Evolution of the Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

Evolution of the Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

Photo credit @watchrookie


Patek Philippe gave us the Perpetual Chronograph in the early ‘40s. Now considered the most important Patek Philippe watch ever, it has continued to evolve to the present day. While the materials vary and case sizes have changed, the classic good looks have not. The round case with three dials is classic PP styling. The moon phase has been a feature of each of the iterations. Patek Philippe combined classic looks with the right complications. The Perpetual Chronograph is a first in the history of watchmaking.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph


Before you get into the evolution of the PP Perpetual Chronograph, it is important to touch on the movements that make these watches go. Don’t underestimate the importance of the movement in a watch like this.


Remember that the Perpetual Calendar was a complication never done before the early ‘40s. The majority of mechanical chronograph watches on the market today use a Valjoux movement or variant thereof. In place of a column wheel, Valjoux designed a three-plane cam system consisting of the main plate, calendar plate, and chronograph top plate. Levers push a cam back and forth which drives the stopwatch mechanism. This versatile movement is referred to as a coulisse-lever escapement. Displays can be customized by adding or eliminating a date window or adding or subtracting a subdial. It is common for a watch company to purchase the movement and alter it in-house to their specifications.


Lemania was founded in 1884 by Alfred Lugrin. Before he passed away in 1920. he was a laborer at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Due to the outstanding quality of his watch movements, Lugrin received top awards and gold medals at exhibitions in 1906 in Milan and in 1914 in Bern. He was an expert in the production of chronographs, stopwatches, and repeaters. To drive home the point, Lemania’s Calibre 1873 (Omega Calibre 861) became famous with the Omega Speedmaster, which in 1962 was selected by NASA for manned space flights. Inside the case of Neil Armstrong's Speedmaster was a Lemania movement. Take a minute and put that in perspective. The movement was created decades earlier. Lemania was a man ahead of his time. Patek Philippe used both the Valjoux and the Lemania movements in their Perpetual Calendar Chronographs. After 2011, PP shifted to an in-house movement which is in use today.

PATEK PHILIPPE REF:1518 1941-1954

The Patek Phillip Ref. 1518 first appeared in 1941. It was the first perpetual calendar with chronograph ever made. Horology experts consider it the grandfather of all Grand Complications. Calling the watch the most important Patek Philippe is high praise. Check the maker’s track record of producing exquisite timepieces. 281 watches came out of the 14-year production run. Most of the watches are yellow gold. 55 cased in rose gold and four in steel. Being one of four in such a legendary watch makes for a very rare and valuable collector’s piece. None of the watches from the era had the open back. Patek ordered four steel cases and used three of them for the Ref. 1518A. Nobody knows what happened to the fourth case. It opens the possibility that a fifth Ref. 1518 is out there somewhere. Collector’s love a good story to go with their treasures. An unknown fifth watch lends an air of intrigue. See our article on most expensive watches sold at auction to learn how this watch has performed

Image courtesy of Christies

PATEK PHILIPPE REF:2499 1950-1985

The "Asprey," Patek Philippe Ref. 2499, sold at Sotheby's for $3,915,000. SOTHEBY'S

The Ref. 2499 replaced the ref. 1518 production in 1951 and was a current model until 1986. PP made only 349 of these watches so over 35 years that’s 10 a year. The vast majority of the 2499's produced were cased in yellow gold. In fact, only four rose gold 2499s have ever appeared at auction, and the last one hammered at $2,750,760. Ten percent of the total production was rose gold. Even rarer would be 2499 in platinum. One of the most famous watches was platinum 2499 owned by guitarist Eric Clapton.

PATEK PHILIPPE REF:3970 1985-2004

Image courtsey @watchrookiee

The 3970 took a different direction with design with Patek taking off the tachymeter scale and reducing the case size. The ref. 3970 launched in 1986. It was a difficult time for mechanical watches. Chronographs weren’t all that popular at the time. The 3970 was being pushed aside by retailers saying they were too difficult to sell. Quartz movements were still the rage. Complicated mechanical watches didn't command that much attention. The 3970 was available in white, yellow, and rose gold, as well as platinum. It features a traditional dial with three subsidiary dials. The 3790 is classic Patek Philippe. The watch is a modern, close follow up piece released after legends like the 1518 and 2499. Two watches that have reached grail status.

PATEK PHILIPPE REF: 5020 1993-1999

This watch really is the odd member of the lineage. It looks nothing like the other models, with its oversized "Television" shape, Breguet hands and numerals. The watch was received very poorly and Patek reacted by discontinuing this watch after only 4 years, making it the shortest production run in the series  with experts estimating only about 300 produced. In recent years due to its rarity it has become a real collectors piece and the  prices at auction reflects this sentiment

PATEK PHILIPPE REF:5970 2004-2010

5970s are available in white gold, rose gold, yellow gold, and platinum. The 5790 is larger than 2499 and 3970. The case comes in at 40mm and is 4 mm larger than its predecessor. It features a traditional dial. The 5970 ran from 2004 through 2011. Intricate steelwork, impeccable finishing, and crisp bevels as expected around 2,800 5790s were made in all. The rose-gold and white-gold watches were made concurrently from 2004 to 2008. There is a reason to believe that 1,000–1,250 examples of each of these exist. The yellow-gold version ran for one year only in 2008. It is rare with an estimated 100–300 created. The 5970 in platinum ran for two years from 2009–2010 with an estimated 300–500 made.

