Patek Philippe is considered one of the highest-end luxury watchmakers. In fact, it’s part of the so-called Holy Trinity, with Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet, and they’ve been making great watches since 1830. But these watches really are that expensive and could cost $20,000! So, is a Calatrava worth it?
The Calatrava is one of Patek Philippe’s most iconic models, and over the years, that it’s been made it’s been worn by politicians, royalty, and even in a few Gentlemen’s Gazette posts. If you know anything about us here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, typical status symbols usually grab our attention, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always worth it. So, under this sartorial microscope is arguably the blueprint for a great dress watch: the Patek Philippe Calatrava.
History of The Patek Philippe Calatrava
Patek Philippe was founded in 1839 and named after two of its founders, Antoine Patek and Jean Philippe. The Patek Philippe company really gained notoriety in their first 100 years, with many incredible feats of timekeeping.
In 1844, Patek Philippe developed the world’s first keyless winding and hand-setting system, and at England’s Great Watchmaking Exhibition in 1851, Queen Victoria was one of their many admirers. And in 1868, Hungarian Countess Koscowicz was the first person to receive a Swiss-made wristwatch from Patek Philippe.
Then, as time went on, more and more notable patents were filed; the Precision Regulator in 1881, the Perpetual Calendar Mechanism for pocket watches in 1889, and the First Double Chronograph in 1902. These guys really kept themselves busy.
1923 saw the introduction of the first split-second Chronograph wristwatch. 1925 was the year that Patek Philippe created the first wristwatch with a Perpetual Calendar, but 1932 was a year that has deep significance within the Patek Philippe history. This marks the arrival of the Stern family, who purchased the company, and Patek Philippe has been owned by them ever since. And in 1932, the Patek Philippe Calatrava was introduced, specifically the Reference 96 Calatrava.
So, with its beautiful simplicity, precious metal, and over a century of watchmaking behind it, it’s no surprise that the Calatrava became an instant classic within the Patek Philippe line of offerings. The enduring design of this particular model meant that it actually lasted and stayed consistent for over 40 years, from 1932 to 1973. But that doesn’t mean that Patek Philippe just stopped making new things.
As years went on, there were many different Calatrava models that were released. So, we picked a few notable designs for you.
Only six years after the original 96 was released, several other new models were released by Patek Philippe; the Reference 565 and Reference 570 were introduced in 1938. Much like their predecessor, these models also enjoyed a lengthy time on the market. Both of them lasted roughly 30 years in production. While they might look very similar to the original 96, there were some changes, mainly the size of the case.
These new iterations came in at 35.5 millimeters, which is gigantic compared to the original 31 millimeters of the 96. The 570 continued the look of a traditional elegant dress watch that was kitted out in precious materials.
Meanwhile, the 565 was crafted from steel and featured a screw-down case back. This made it Patek Philippe’s first water-resistant Calatrava. Now, this watch still is dressing up by modern standards, but at the time, this was an incredibly sporty Patek Philippe.
So, at this point, the Calatrava has had wild success. So, Patek Philippe continues and introduces the Reference 2526 in 1953. This is the first Calatrava that has an automatic movement, and if you don’t know anything about watch movements, Preston explains more about them in other our guide.
Watch Movements Explained
This might not seem like that big of a deal because you can find automatic watches now for under 100 bucks, but in the 1950s, this was extremely uncommon. And on top of it, the caliber 12-600at movement in question is not only considered by many to be one of the finest automatic watch movements ever produced, but it also came with Patek Philippe’s patented Gyromax balance wheel. And this is the same balance wheel that’s been in all of Patek Philippe’s automatic movements ever since.
So, at this point, we’re approaching the early 1970s, and we’ve seen all the different types of Calatrava that were released. But the 1970s really nailed down the iconic design that the Calatrava is remembered by today. In 1973, Patek introduced Reference 3520 with the iconic “hobnail” bezel design.
This is probably the most widely recognized design of the Calatrava. This really is the pared-down version, really sticking to what is essential for keeping time. And because of this, it’s an icon. It’s still in production today with the Reference 5116 and Reference 5119.
Another notable entry was made in 1989 at the 150th anniversary of Patek Philippe, which is Reference 3960. And although other watches were released to commemorate this milestone, this watch was notable for being the first officer’s watch in the Calatrava line. This watch, in particular, showcased Breguet numerals on an enamel dial, and had a hinged hunter-style case back that reveals a special anniversary engraving. Only 2,000 of these watches were ever made.
So, as we move from the 20th to the 21st century, it’s safe to say that the Calatrava line is still incredibly strong. And there are many other models to note, but we’ll never get to the actual point of this review if we talk about all of them. What remains true through all of this is Patek Philippe’s iconic history of making beautiful dress watches.
Why Is The Calatrava So Iconic?
It could be considered the “ultimate” dress watch.
Essentially, what is it about the Calatrava that has made it endure all these years as we’ve previously mentioned, this watch could be called the ultimate dress watch. The majority of the Calatrava collection possesses a very clean and simple design. Sure, there are a few models that do wander away from what is typically called a dress watch, but the core of this collection is planted firmly in dress watch territory.
But for those out there who want to add a little bit more spice, the Calatrava line has options for a pilot’s watch. This might be a more sporty Calatrava, but look how much more elegant and refined it is than this Breitling. So, safe to say this watch, as a whole, is planted firmly in dress watch territory.
The attention to simplicity and precious metals means that this watch fits well in casual clothing but don’t wear it when you’re changing the oil on your car. With the exception of clothes to wear to mow your lawn, go to the gym, or streetwear, it is really hard to find a casual outfit that the Calatrava doesn’t look good with.
