Patek Philippe Officer's watch, Ref. 5053

The beginning of the Patek Philippe Calatrava line coincides with the 1932 sale of the firm by remnants of the founding families to brothers Charles and Jean Stern, patriarchs of the current management. The ensuing period marks Patek's ascendance to the very top of the industry, their current position at which their brand value is unchallenged (excepting Rolex, not truly a direct competitor), resale value of their rare watches is almost mythical, and demand for their high complications apparently far exceeds production. Still, the vast majority of their current production must almost certainly be devoted to the entry-level Calatravas which are able to reside within the brilliant glow generated by their more expensive and sophisticated brethren, even though each individual model remains far less ambitious.

Still, the intentions entered some 70 years ago with the creation of the line are no less than to define the classic commercial wristwatch as elegant, minimalist, and of aesthetically pleasing and timeless design, detail and proportion. It was to be an equal melding of tool and jewelry, and an attempt to elevate both in the process. In broad terms it is not necessary to ponder whether Patek has succeeded, as the market has already affirmed this. The product has progressed with the surrounding culture, and the line has grown considerably; where a Calatrava was once 30 or 31 mm diameter, most are now 33+ mm, and some fully 36-37, and while there have always been a few models sporting small complications, now there are several. Nonetheless, the iconic models have 2 or 3 hands, and nothing more complicated than a 31-day calendar, and the current model 5053 is of just this type.

Called an Officer's watch, the bezel and of the crown are of traditional military shape, the lugs use screws and posts rather than springbars, and the hinged cover for the display back symbolically nods to the cases protecting trench watches. At a hair under 36mm diameter it is large for a Calatrava, although just barely of modern dress size, and the case is suitably thin at 9.5mm. The 5053's crystal is domed and the dial is a study in near-monochromy. The numerals and hands are of Breguet style, and simply black, and the dial is of off-white eggshell color and texture with a crystalline surface so fine it is nearly undetectable

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The movement is Patek's 315SC which dates from the early 1980s, and is a very thin (3.22mm high), 30 jewel automatic, typical of the era. Apparently reliable and adaptable, the 315 is also used as the base movement for various annual and perpetual calendar watches, and this Calatrava has not been shortchanged in the least. The balance is free-sprung, and uses Patek's proprietary Gyromax adjusting-weight wheel and overcoil spring; it is 12 lignes (27mm) diameter, winds in one direction and runs at 21.6kbph with a 48 hour reserve.

To enjoy this watch, its owner must be prepared to accept it in the manner in which it is offered. Value in monetary terms is nearly irrelevant, excepting perhaps decent resale, and no feature will gather attention fom more than a few feet away. Appreciation is only possible at an intimate closeness, and preferably by daily wear. As intended, the 5053 is a fine tool, elegant jewelry, and will probably look just as comfortable on the wrist in 50 years as it does today. While there is almost nothing elaborate about this watch, there is also no indication that any quality has been withheld, or need overlooked, and I like it very much.

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August 19, 2004

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