PATEK PHILLIPE REF:5971 2010-2010

The Patek Philippe reference 5971 is a bonus addition to our lineup as this wasn't a general production watch. It is a gem-set variation of the 5970 perpetual calendar chronograph and  was introduced in 2010 as a limited edition of 10 pieces. It is set with a total of 42 baguette-cut sapphire


PP makes the move from Lemania to their own in house movement. Asking why is a great place to start. Why would a watchmaker spend millions of dollars to design and build an in-house movement? Especially when they could buy a movement that works fine. It is a great question. During the 1920s and after, the chronograph was on the way up. Interest in the chronograph was increasing. Wearers were after an outward display of personal style.

Patek Philippe connected with Valjoux. For fifty years, PP counted on them for the bulk of their chronograph movements. Valjoux supplied PP with the cal. 23VZ until 1974. 23VZ was the base caliber for Patek Philippe’s ref. 1518. This was to be the world’s first perpetual chronograph made in series. In all, PP made 281 ref. 1518 watches over 13 years. 1518, first produced in 1941 remained an icon until 1954. 2499 took over from there. Valjoux’s famous caliber fell with the rise of the Seiko quartz in the ‘70s. Production of the 23VZ ended in 1974. Patek Philippe had enough movement blanks on hand to continue making 2499 until 1985.


From the mid-‘70s to the mid-‘90s, Lemania defined Patek Philippe’s dress chronographs. The Lemania caliber powered many watches at that time. Top makers created in house movements based on the architecture of the Valjoux VZ23. Makers recreated or modified many components in the process. The Lemania CH 27 kept time for the top makers while in house movements were being developed. It is quite an undertaking for a maker to create a movement from scratch. Some key components are so specialized that makers had to rely on suppliers for key parts. Building a completely in-house movement seems impossible. An in house movement gives you a sense of exclusivity when you hear about it. Dealers tout absolute control by the watchmaker. This is a major selling point at the AD's counter. It is important to remember that Lemania and Valjoux movements are marvels. You would be hard-pressed to find this level of product success in other industries. Both the grail watch ref 2499 and Neil’s Speedmaster were both Lemania. Impressive when you think about it. Valjoux ruled the chronograph for decades. Let’s not forget what is going on inside the case of a PP perpetual Chronograph. The dial required careful planning. The day and month are next to each other and appear below the 12. At six o'clock, notice that the moon phase and the calendar are in sync.

PATEK PHILIPPE REF:5004 1994-2012

The Patek Philippe reference 5004 features two of the most prestigious complications. The 5004 is a split-seconds chronograph. It also houses a perpetual calendar and moon phase complications. PP ended its run of Lemania movements with this watch. PP created fifty Steel 5004 watches engraving the owner’s name on the backplate as an end of series commemoration. The idea was to slow the resale of the watch once the buyer had possession. That didn’t work. There were 5004 models available at auction as soon as they were in the hands of lucky buyers. Rumors that more than the final fifty were in circulation did not make collectors happy. The 5004 was available in all metals and sported dimensions of 37mm by 15mm. The chronograph split-seconds button finds its home in the winding crown. The dial is silver with stick markers and leaf style hands. Front and display back sapphire crystals. The movement is the manual winding Patek Philippe Caliber CHR 27-70Q. There is a 60-hour power reserve.


While all the references in this evolution are collectible, the 5270 is today’s 1518. Collectors cherish their perpetual calendar chronographs from Patek Philippe. The 5720 is the very first of the series to have an in-house movement. 5270 is larger again. Now 6 mm larger than 2499 and 2 mm larger than the 5970. A lot is going on inside the case, so the heftier size is understandable. Those fortunate enough to try one on say it isn’t too big and feels comfortable enough to wear every day. Most authorized dealers need an application and deposit for the watch.

The reference in a distinguished line of perpetual calendar chronographs is the 5270. A 41 mm case houses the latest 29 535 PS movement. Patek Philippe’s new hallmark of excellence, the PP Seal is present. The 5270 dial has been changing year by year with 4 variations to date. The question is will the 5270 will rise in stature to be essential to a collection. A closer look shows a day/night indicator on the dial. Leap year and night and day apertures bracket the date/moon phase indicator. Subsidiary dials display constant seconds and 30-minute registers. See here for the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph 5270



The 5204 incorporates Patek's in-house caliber. The CHR 29-535 PS Q features split-seconds and a perpetual calendar mechanism. Introduced in 2012, this 41 mm beauty commands attention. Its striking look grabs the eye. The 5204 launched with an opaline silver dial with a leather strap. The 5204r features a solid rose gold link bracelet and black dial. The same black dial with a detachable rose gold bracelet is available as an option. PP aficionados have placed a high value on the rose gold with a black dial over the years. It is interesting to note that this watch did not even have a press release on launch day. It appeared on the PP website without fanfare. Interested buyers need to apply to get this one.


Introduced in 2017, The 5372 comes in a circular platinum case. Comparing it to others in the line-up, things have moved around. The case is 38mm and houses the thin CHR 27-525 PS Q caliber chronograph movement. The CHR 27-525 PS Q movement is hand-wound and contains 476 components. The gold dial with sunburst blue pattern now shows Arabic numerals. The case is a compact 38.3 mm. The case thickness is 13.3 mm. The moon phase has moved to under the 12. The small rectangular windows for the day and date have are now at the nine and three. The moon phase is accurate to one day every 122 years. Designers removed the tachymeter scale to make more room for the subdials. There is a lot going on here. The dial layout is getting rave reviews for clarity. The larger subdials are easier to read. There are larger subdials for the continuous seconds and chronograph counters. The date subdial is at 6 o’clock. The numbers 1 to 4 located at 4.30 track the leap year cycle. A day/night indicator is at 7.30. The pusher at 2 o’clock controls the split-second function. Setting the watch will take some time and requires some skill. Careless winding could damage the movement. Hand-winding at the same time of day will help avoid overwinding. The 5372 is also available in a beige dial and glossy brown alligator strap.





See here for more Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph watches

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