Review: Patek Philippe 5172G
If you had the funds to buy a Patek Philippe, which one would you choose? A classic Calatrava? A hefty Grand Complication? The sleek and sporty Nautilus? If it were me, it wouldn’t be any of those. It would be this, the 5172G, because I reckon it’s the best Patek Philippe you can buy right now. Here’s why.
If there’s one thing you can rely on for Patek Philippe to do, it’s achingly good looks. Like, sell your soul kind of looks. Through much of watchmaking history, Patek Philippe has laid down benchmark designs that have really made watches look like they do today, and it really shows. From the single crown for winding and setting to the sleek, simple luxury of the round dress watch, Patek Philippe is in the fortunate position where it gets to take credit for a lot of it—and that means it’s very good at getting the aesthetics absolutely nailed.
How a watch looks and your reaction to it are obviously subjective, but I reckon there’s some science we can apply here. Some people will like a simple watch, like the Calatrava, and others will like them busy, somewhere in the Grand Complication range. That leads me to believe, then, that something in the halfway house like a chronograph is going to be the most things to the most people. If you don’t believe me, go check out the ego on the Rolex Daytona.
It's hard to deny the seductive allure of a twin sub-dial chronograph, and then for Patek Philippe to push them a little offset—it’s a moment I need to appreciate alone, if you don’t mind. And they’re not the only ones: a certain German watchmaker that rhymes with Bah Bang & Bun has also played this card before with equal success.
This isn’t the first chronograph wristwatch Patek Philippe has made, and it certainly won’t be the last, and you could be forgiven for thinking that by now the designs themselves would have become a bit underwhelming, a bit ordinary, but that really isn’t the situation here. First, the white gold case is 41mm across and 11.45mm thick, a thoroughly modern size that’s completely unexpected coming off the back of the previous 39mm 5170.
Second, but certainly not second best, are the design details. A crisp step in the bezel, intercut by Art Deco, triple-step lugs isn’t just a bold choice for Patek Philippe, it’s outright bold. It’s a style that rings more true of an exciting up-and-coming than an old, traditional grandad, and the watch feels all the more fresh for it. The way the crown is recessed in a sharply creased notch, the matte finish on the leather strap with its contrasting stitch—oh, and the exquisite knurling on the ends of the big, round pushers, borrowed from the 50s reference 1463—all make this watch one of the most interesting and unique the brand makes.
And we haven’t even mentioned the dial. Resplendent in blue—salmon is also available now—it gets big, luminous numbers and fat syringe hands, ringed by a proper tachymeter scale. This is not only a sports watch more akin to a Speedmaster than a Calatrava—it’s more of a sports watch than the Nautilus will ever be.
The way the 5172G arrests your eyes is up there as one of the main reasons this is low-key one of the best watches Patek Philippe currently makes, but it’s only one-half of the visual story. Where the beauty of many watches ends at the front, for the 5172G, it’s only just getting started. I am of course talking about the movement, the heart of the watch which is on show for owners to enjoy.
Patek Philippe has always made a pretty movement. If you thought the public side of the watch took you aback, the private side is where it’s really happening. And for the 5172G, it’s happening at a level that sits pretty close to the top. What I mean by that is that if we consider one of Patek Philippe’s most basic movements, the manually wound 30-255 PS, we get a well-finished but simple display, and if we consider one of its most complicated, the 240 Q, we get similar.
Even if we consider a fully stacked grand complication like the CH 29-535 PS Q, we still only get something that looks basically identical to the movement right here in the 5172G, the CH 29-535 PS. That’s because the chronograph is the most visually intense complication that you’ll get on the side of the movement you can actually see; the others reside hidden on the dial-side.
And this is a chronograph like no other, because not only does the lack of automatic winding mean it gets to show off all the wheels and levers that make it work, but it’s also Patek Philippe’s very own exclusive movement. Is that a big deal? Surprisingly, it used to be. Patek Philippe was known for its pocket watch complications, but with a big slump in pocket watch-buyers forcing the brand to make wristwatches, it—and indeed many other high-end brands—could not afford to make in-house chronograph wristwatch movements.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Patek Philippe finally bit the bullet to make this calibre right here, and so the Swiss watchmaker knew it had to be something special. So, the movement retained the horizontal clutch, eschewing a modern vertical one for the visual appeal of the old-fashioned method. The inevitable shortcomings of this older tech were dealt with through clever teeth profiling, making activation of the chronograph imperceptibly smooth.
Then, as mentioned before, we have the offset sub-dials, a stand-out difference to the previously bought-in Lemania movement, what has become a visual identifier of a Patek Philippe chronograph. But most impressive is the instant-change chronograph minutes, which required a whole extra mechanism of levers, springs and ratchets to make sure the minute counter snapped from one position to the next in the blink of an eye. With 65 hours of power reserve and a solid 28,800vph beat, it’s a movement that can be worn every day without fear of it being sensitive or delicate.
There’s little else Patek Philippe makes that’s as stunning to observe behind the case back than this. Short of learning how to be a watchmaker and rising up through the ranks of Patek Philippe to earn the level of master, there’s no member of the public that will see much better.
The third reason I see this as one of the best Patek Philippe models out there right now is one you definitely won’t be expecting: the price. This is, at some $75,000, not a cheap watch. It’s a long way off being a cheap watch—but is it good value?
Look comparatively at the rest of Patek Philippe’s collection and you’ll see the entry level white gold Calatrava stacking up at $30,000. The 5172G is two-and-a-half-times more, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the calibre CH 29-535 PS offers more than that in terms of watchmaking. When you consider that the far more complicated but visually indistinct calibre CH 29-535 PS Q costs almost two-and-a-half times as much as the 5172G again and you’ll see that the chronograph sits in something of a sweet spot.
I would wager that, budget notwithstanding, most people looking to buy a Patek Philippe for more than its ability to sell investment grade luxury sports watches want to enjoy some of that famed watchmaking mastery the brand has been doing for centuries. A simple Calatrava gives you a taste of that for sure, and the Grand Complications are the closest thing you’ll get to Patek Philippe’s pocket watch glory days—but the 5172G gives you so much of the latter with a price heading more in the direction of the former.
Not to mention that this new 5172G is actually cheaper than the chronograph model it replaced, the 5170G, by some $10-15,000. Patek Philippe, are you feeling alright?!
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Goldilocks effect, the natural settling on a happy medium that compromises as little as possible between the extremes. For me, the Patek Philippe 5172G is the “just right” moment, where the most gains are had for as little price increase as possible. From there the gains become so much more expensive, for visually little extra benefit. It’s very much a case of diminishing returns. For some people, that extra spend to get the absolute pinnacle will be worth it; for others, the lower price of the simpler models will be more palatable—but for most, the 5172G really is the best.
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