It’s no mystery that I worship at the altar of the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. That when it comes to this magnificent combination of my two favorite complications, there is none better than Patek Philippe, who was the first to produce this type of watches in series. Indeed, I have always admired that each time the world has faced any form of inclemency, the Stern family, who took the reins of Patek Philippe in 1932, has responded with the creation of the sublime acts of horological magic.
And this was certainly the case with the reference 1518 that was launched in 1941 amid the full maelstrom of the Second World War. This watch driven by the Valjoux Calibre 13 base (also featured in the reference 130 launched in 1936) and forged the aesthetic blueprint of the modern perpetual calendar.
Two windows at 12 o’clock, just above the Patek Philippe signature, provided day and month. Date was told from a sub dial at 6 o’clock, which also provided a reading for the phases of the moon. In both, the 1518 and its iconic successor the 2499 there is no leap year indicator that would only emerge in 1985 with the 3970.
The unbroken chain of Patek Philippe perpetual chronograph majesty goes as follows. The 1518 (1941-1954), the 2499 (1950-1985), the 3970 (1985-2004), the 5970 (2004-2011) and then the fantastic 5270 (2011 to present day). While the 1518 and the 2499 used the Valjoux base, the 3970 and the 5970 used the Lemania 2310 calibre as its base. But when the 5270 was launched it had the honor of being the first Patek Philippe that feature a completely in-house movement. And what a movement it was. The CH 29, which formed the base caliber of the 5270, was one of the most advanced and technically innovative chronograph calibers in existence. It is to my mind the best thoughtout laterally coupled chronograph movement ever designed. And here’s why: the movement featured six patents.
Read more about the history of Patek Philippe’s Perpetual Calendar Chronographs, here.
Why the CH 29 Is So Awesome
1. Optimized tooth profile
The first patent relates to an all new tooth profile for both the central chronograph wheel and the drive wheel. In previous movements these wheels mesh in such a way that the teeth may not mate precisely, which causes chronograph backlash or the seconds hand to jump forward or backwards in an unsightly way. Patek Philippe eliminated that with its all new profile, which allows the teeth to slip easily into place even if they contact point to point.
2. Precision adjustment of engagement depth at the column wheel
The second patent relates to the synchronization of the brake and clutch lever. Basically, the brake needs to be off precisely as the clutch engages and needs to be back on as soon as it disengages from the chronograph wheel. Previously these two levers were operated by the column wheel and had to be adjusted individually and getting the timing right which was extremely labor intensive and challenging. In the CH29, the brake lever is operated by the arm of the clutch lever. An eccentric screw on the clutch lever allows Patek Philippe’s watchmakers to adjust the depth of engagement and the timing to perfection.
3. Optimized synchronization of the clutch lever and brake lever
The third patent related to the eccentric cap on the column wheel. OK, so to meet Geneva Seal requirements your column wheel needs to wear a decorative cap. But leave it to Patek Philippe’s engineers to transform this into an eccentric element that actually controls the depth to which the drive wheel and the chronograph wheel mesh. This is absolute genius as it takes what was previously a purely decorative element and gives it a vital function. Bravo, Patek Philippe.
4. Slotted minute-counter cam
The fourth patent relates to the system for the precise jumping minute counter. The first watch to feature this type of chrono counter was the Lange Datograph. However, this watch uses a system with a snail cam on the chronograph wheel and a feeler that drops off the end of the cam each time the second hand passes the one minute mark and drags the minute counter forward.
This can create some amount for friction and can potentially be a drag on the movement especially when the torque of the mainspring weakens as it unwinds. Patek Philippe came up with a system with a pierced cam with a much gentler slope and a system that appears to be aided by a spiral all its own. A sort of remontoire d’egliate just for the minute counter.
