The 5 Most Important Patek Philippe Watches of the 21st Century—So Far

A highly subjective look at the revered watchmaker’s most iconic references.

By Victoria Gomelsky 30/12/2019

Patek Philippe is widely regarded as the world’s finest watch manufacturer, but ask a cohort of collectors, retailers, bloggers and auctioneers to come to a consensus on the five best models the firm has introduced since 2000 and all hell breaks loose. While they may agree on the broad strokes that have propelled the historic Geneva watchmaker to the top of the watchmaking pyramid (family ownership, quality craftsmanship and a fierce commitment to safeguarding the brand’s legacy), they have vastly different ideas about what constitutes an iconic reference.

Does the Split Seconds Chronograph, ref. 5959 introduced in 2005, with its in-house ultra-thin movement, qualify? What about the super trendy white gold and khaki green dial Aquanaut, ref. 5168G unveiled earlier this year?

We asked eight people to weigh in on these questions and more, yet there was almost no overlap in the models they recommended.

Almost being the operative word. The Nautilus Ref. 5711 came up four times—a reflection of the steel sport model’s market dominance. So that’s where we’ll kick off this highly subjective retrospective. Without further ado, we present the five most iconic references introduced by Patek Philippe in the 21st century:

Nautilus, Ref. 5711/1A

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A Courtesy of Patek Philippe

The original Nautilus ref. 3700 was a stainless steel luxury watch influenced by nautical motifs, designed by Gerald Genta in 1973 and introduced in 1976.

On the model’s 30th anniversary in 2006, Patek Philippe rolled out a new take on the Nautilus, ref. 5711, a modern update lauded for its graceful synthesis of historic details and contemporary styling.

“Maintaining the classic beauty of the original, the modern ref. 5711/1A incorporated several innovations over the original including greater water resistance, better corrosion resistance thanks to the use of higher-grade steel, and improved comfort from a superior double-folding clasp,” says Paul Boutros, Americas’ head of watches for Phillips.

In the process, ref. 5711 became a watchmaking sensation, rewriting the rules of the secondary market, where it continues to command a significant premium over retail.

“It’s one of the most desirable new watches on the planet,” says vintage watch dealer Eric Wind. “This watch ignited interest in the entire Nautilus family. It also helped spark the Tiffany-signed craze, with one 5711/1A with a Tiffany & Co. signature on the dial rumored to have traded at well over $200,000 this summer after one sold for $150,000, including buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s New York in June.”

For Patek lovers, however, the 5711’s appeal is about so much more than price. “It’s the perfect everyday watch,” says Jasem Al Zeraei, a Kuwait-based collector whose alter ego is @Patekaholic. “It embodies everything that is Patek in today’s time.”

Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, Ref. 5970P

Patek Philippe Ref. 5970 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

Patek Philippe Ref. 5970 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Courtesy of Phillips

As timepiece holy grails go, you’re unlikely to find one holier than the granddaddy of grand complications, the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, ref. 5970.

“A direct descendant of Patek Philippe’s iconic references 1518 and 2499, the 5970 is admired by collectors for its superbly balanced proportions and 40 mm case diameter,” says Boutros. “Incorporating square pushers and tasteful stepped lugs, the 5970 harmonized modern styling with the classic roots of its revered vintage models. Released in 2004 and produced for just seven years, it was the brand’s last perpetual calendar chronograph to use a highly modified outsourced movement—a well-respected Lemania-based caliber. Produced in 18-karat yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum, its stunning, classic aesthetics and relative rarity makes any version highly sought after today.”

Adding to the model’s mystique is its relatively short production run, which has helped make the platinum and yellow gold versions “the most collectible of them all,” according to Denis Boulle, cofounder of de Boulle in Dallas.

Among men unafraid to sport a few diamonds, the 5970 is beloved for laying the groundwork for another sought-after grand complication, the 5271P-001: “Building on the 5970P, which is my favourite modern Patek, this timepiece adds an amazing factory-set bezel, which elevates the whole affair creating a perfect black tie timepiece,” says Yoni Ben-Yehuda, head of business development at Material Good.

Sky Moon Celestial, Ref. 6102P

Patek Philippe Sky Moon Celestial Ref. 6102P

Patek Philippe Sky Moon Celestial Ref. 6102P Courtesy of Patek Philippe

Anyone familiar with Patek Philippe’s early 20th century oeuvre will recognize the Sky Moon Celestial, Ref. 6102P as the wristwatch progeny of the astronomical pocket watches the firm crafted for collectors such as Henry Graves, Jr. and James Warm Packard, whose gentlemanly war to own the world’s most remarkable watch is the stuff of legend.

Introduced in 2015, the model pays homage to Patek’s illustrious history without compromising its modernity. “This timepiece is poetry,” says Ben-Yehuda. “Patek has a rich history with celestial complications, and this timepiece builds upon that flawlessly. The poetic complication, coupled with the unabashed larger size (especially for Patek) makes this one near perfect.”

First Ladies Chronograph, Ref. 7071

Patek Philippe Ref. 7071

Patek Philippe Ref. 7071 Courtesy of Patek Philippe

In 2009, Patek surprised collectors and fans with a model they didn’t see coming. Dubbed the Ladies First Chronograph, ref. 7071 was the successor to a legendary chronograph caliber developed exclusively for Patek Philippe by Nouvelle Lémania in 1986.

That the firm chose to present its first entirely in-house traditional chronograph movement (column wheel, horizontal clutch, manual winding) in a ladies’ timepiece set the stage for an industry-wide conversation about how to court female buyers.

“Since then, the CH 29-535 PS movement has been used in additional men’s and ladies timepieces in their collection,” Boulle says.

Of course, no one could deny the model’s voluptuous good looks: “I have a soft spot for both cushion-shaped cases and manufacturers who introduce new complications for women before they do it in a men’s watch,” says Elizabeth Doerr, editor in chief and co-founder of the watch site Quill & Pad. “And this is exactly how Patek Philippe approached its first in-house chronograph movement: by first paying tribute to its female clientele and—wonder of wonders—housing it in a cushion-shaped gold case. Just a stupendous piece of horology.”

Grandmaster Chime, Ref. 6300A

Most Expensive Watch in the World, $31 Million Patek Philippe

The two faces of the new most expensive watch in the world, Patek Philippe’s Grandmaster Chime. Patek Philippe

A “marvel of micro-engineering,” according to Wind, this stainless steel über-complication is, at US$31 million, the most expensive watch in the world. Need we say more?

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