After a brief hiatus, aviator timepieces are back on the agenda at Patek Philippe. While it’s true that this manufacture is best known for its exceptional classical wrist and pocket watches, grande complications, and iconic sports models, its repertoire stretches far beyond those aforementioned horological staples.
Through the decades, the manufacture has dabbled with a full assortment that includes offbeat creations, such as digital timekeepers, artisanal dome clocks, elaborate nurses’ watches, and even aviation instruments.
In 2015, Patek Philippe stopped the watchmaking world in its tracks when it released the Calatrava Pilot Travel time Ref. 5524G, a watch with sporty proportions, oversized features, and a strong utilitarian nature. Suffice it to say, the watch cannot be further removed from the archetypal Calatrava lexicon.
Yet, it is what it is: the manufacture’s contemporary take on an historical aviation instrument. The blueprint for Ref. 5524G came from two pre-WWII aviation watches known in the Patek Philippe archives as Ref. P0844 and Ref. P1655, both of which are siderometer wristwatches dating back to 1936.
Used in the early years of aviation by pilots to determine their position according to the stars, siderometer watches were indispensable cockpit instruments, along with radio signal and a sextant.
In our time, of course, siderometers are a relic of aviation’s past. So in order to propose a pilot’s watch with enhanced functionality, Patek Philippe couldn’t simply reissue the two historical references lock stock and barrel. Thus instead of the unique hour-angle dials, the manufacture went with its patented travel time complication first introduced a year prior via the Nautilus Ref. 5990A.
With arguably the most useful mechanical complication in the 21st century, a second time zone feature with day-night indication, Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref. 5524G in white gold was one of the few modern aviation timepieces that pairs luxury with utility.
No flash in the pan, Ref. 5524G was the first of many more Calatrava Pilots to come. Some of the most outstanding pieces include the 2017 Ref. 5522A, a stainless steel model made exclusively for Watch Art Grand Exhibition New York, as well as Ref. 7234A, commemorating the same event in Singapore, not forgetting Ref. 5524T, the collection’s only model in titanium, donated to the Children’s Action auction in 2018, raising 2.3 million Swiss francs for the charity organisation.
In addition to these variations in rose gold complete with a brown sunburst dial, the collection features a platinum Ref. 5520P grande complication equipped with an Alarm Travel Time movement.
This piece also provides a digital display of the alarm time accurate to the nearest five minutes, and chimes (rather than buzzes) when the clock runs down, thanks to a strikework adapted from minute repeaters, making it the only aviation watch with dual time, day-night indication, and chiming alarm.
Rounding the Calatrava Pilot collection off with an understated and mid-sized Ref. 7234G, Patek Philippe has created a bold new icon of the maison that could very well give its reigning hypebeast, the Nautilus, a serious run for its money. Two sizes (42mm and 37.5mm) in two case materials (white and rose gold) with two different dial colours (blue and brown), these watches are perfectly suited for both men and women.
Indeed, like the Nautilus, the Calatrava Pilot wasn’t an instant hit. But like the Nautilus, it has a distinctive form and function. And like the Nautilus was, it is destined to be an icon.