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Lets get nerdy: The lineage of the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

Personally, no brand and model gets me as sweaty, nervous and hot under the collar as a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Don’t get me wrong I love a RM011 or HYT as much as any nerd but for me my real bread and butter, my real grail, my real fetish if you were is the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. So, to honour this devotion, here is the complete lineage in chronological order. Enjoy.

Ref. 1518

Launched around 1941, ones first thought is why, during the war, were Patek Philippe making the first serially produced complicated watch? The answer is probably, due to their neutrality, they didn’t have to ration and contribute to the war effort so just financed the war and made killer watches...…..?

Anyway, this was the first perpetual chronograph Patek Philippe ever made and the first serially produced complicated Patek. Before this, complicated Pateks were only produced on special order

A rose Gold 1518

The 1518 can be recognised by its 35mm case size, silver enamel dial, chronograph subdials at 3 and 9 and by a date and moonphase at 6 o'clock. Does this sound like the general design of all perpetual calendar chronographs? Pretty much. This is because the 1518 laid out the foundation for the most important watches Patek Philippe would make over the next 70 years.

Initially the movement was a Valjoux based movement. Before you reel in horror, remember that, at this point, no other manufacture had even attempted to make a perpetual calendar chronograph movement and, in fact, no would be successful for another 50 years. At the time of retail the 1518 retailed at 2,800 swiss francs. Now I reckon this is equivalent to around £15,000 in todays money which remarkable considering most 1518s now will sell at auction for over £250,000 any given Sunday and that a 1 of 4 stainless steel version sold for £9m in 2014.

The second most expensive watch ever made: The unique steel 1518.

Ref. 2499

Launched in 1951, the 2499 is the second iteration of the infamous Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Apart from a slightly larger case at 37mm, the first series 2499 looked very similar to it predecessor as it also had square pushers and Arabic numerals. The architype 2499 design (we all think about in bed at night) came with the second series. This series sported the new round pushers and applied baton markers. This series is probably my second favourite of all the Perpetual Calendar Chronographs and is the very same worn by John Lenon. Running for 35 years but only 349 being made, means that Patek only made around 10 a year.

A fourth series 2499 in yellow gold

Now if you ever meet Ben Clymer and want to impress him, the difference between the 2nd and 3rd series 2499 is that the later didn’t have a tachymetre scale. Also this series was launched Launched in 1960 and lasted for 18 years. In 1978 the 4th edition was launched and was the first Perpetual Calendar Chronograph to use a sapphire crystal. Again now you can impress your friends. (Jokes you're a watch nerd, the only friends that you'll impress with this fact already know because they are also nerds.)

When talking about modern day value, a 2499 even the "cheapest iterations will still sell for around £750,000- £1m happily with the rarer rose-gold and Platinum models selling for £2.5-3.5m. In 1989 the 1 of 2 platinum 2499 was purchased by eric Clapton for 418,000 swiss francs. It was sold in 2012 at a christies auction for $3.63m. The platinum is a special example as both platinum Pateks were made on special commission to Mr Stern and the other edition remains in the patek museum. Also this one was owned by Eric Clapton so.....

Eric Clapton's $3.6m Patek Philippe Platinum 2499, previously owned by Mr Stern himself.

Ref. 3970

Believe it or not, I have had the pleasure of trying one of these on at the Bonhams auction in summer. No i was escorted of the premises for tripling myself...…. Launched 1986, this was the first lemania based movement used in a Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. This is a big moment considering all the other models, including the 5970, the greatest watch ever made, used the lemania based movement. Patek Philippe called this movement the 2310 and is considered one of the greatest movements ever made. The nerds will like to know that later, this same Lemania based movement went on to be the base calibre in the omega 321, i.e. The Moon Watch.

Interestingly the 3970 sports a 36mm case, so inbetween the 1518 and 2499. Having tried this on I would say it wears perfectly but I could definitely enjoy a 37mm case slightly more.The first 100 watches were made in yellow gold with solid case back, leaf hands and baton markers.The second series were essentially the same but with a solid singular coloured dial and a screw in case back. This second series ran from 86-91. The third series had baton hands and pointed tip markers. It was also the first ever “waterproof” Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Not that you would ever wear it in the water but more that the sapphire crystal and screw in back meant it would, in theory, keep water out…

A second series 3970 in yellow gold modelled by yours truly. A £150,000 watch snapped using a £60 Chinese Android phone.....

Across all three series it is estimated that 2,400-3,600 were made and you can find one on average for around $140k. There is a great deal more around than the 1518 or 2499 which I guess is reflected in the price. In my mind, logically, with a better movement and more modern amenities like screw back and sapphire crystal, one would expect this to sell for more. However, they made a hell of a lot more and vintage Patek collectors are snobby. They wont pay over £500,000 unless they are in a super elite, 0.25% of the population, Vladimir Putin and Eric Clapton club. The rarest and most expensive seems to be the black dial third series in platinum that sold for around £300,000. That is still less than most average 2499s.

