Patek Philippe’s advertising tag line, that you never really own a Patek Philippe but merely look after it for the next generation, understates the plurality of those generations (with an s) who have inherited, collected and pursued vintage Patek watches across the decades to ever-increasingly astronomical prices. The Patek Philippe 5970 perpetual calendar chronograph, one of Patek’s grand complications, boasts a heritage of envied ancestors and itself stands as the end of a legacy, distinguished by being the last in a series to use a Lemania 2310 ébauche before an in-house movement arrived. As generations come and go from here on out, the appreciation for the passing of the Lemania ébauche is likely to grow, making the classically styled 5970 the end-of-an-era collectible.
In 2011, Patek Philippe’s current perpetual calendar chronograph, the larger 41mm 5270, introduced the world to the 2009 in-house chronograph caliber paired with a perpetual calendar module. This hand-wound movement, caliber CH 29-535 PS Q, which replaces the previous Lemania 2310, boasts some technical innovations, notably the absence of triangular teeth for the chronograph wheel, which are replaced by calculated toothing profiles that allow greater precision in engagement and disengagement; and the uniquely shaped column wheel cap that positions the clutch lever at its outermost point. It took two years to develop a new perpetual calendar module that integrated with the new chronograph assemblage. The end result, a new chapter of Patek Philippe achievement, is a seamless pairing of the cam-controlled perpetual calendar to the 182 parts of the chronograph.
Were it not for the Swatch group, Patek Philippe might still be reworking Lemania ébauches into high octane super machines, but then again, Swatch changed the entire landscape when they announced their intended desire to discontinue selling ETA movements to competitors. In the same vein, when Breguet, a Swatch company, bought the movement maker Lemania, Patek Philippe had little choice about developing an in-house movement because Breguet didn’t want to share movements. The 5970 reference was Patek’s last man standing or last perpetual calendar chronograph standing before the Swatch embargo.
Patek’s grand complication of paring a perpetual calendar with a chronograph has its genesis with the 1925 first perpetual calendar watch (ref. 97’975), but robust production of this complication began in 1941 with the 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph. This gold watch had rectangular windows for day and month, square chronograph pushers, and a tachymeter around the chapter ring. Few, if any, brands could produce an equal. Earlier this year, when auction house Antiquorum brought down the gavel, a 1518 went for a near $800,000.
In 1951, Patek Philippe began production of the 2499, which was also the inauguration of utilizing the Lemania ébauche for the CH 27-20 movement. This highly modified movement would remain in successive watches through the 5970 iteration. The 2499 succeeded the 1518, and this 37.5mm gold watch retained the tachymeter scale and rectangular day/month windows, but switched from square to round chronograph pushers. Only 349 watches were made over a 35 year period, increasing the value to scarcity ratio. Only two 2499 watches (without tachymeter) were made in platinum, likely never intended for sale, and Eric Clapton came to possess one of them. When he asked Christie’s to auction his watch last year, it sold for a then record $3.65 million.
Next came the smaller 36mm 3970 in 1986, which had a high production run of close to 4000 pieces. Gone was the tachymeter, but the watch retained the perpetual calendar chronograph DNA. For collectors the 3970 is an up-and-comer, and represents a value investment for today.
The last of the CH 27-70 series, the collectable 5970, replaced the 3970 in 2004 in a move to make old new again. The square pushers of the 1518 returned, as did the tachymeter of the 1518 and 2499, and many collectors favor this return to a vintage design. A distinctive characteristic is the 5970’s interruption of the tachymeter scale by the moon phase/date sub dial. It is unknown how many were made, but the Patek Philippe 5970 reference had a production run of only 5 years. The watch runs at 2.5 Hz or 18,000 Vibrations/hour, providing a minimum 50 hour power reserve and 60 hours max. The movement has 24 jewels, a Gyromax balance and exquisite decoration throughout – the bridges are stunning. The case grows to a modern 40mm with 7.2mm thickness and 13.5mm height. As expected, the watch bears the distinctive Geneva seal.
From the 1518 to the 5970, these watches have attracted fiercely loyal collectors. When Charlie Sheen went on a cocaine-fueled rant, destroying his room in the New York Plaza hotel, he claimed the tirade was brought about by the disappearance of his Patek Philippe 5970. At the time, Mr. Sheen was entertaining adult film star Capri Andersen, whom he met at the bar, and when he accused her of taking the watch, she locked herself naked in the bathroom, fearing for her safety. A search of her person did not (ahem) uncover the watch, leaving all to wonder, what happened to the elusive 5970? Sheen’s tirade made headlines, but this fiasco was most likely not the endorsement that the august house of Patek Philippe sought. Still, this sordid event added to the legendary character of the watch even if it did little for enhancing the character of Charlie Sheen.
Patek Philippe 5970 and 5270 Compared
Do you go with a newer 5270 in-house movement or the last-of-its-kind 5970? Comparing the Patek Philippe 5970 with the newer, slightly larger 5270 reveals the 5970’s less pronounced lugs, larger day/night aperture and leap year with day/night (24hr) in the sub dial. In the 5270, the small leap year number is visible through its own aperture. In time, both watches will become collectors’ items, and people have differing opinions on their favorite design, but which watch will make the better investment? Time will tell, and if past history is any indication of future performance, the rarity and notoriety of the 5970 will likely cause it to do well at auction. A new 5270 will set you back nearly $200,000, but the price of a 5970 will be set by the market and the appetite of collectors. When it comes to Patek Philippe, insatiable collectors are routinely bidding with ravenous delight. My money goes to the Patek Philippe 5970.
More resource about the Patek Philippe 5970 available on AskMen.