It goes without saying that this watch looks great with a classic business suit, but wear it with a jacket combination, and it looks great as well. The Patek Philippe looks great at a Black Tie dinner and also with a sweater and chinos. And if you have a classically inspired warm weather ensemble, the Calatrava works great there as well.
So, the versatility of being able to wear this watch across an entire range of outfits makes the design timeless.
It can be an heirloom piece.
The thing about timelessly designed watches is their ability to be passed down throughout generations, or in other words, the iconography of the Calatrava really is heirloom status. Being owned by a previous family member or maybe across generations also adds sentimental value to it. And in fact, the heirloom possibilities add to Patek Philippe’s marketing, as they often refer to this: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
It’s so often “faked.”
Another reason for the iconic status is that it’s often faked. To clarify our usage of a coverall term here, let’s get two things straight. First, there are one-to-one actual fakes of the Calatrava out there. And secondly, there are many other watch brands that take similar design elements of and work them into their own watch. This isn’t malicious or a bad thing. It’s just a testament to the Calatrava’s design that is timeless. After all, why reinvent the wheel if something works so well?
So, when we use the term “fakes,” we are talking about an actual watch that’s trying to pass itself off as a Patek Philippe, but isn’t one. But it’s important to recognize that there are other watches that at a glance have a similar design, but they aren’t a Patek Philippe, which means, there will always be a desire to obtain and own the original, and not something that looks similar or is a fake.
What Makes It So Expensive?
With an MSRP of 24,000 approaching 41,000 dollars, Calatrava watches certainly are not cheap. Let’s look into the reason why a Calatrava is going to cost you a bundle.
Patek Philippe only makes about 60,000 watches annually, and this is across all their various lines. 60,000 watches might seem like a lot at face value, but if you look at Omega, who makes 500,000, and Rolex, who reportedly makes close to a million, it really is a small fraction.
This means that Patek Philippe focuses on slow and considered production, rather than mass production. This leads to demand being much higher than overall supply. This also leads to particularly long waiting lists for desirable models.
The average time to wait for a Calatrava, a basic one at retail, is right around a year or less, so keep that in mind if you’re shopping for a brand-new one.
2. Highest quality/rare materials
Patek Philippe also uses some of the highest quality and rarest materials, which also takes longer to make. Patek Philippe has earned a reputation for not cutting corners, which is clear to see in the application of gold, fine leather, and hand-painted enamel dials. Naturally, the inherent costs of all these items will make their way into the final price.
In addition, there’s a lot of training required in order to put a watch like this together. In fact, training can take up to a decade in order to get a craftsman up to Patek Philippe’s level of quality, so this is a significant investment that the company makes.
3. In-house movements
This significant investment is also worth it because everything is made in-house, and it leads to a unique and exclusive product. This includes the beating heart of the watches themselves, and their movements.
Very much like car manufacturing, most luxury watch brands assemble pieces for their movements and their watches from all over the world. So, if you buy a Ford car, likely, the engine and the doors all come from different places, but in the end, it’s a Ford car.
The difference with Patek Philippe is that everything comes from in-house. So if it’s the crown, or the glass, or pieces of the movement, it’s all made by Patek Philippe. Sure, they could take a movement and swap it in from a different watchmaker, but being able to control as much of the production process allows Patek Philippe to provide watches of a much higher level of quality.
Is It Worth It?
When it comes to iconic pieces of clothing, watches, or shoes, the idea of ‘is it worth it’ is often subjective. And in the case of Patek Philippe, the super high price tags can mean that it’s completely out of reach for some. So, it’s important to note that the Calatravas that are featured today were all sent by our friends over at Delray Watch, who send us watches for our posts and videos.
With this said, we consider the Calatrava to be worth it if you value the heritage of the brand, you value the in-house movement, and you want it to become an heirloom piece. It is, without question, a timeless watch that you should be able to wear comfortably throughout the decades.
As long as you take care of it, 100 years from now, your grandchild could be wearing this watch. We also consider the Calatrava worth it if you value versatility. If this is your only dress watch over your entire life, you’ll end up with a very low cost per wear, and if you’re someone who typically dresses up or wears business casual outfits, you’ll find yourself wearing this constantly.
We’re going to turn the tables and say that the Calatrava is not worth it if, one, you simply like the look, because no matter what the price point, you can find watches that look very similar, that are nice and dressy, that are not thirty thousand dollars.
If your budget is two hundred dollars, you can still find a lot of enjoyment in the Orient Bambino. And if you’re in the market for a stylish, budget-friendly alternative to a classic timepiece, you’ll certainly find our other guide helpful.
Get the Luxury Look for Less with These Watch Alternatives!
Also, we would say that the Calatrava is not worth it if you’re looking for a watch that has multiple functions. After all, it is a dress watch by trade, and you’ll spend a lot of money to not really get a whole lot of functions. Most models within the collection only tell time. There are some exceptions, but we’re going to stick to the rule.
What is your take on the Patek Philippe Calatrava? Would you buy one? Do you own one? Let us know in the comments below.
Today, I’m wearing an outfit that is perfect for business casual at the office. It features a sports jacket made of Marling and Evans undyed wool. It has patch pockets, a three rolls two with buttons, and it’s made from the Polish brand Posesco. I’m wearing a light blue Oxford cloth button down. It was made to measure for me from Proper Cloth. My jeans are selvedge denim from Bravestar in California. This is their strong man fit, which fits my body type very well.
My boots are my trusty Wolverine 1000 Miles. These are well-worn and well-loved. It was the first expensive pair of footwear that I bought on my menswear journey. My socks are a prototype from Fort Belvedere. These are a heavy wool winter sock in gray and black. My pocket square is navy blue, with a yellowish cream paisley in wool and silk from Fort Belvedere.
If you’re interested in the pocket square, or you want to keep an eye out for these socks in the future, check out the Fort Belvedere shop.