Review: Patek Philippe 5960
Forget your Rolex Daytonas, your Omega Speedmasters and even your Casio G-Shocks. Money no object, the Patek Philippe 5960 is, without question, the ultimate sports watch, beating out all the competition for the number one spot. Here are three reasons why.
If anything’s going to be the ultimate of anything, it needs to be concocted under the umbrella of a well-known and well-respected brand. Legends are made by the audiences that adore them, and it is for that very reason that Patek Philippe has to be the ultimate brand to make the ultimate sports watch.
Believe me, I know all about F.P. Journe, Greubel Forsey, H. Moser & Cie.—but the point is that the public doesn’t. Maybe one day they will, but for now, it’s Patek Philippe that’s king. In the mind of Joe public, there are just two luxury watchmakers, and I’m sure you can guess what the other one is.
It’s just the way these things work. Ask a non-car enthusiast what they’d drive if they won the lottery, and you’d hear the familiar Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis. Great cars, but you and I both know that a Koenigsegg would embarrass all of those. For pub chat, however, your new Koenigsegg as simply going to warrant questions about why it’s not wearing a prancing horse.
It’s something I call the Grand Seiko effect. If you have to explain why it’s good, it just can’t be the ultimate. It can be better on paper, sure, but if you have to explain it then you’ve lost before you’ve even begun. That’s why Patek Philippe has to don the crown as the ultimate watchmaker for our ultimate sports watch.
I mean, it’s not like the brand hasn’t been around the block itself; it’s fast—in watchmaker terms—approaching its bicentennial birthday, and it hasn’t spent those two hundred years mucking about. Think of a moment in watchmaking, and chances are Patek Philippe had something to do with it. From the humble crown to the breakthrough wristwatch, it was Patek Philippe leading the charge. Even the classic lines of pretty much every dress watch known today were first set down by Patek Philippe with the 1932 Calatrava.
And the symbol of Patek Philippe, the Calatrava Cross, that too is emblematic beyond the scope of the inner watch circle. It doesn’t have the recognition factor of the Rolex coronet, but for a company that makes such small, expensive things in such limited numbers, it’s better recognised by your average guy on the street than it has any right to be.
Remember when I said that legends are made by the audiences that adore them? There’s another high-end brand that’s been using a very similar cross emblem, since as early as 1880 in fact. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m talking about Vacheron Constantin, whose Maltese Cross logo is almost as old as Patek Philippe itself. The Calatrava Cross used by Patek Philippe, however—that only appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and wasn’t used broadly until as late as the 1970s. That’s the power of legend for you!
The next reason why the 5960 has just got to be the greatest sports watch ever is because of complication. Usually when we think of complicated watches, slender, elegant, yellow gold dress watches come to mind—and so too does Patek Philippe. I mean, Patek Philippe is the king of complicated dress watches, particularly the pocket variety.
A quick skim through the brand’s back catalogue reveals double chronographs, minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, astronomical displays—and all of them combined into one for the 1933 supercomplication, which boasted twenty-four complications total.
And that’s just for starters. In 1989, rather than tease out the record with a couple more complications, Patek Philippe doubled down for the 150th year of the brand with the calibre 89, which crammed in a physics-defying thirty-three complications.
Then, for the new millennium, Patek Philippe pursued a different kind of complication challenge with the Star Calibre 2000. Rather than having more complications than the calibre 89, the Star Calibre 2000 found space for twenty-one of the most challenging complications, including a Westminster chime, sunrise and sunset, equation of time, sky chart, lunar orbit, time of meridian passage by Sirius and time of meridian passage by moon.
That’s the pocket watches; for the wristwatch, Patek Philippe introduced the 2001 Sky Moon Tourbillon, a dual-sided timepiece with twelve incredible complications, including both mean and solar time displays, a perpetual calendar, sky chart, sidereal time and both phases and orbit of the moon. Then, in 2014, Patek Philippe smashed its own wristwatch complication record with the Grandmaster Chime, which comprised 1,366 parts and twenty complications, including five different chiming modes, such as an alarm and a date repeater.
So, a teensy little flyback chronograph annual calendar should be a walk in the park for Patek Philippe, and as the surprisingly sedate dial of the 5960 demonstrates, it really is. A Rolex Daytona gives you time and a chronograph; the 5960 gives you time, date, day, month, day-night, power reserve and a flyback chronograph.
It’s the calibre CH 28-520 IRM QA 24H—a long name for a long list of complications—that gives the 5960 its talents. A demonstration of the most efficient watchmaking, the compact design of the movement makes the watch just a little over 13mm thick, barely a millimetre more than the Daytona, despite all that extra ability.
What’s really impressive, aside from the exceptional finish Patek Philippe’s watchmakers have graced the calibre with, is how well arranged the displays are without compromising size. With a lot of complicated watches, the displays fall where they may on the dial, but this is executed with a sense of order and space management. It’s a testament to the designers at Patek Philippe that a well-proportioned watch like this, just half a millimetre larger than a Daytona, can bring such order to what could have been chaos.
Speaking of how the dial’s been laid out, the way the 5960 looks is a huge part of the appeal. A watch’s appearance is of course interpreted by every individual differently, however sometimes a design is quite simply universal. The Rolex Daytona is such a watch, as is the Omega Speedmaster, both with very few detractors when it comes to how they look—and I think the Patek Philippe 5960 is just like that too.
First of all are the things that make it look like a good sports watch should. On strap or bracelet, the watch feels more solid and imposing than the more traditional Patek Philippe staple, long lugs and concave bezel blending sporty sleekness and classic elegance in a very balanced way that feels neither too much of one nor the other.
The pushers and crown have a presence to them that allows them to be operated easily and with a sense of rugged reliability; the watch, shod in appropriately sporty steel, avoids any sense of delicacy without being brutish, another tricky balancing act to pull off. The fact that the crown and pushers all line up as well is a touch that often goes overlooked and is a trait of a movement designed to be a chronograph from the ground up.
Then there’s the dial itself. As mentioned before, to fit all that functionality in there without it looking like a hoarder’s living room is deeply impressive, and that’s in part thanks to the clever thinking behind the dual-operation second hand. Where most chronograph watches have a running second hand and a separate chronograph second hand, the 5960’s wear-free vertically-engaging chronograph clutch lets the large sweep seconds double as both.
Either use it and the smaller minute and hour counters as part of the flyback chronograph, or simply leave it to run as the main display’s central seconds. Details like the red accents and the application of luminous paint further brand this watch’s sporty intentions, easily legible at a glance or in low light, as all good sports watches should be.
Secondly, there’s just the way the 5960 looks, full stop. So many expensive watches, in an attempt to appear modern and sporty, end up coming across like a cheap, fashion brand toy, but the 5960 manages to maintain the regal sophistication Patek Philippe is known for whilst also not looking out of place worn with jeans and a t-shirt—especially on some casual leather. These traditionalist brands can so often wind up making an oxymoron of the meeting of old and new that they become more awkward than the Queen dabbing—but not the 5960. That’s more like the Queen tearing about in her Land Rover Defender.
Ask yourself this: if you were offered a Daytona, a Speedmaster and the 5960—and you weren’t allowed to sell it and buy something else—which would you pick? Of course you would. Anyone would. That’s why the Patek Philippe 5960 is the ultimate sports watch, the sports watch of sports watches. Now then—just how exactly am I going to be able to afford one?
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