Patek Philippe 5524G Calatrava Pilot Travel Time
We all identify Patek Philippe as a brand of tradition, reserve and sturdy Swiss conservatism, known for ignoring the trend for—well, just about everything, really. Patek Philippe sticks to what it knows, and you'll like it, thank you very much. It's a position the brand has earned, and one you'd not likely see it give up, so when the Patek Philippe 5524G Calatrava Pilot Travel Time was announced the eve of Baselworld 2015, we were all left a little bemused. Has Patek Philippe actually–dare I say it—got it wrong?
Watch our video review of the Patek Philippe 5524G Calatrava Pilot Travel Time
Pilot's watches are pretty much as old as wristwatches themselves. The first came about in 1904 when gentleman pilot and eccentric Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont approached friend Louis Cartier regarding a timepiece he could wear whilst piloting one of his lighter-than-air contraptions. Wristwatches were, at the time, the domain of women's fashion, with pocket watches very much de rigueur for men. Dumont was quite the character, however, often to be seen flying his dirigible through the streets of Paris to his favourite restaurant, and his celebrity status put the wristwatch on the map.
With the onset of heavier-than-air planes, following the Wright Brother's first flight in 1903, the records soon began to follow. When Frenchman Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel in 1909—which won him a tidy prize sum, much the chagrin of the Brit who proposed the challenge—he was accompanied by the Zenith on his wrist. Compared to Santos-Dumont's Cartier, the Zenith was big and bold, much closer to the pilot's watch as we know it today. The dial was black, the numerals clear and painted with a luminous finish, the crown was big for gloved winding and the movement was anti-magnetic.
There are hints of previous pilot's watches in the 5524G
But when the world fell to war, the wristwatch—along with many goods—evolved from accessory to necessity. For airborne combatants, precision could be the difference between life—and death. Fuel usage, rate of climb and descent, navigation—all of this and more was assisted by the pilot's wristwatch, and so it was not just his tool, but his safety line. As the nations divided into Allied and Axis powers, so too the watchmakers divided their expertise.
Manufacturers like IWC, A. Lange & Söhne, Omega, Longines, Doxa, Wempe, Stowa and Lacher & Co. turned their hands to producing pilot's watches, following the blueprint set by Zenith in 1909. The current IWC Big Pilot's is the embodiment of the formulaic and functional design these watches all shared—cold, hard and fit for purpose.
Amongst the many brands that produced these watches was another that might be somewhat unexpected: Patek Philippe. The watchmaker was not immune to the call of war, and it too produced timepieces that served on the wrists of air force pilots.
Two time zone can be monitored with the travel time complication
In light of Patek Philippe's fighting heritage, it would seem like the 5524G is something of a tribute piece to its world war watches, but the brand insists that it's not. Side-by-side with the IWC Big Pilot's and you can sort of see what they mean; while there are similarities to be drawn, it's the differences that stand it apart.
Let's match up the similarities first, starting with the size. At 42mm, the 5524G isn't too big by today's standards—or by the standards of the original 55mm wartime watches—but it's positively titanic for Patek Philippe. The numerals, they're big and bold, and while they do share a similarity with the fonts used on the historic Patek Philippe pilot's watches, a closer comparison could probably be drawn with Blériot's 1909 Zenith. A nod to the past, perhaps? From Patek Philippe?
The travel time pushers can be locked with a quarter turn
And that's about it when it comes to the historical connection, so you can see Patek Philippe's reluctance to call it a homage. So, if it's not a bit of nostalgic reflection and it's not anything like the usual fare produced by the house of Patek Philippe, what exactly is it? Well, in Patek Philippe's own vague terms, it 'touches upon the fact that [Patek Philippe] contributed to the conquest of the skies'.
If this were referring to the war then it would perhaps be in questionable taste, but a little digging reveals that it's not; it is in fact loosely referencing the early world timer watches of the 1930s, built around the innovative movement developed by watchmaker Louis Cottier for the burgeoning Transatlantic air industry. But that certainly doesn't seem to be the main focus of the watch. It's almost like the watch has no historical focus at all.
At the risk of having the Patek Philippe PR department screaming, 'That's what I've been trying to tell you!' until they're blue in the face, it seems then that the 5524G is merely the victim of, well, poor communication. We've all seen the watch, seen its name and assumed it has something to do with the past, when really it's everything to do with the future. Patek Philippe insists that its watches are made for the generations of tomorrow, but what use is that when these burgeoning watch-wearers won't see anything on their wrists smaller than 40mm?
The travel time complication comes courtesy of the calibre CH 324 S C FUS
Enter the 5524G, now seen in a different light, of course. It packs the Calibre CH 324 S C FUS from the Travel Time Chronograph and Aquanaut, which gives the user control over local time—the blue hour hand—and home time—the white, skeletonised hand hiding underneath. Corresponding indicators confirm day or night for each on the rich, blue dial. New for the 5524G, the pushers can be locked with a quarter-turn to prevent unintended adjustments. The date sits in a sub-dial at six o'clock. The movement boasts a patented silicon Gyromax balance and Spiromax spring.
The 5524G isn't a tribute piece at all. Basically, it's the Patek Philippe of tomorrow.
It's funny, really. To look at something with your own eyes is to see it from one very limited perspective, but to truly see something is to do so without prejudice, without bias. In the case of the 5524G, we assumed Patek Philippe's intention was to recall the wartime watches that are of interest to the average Patek Philippe collector, but the reality appears to contradict that. Rather, it seems that the 5524G is for those who sit enough generations apart from the war to have never even met someone who lived through it. The next generation. When you take a step back and see the 5524G with that in mind, perhaps it begins to make sense after all.
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