The black dial, diamond marker 3970 that sold for around £300,000

Ref. 5020

The 5020 launched in the early 90s was the odd ball with an oversize “TV” square case, Breguet numerals and bregeut hands.Still using the same lemania movement this model was a tremendous flop when first released. Now they are selling for around £170,000, which, on this list, makes this still the unpopular choice. I personally see the appeal of having the “black sheep of Perpetual Calendar Chronographs” but then again its not like you're going to bump into guys rocking a 2499 everyday in Sainsburys...… However, it is worth mentioning that the 90s were a very tricky time for the watch industry as a whole- it was a time when even patek started trying to make things more contemporary and modern like the Quartz Beta 21. As a result the 5020 were only made for about 2 years and it is believed there is only 20 platinum 5020 in existence so it is safe to say these could hit the £300,000 mark at auction. For example, in 2011 a black dial 5020P hit $338,000.

A yellow gold 5020 with the TV case and Breguet Numerals

Ref. 5004

Probably my third favourite Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. On first glance, it is essentially a 3970 with a split second chronograph. Like the 3970, the 5004 has circular pushers and is in a 36mm but has a thicker, chunkier case due to the rattrapente movement on top of the Lemania base. Launched in 1996, Patek were nervous about the demand for this particular range, after the failure of the 5020, so only made around 12 of these each year until it was replaced by the 5204 in 2012. This means there is probably under 200 pieces in existence….. There goes my chance of finding one….This is a fan favourite of Patek collectors and even super vintage, dressy, art decco lover Roni Madhvani has one.

A "standard" 5004

An interesting and controversial fact about the 5004 is that Patek Philippe made 50 pieces in Steel in 2011 which all retailed for £300,000 and had the customers name engraved on the back. This is controversial because in 16 years they only made 200 watches making the owners a member of a super exclusive club. Then in one year they made 50 of them in.... steel. You could say boo hoo get over it but then again, if you were to say that, you probably didn't drop £350,000 on one. However, to trump all these, Patek made a unique titanium model with a custom dial for the One watch charity auction. This sold for $3.98m……

The steel 5004 with greyed hands. Very naughty. Very naughty Patek.

The unique and crazy titanium 5004 made for the Only Watch Charity auction

Ref. 5970

And here we are. The 5970. Described by John Mayer, Ben Clymer and myself as the greatest watch ever made by Patek if not by anyone. The 5970 uses the same Lemania base but in a larger 40mm case. After nearly 70 years, they refined the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph to find the perfect proportions of a dial and case. For example, the reintroduction of the square pump pushers from the 1518 and tachymeter scale, combined with a slightly larger case and sapphire crystal, give this a completely new look from the predecessors.

The truly perfect dial proportions of the 5970

Launched in 2004 and replaced in 2011 by the 5270, the 5970 was only in production for 7 years making it the second shortest running model. Why it only had such a short run is for another article but, simply, the 5270 sported the new inhouse movement and a slightly different dial. Some would argue that Patek felt it needed an inhouse movement as the market was realising that was an important factor when paying £100,000+ for a watch.

In terms of superstars, a few years ago a champagne dial pink gold 5970 sold for £353,000 but most standard white dial white gold 5970 will sell for around £145,000.. As a result, putting a realistic spin on my future collecting, I will probably never be able to find a 2499 so I will just "settle" for a 5970 and a 5004…….

Currently the 5204 is running as the successor to the 5004 and the 5270 as the successor to the 5970. The 5270 has no tachymeter and so doesn’t have the same perfect dial proportions of the 5970. However other would argue it looks less cluttered? Still a gorgeous piece regardless but just doesn’t make me as nervous and sweaty as the 5970. I still hold a lot of love for the 5204 but the again the dial proportions are slightly different giving the overall watch a different, less classical feel. Some might say more contemporary. Only time will tell. However, in my mind, they will never hold the same prominence and importance as the originals.

The 5970 (left) next to 5270. You can see how the Tachymetre scale really impacts the layout of the sub-dials

The current 5204 which is the successor of the 5004

Although top watches with inhouse movements, the 5270 is the second generation of the 5970 and the 5204 of the 5004. I hope to see Patek Philippe create a brand new perpetual calendar chronograph again and, in the tough market the swiss industry is currently experiencing, the current drive for innovative thinking might just be the catalyst for that. Only time will tell.

Calum Moore

Editor and Co-Founder

Calum Moore

Co-founder and Editor

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