Watch design is a process characterized by iteration and expansion. The best known companies rarely introduce wholly new watches, much less new collections, instead tweaking old designs or expanding collections. For example, the modern Omega Seamaster looks nothing like the original, a transformation that has taken place over decades and includes the expansion of the Seamaster collection to include the Planet Ocean and the Ploprof. The most recent Rolex Submariners harken back to their forebears, but are undeniably modern (and one could make a very reasonable argument that the Sea-Dweller and Deepsea models are just the Submariner on different doses of steroids).
Patek Philippe, despite its ostensible grounding in heritage and tradition, is no exception. While its watches are unapologetically classic in their designs, those designs do change and evolve. One great example is the Patek Philippe 5207P, which was an evolution and eventual replacement for the 5016, at a time the brand’s most complicated watch, featuring a tourbillon, minute repeater, and perpetual calendar.
When Patek Philippe introduced the 5016 in 1993, it was an astonishing accomplishment to combine its three complications into one wristwatch. Remember, this was when the Swiss luxury watch industry was just escaping the devastation of quartz watches. No longer able to compete on accuracy, luxury watchmakers started to focus on complications to create watches with appeal. With the 5016, Patek Philippe introduced a piece with three of the most coveted complications. Yet the watch, or at least its dial, was a victim of its time, a time when simply having the complications was enough, never mind what the dial looked like (though to be sure, this is still sometimes an issue with grand complications).
The 5016’s dial had three different fonts and a retrograde date indicator that was interrupted by the leap year window and obstructed by the hour hand. Patek Philippe produced the 5016 until 2011 (plus a one-off for Only Watch 2015 that hammered for a then-record $7.3 million), but three years prior, it released what would be its replacement: the 5207P. Now-CEO Thierry Stern wanted to refine the 5016 with a perpetual calendar with an aperture-only display, and the 5207P achieves his goal, with a cleaner dial that belies the complications that sit beneath it.
The case of the Patek Philippe 5207P is an exquisite vehicle for this grand complication. The 41mm platinum case is surprisingly compact given the complications within, with just a 13.8mm height. While the majority of Patek Philippe’s watches feature a smooth, high polished surface throughout, the brand’s grand complications are often engraved. On the 5207, that takes the shape of engraved and chiseled flanks, with the lugs, repeater actuator, and caseband on the crown side all featuring waves with hand-chiseled frosting in between.
The pull-out crown at 3 o’clock offers almost no water resistance, and the brand makes clear that the watch is only protected from humidity and dust—just in case you were thinking about going for a swim. The 9 o’clock actuator slides up to activate the minute repeater, while correctors between the lugs at 6 adjust the perpetual calendar. Also between the lugs is an internally flawless D color diamond, which Patek uses to indicate a platinum case. The watch features a polished concave bezel surrounding its domed sapphire crystal, with a matching sapphire on the caseback displaying the movement, and comes attached to an alligator strap with a platinum tang buckle.
The dial of the Patek Philippe 5207P is described as salmon, though if you’re eating salmon that’s this color, I’d stop immediately and grab some ipecac. That said, this salmon dial was ahead of its time. While the idea of a salmon dial at this point seems almost trite, in 2008 it was completely novel. The dial features three distinct finishes: a sunburst center, a simple metallic finish on the outer ring, and a radial finish on the subseconds. Gone are the numerals and disparate fonts from the 5016, replaced by diamond-polished faceted white gold applied indices, white gold minute pips, white gold aperture frames for the white perpetual calendar wheels at the top of the dial.
Of note, the perpetual calendar will only require resetting in the year 2100 and is instantaneous: all the displays change over exactly at midnight, which is rare for the complication. The dauphine-style hands are also faceted, and complementary white gold rings surround the central dial and the subdial. At 6 o’clock are the subseconds and moonphase, flanked on the right by the leap year aperture and on the left by a day/night indicator (which you can also use to see if it’s safe to set the calendar), both of which are unframed. (Certainly the date frame and the unframed indicators leave room for improvement in the 5207’s eventual successor.)
This one’s a mouthful. The 5207 is powered by the 557-component Patek Philippe caliber R TO 27 PS QI (minute Repeater, TOurbillon, size 27, Petite Secondes, Quantième Instantané—now you know). I’m not sure why they couldn’t have gone with a simple alphanumeric designation, but here we are. The manual wind movement is hand-finished, including the baseplate’s perlage, the perfectly aligned circular striping across the bridges, and the black polishing on the tourbillon cage and bridge, the repeater strikers, and the screwheads.
Unlike other brands which like to show off their tourbillons, Patek keeps them under the dial to protect them from UV rays which can harm the lubricant. Additionally, if you see the large third wheel that sits above the rest of the movement, it’s constructed of 14k gold and takes 9 to 11 hours to finish by hand. The movement is adjusted to five positions and exceeds chronometer standards (with the Patek Philippe Seal to prove it), has a handmade free-sprung ferrous Breguet overcoil hairspring (as opposed to the silicon hairsprings in Patek’s more widely produced pieces), runs at 21,600 vph, with a power reserve from 38 to 48 hours (depending on minute repeater usage).
Versus the Competition
Are three complications insufficient? You can start and stop your search with the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine. The most complicated watch ever produced by Journe, it has 18 complications, all of which are set with the crown. That’s right: no pushers or extra crowns, just the one at 3 o’clock for everything. As you might expect from Journe, the Astronomic Souveraine is at once mind-bendingly complicated and stunningly beautiful.
It may not be a grand complication, but in my humble opinion, the Patek Philippe 5236 is the to-date the best execution of a perpetual calendar by any brand. You can think of the 5236’s in-line perpetual layout as the next step after the one taken from the 5016 to the 5207. It doesn’t interfere with any time display, and the leap year indicator is balanced out with a day/night indicator of the same size. It is as close to perfection as a perpetual calendar can get.
Here’s a Patek Philippe 5016. I’m including it here mostly so you can see its inferior display, but also just in case you want to further consider it over the 5207. While choosing the 5016 would be absurd, it’s a choice you are technically allowed to make.
There’s a dash of sportiness in the Patek Philippe 5207 thanks to its baton markers, setting it apart from your run-of-the-mill grand complication. As such, this watch may be best suited to those with what may be called a refined edge: someone with a taste for the best there is, but without the haughtiness that often brings.
The Patek Philippe 5207 sits as evidence of a brand that can evolve, even if all its messaging revolves around remaining constant. Patek Philippe demonstrated why its watches are so sought after by replacing a beloved model with a watch that has become just as if not more popular. The plaudits are warranted, as the 5207 is an near-perfect execution of three of horology’s most cherished complications.