanced dial features and an added complication of an analog date along the outer circumference, complemented with a date hand indicator tipped with a red-lacquered crescent.

Then came the ultra-thin, self-winding limited edition Calatrava Ref 5000 model, on which a subsidiary seconds dial first appeared between 4 and 5 o’clock. It was an unorthodox feature when the model launched in 1991. The watch’s ­successor, the Calatrava Ref 6000, became a signature when it debuted in 2005.

The Calatrava Ref 6006 in 18-carat white gold replaces the watches in the 6000 series

Unveiled at Baselworld 2017, the Ref 6006G Calatrava from this series has been reworked in an enlarged 39mm classic round white-gold case for extra prominence on the wrist compared with the original 37mm version. Replacing the former lunar crescent at the date hand tip is a red-lacquered arrow that now points at the date numeral. The white-lacquered ­baton-style hour and minute hands were also modified to appear broader yet lightweight. While Patek Philippe’s production specialists have pulled out all the stops with the latest iteration of this unique Calatrava model, at the heart of the timepiece remain the caliber 240 PS C, its elegant two-tone graphic concept and plain Arabic numerals.

As the Patek Philippe oeuvre expands and diversifies over the years, the Calatrava — now synonymous with the quintessential round watch — remains devoted to its minimalist roots, preserving its identity as a watchmaking icon and one of the brand’s finest symbols.

This article appeared in Issue 817 (Feb 12) of The Edge Singapore.

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