5. Self-setting hammers
The fifth patent has to do with self-adjusting hammers. On the Lemania 2310, the reset hammers for the minute counter and the chronograph second wheel are one piece. Getting them to strike their respective heart cams at the same time is challenging. In the CH 29 the minute reset hammer is individually sprung and pivots on the seconds hammer. Again, why no one ever thought about this before is incredible, but leave it to Patek Philippe to achieve it.
6. Hammers pivoted between jewel bearings
Patent six is that these reset hammers are pivoted between jewels to eliminate friction and bring an ever-greater aura of horological finery to this amazing movement. Finally, the CH 29 oscillated at much more stable 28,800 vibrations per hour versus the CH 27’s 18,000 vibrations per hour.
The History of the 5270
OK, so now that we understand how amazing the CH 29 is, let’s look at the history of the 5270. The watch was launched in 2011. And instantly you could see several key differences. First the leap year indicator was no longer co-axial to the minute counter (as in the 3970/5970) but in the form of two apertures.
The one at 4:30 showed the four-year sequence of the leap year cycle. The aperture at 7:30 turned blue during evening hours, a pragmatic indication while travelling but that was also important for setting your watch without damaging the date mechanism.
Sub dials were placed slightly lower on the dial and were enlarged to aid in visibility. Says Thierry Stern, “I love perpetual calendars, but the irony is when you get to the stage in life when you can own one, sometimes your eyes sight is not the best. As such, I wanted to create a design that was as clear and visible as possible.”
And looking at the dial of the 5270 you can immediately see that every single indicator has been subtly optimized for better visibility. The case of the watch received flared lugs similar to those of the 5970 but with just a touch greater exaggeration which made for a wonderfully exciting timepiece.
The different series of the 5270 break down as follows. The first series watches have no tachymeter. The second series has a tachymeter and what is referred to by collectors as the “chin” where the tachymeter wraps around the date indicator. The third series has a tachymeter but no chin and the integration of the date into the tachymeter is beautifully done and reminiscent of the way it is incorporated in the 5970. The fourth series watches featured a pink gold black dial watch on an integrated brick bracelet, as well as, an amazing salmon dial watch with Arabic indexes, in a platinum case.
New for 2020, is wonderful watch now executed in a yellow gold case, combined with a silver opaline dial. The immediate effect is a feeling of wonderful nostalgia as this color combination immediately brings to mind the 1518 and the 2499, as well as, the first series 3970 watches.
2020 - First Yellow Gold 5270
The hue of the dial in particular is perfectly selected to be exude the same warmth as vintage Grand Feu” enamel dials do. This version of the watch “enriches” the current collection according to Patek Philippe. However, to some extent it seems to also signal a possible end of series for the now iconic 5270, which is ten years old as of this year.
This is important to collectors as with each phasing out of the older model of a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph the model increases in value, collectability and desirability. I’m not saying it is definitely going to be discontinued but if you think about it Patek Philippe has now completed every possible color combination for this timepiece. Finally, as this is the first and only yellow gold 5270 despite the fact that the model is a decade in existence it is probably the rarest execution of this reference.
Caliber CH 29-535 PS Q, Manually wound mechanical movement, chronograph with column wheel, chronograph hand, instantaneous 30-minute counter and subsidiary seconds, Perpetual calendar with day, month, leap-year cycle and day/night indication in apertures, analog date Moon phases
18K yellow gold, Sapphire-crystal case back and interchangeable solid back in 18K yellow gold, Water-resistant to 30 meters
Silvery opalescent, 12 applied baton markers in 18K yellow gold, Leaf-shaped hour and minute hands in 18K yellow gold, Counterbalanced chronograph hand, arrow-shaped, Pfinodal, yellow-gold plated and sandblasted
Subsidiary dials offset, pierced:
– Subsidiary seconds with baton hands in 18K yellow gold
– 30-minute counter with baton hand in 18K yellow gold, sandblasted
– Analog date with baton hand in 18K yellow gold
Hand-stitched alligator leather with large square scales, matt chocolate brown, with fold-over clasp in 18K yellow gold