STEEL RULES

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Patek Philippe’s Annual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5960 now comes exclusively in stainless steel with a matching bracelet, substituting all previous precious metal models – a move that caught even the brand’s more cult followers by surprise.

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Having premiered in 2006, the Annual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5960 was Patek Philippe’s very first automatic chronograph – a significant achievement for the brand – and quickly became highly coveted among collectors. Its rather unusual mono-counter chronograph and annual calendar display in three large windows set a new style. At first available exclusively in platinum, which meant that only the most affluent customers could afford it, subsequent models appeared in rose gold, with different dials. Now the Manufacture confounds expectations with its bold decision announced at Baselworld 2014, that it would no longer be making this much sought-after timepiece in platinum or gold.

While it’s not uncommon for Patek Philippe to cease production of a popular reference, the fact that it’s replacing it by a stainless steel model is. This is because it almost exclusively uses gold and platinum when it comes to its more complicated timepieces. With very few exceptions – such as the ultra-thin Ref. 5950A split-seconds chronograph – all other Patek Philippe men’s wristwatches have been systematically cased in gold or platinum. The launch of the Ref. 5960/1A therefore marks one of the Manufacture’s very few steel classic models with complications outside its sports watch collections. And having a matching steel bracelet is even less common.

Whereas Patek’s Ref. 1463 chronograph in steel and the modern Ref. 5004 split-seconds chronograph with perpetual calendar in steel are rare and valuable, the brand’s history of making serial-production watches in steel lies principally within its Nautilus and Aquanaut families. By discontinuing the Ref. 5960’s precious metal editions, those who already own one of the initial pieces can be assured that it will surely increase in value over time, and for Patek, it has gained new audiences by giving those for whom the timepiece was previously priced out of their reach the chance to own one of its complications. The use of steel and the colour combination renders the watch sportier (unusual for a reference that is ordinarily more formal) and gives it a younger, fresher appeal, while still retaining its understated elegance; it can be worn for any occasion, from morning to evening. Not only will it catch the attention of watch lovers in general, but it’s also a way to attract some of Patek’s younger collectors away from the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections to draw them to the brand’s more traditional lines.

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A New Interpretation

Patek Philippe’s President, Thierry Stern, explains the idea behind the Ref. 5960/1A, “When the Annual Calendar Chronograph first launched in 2006, it was an instant success in terms of style and because it was introducing the manufacture’s first self-winding chronograph. The new Ref. 5960/1A is an evolution that I wanted to revisit in a more contemporary style, a more sportive-looking, everyday wear watch, with a striking, dynamic-looking dial and the choice of steel, so it’s aimed at new younger clients, but of course the model was very well received by our established clients. In fact, it was the same as when we launched the Aquanaut in 1997: it was created for new younger clients, but it was so successful among our established clients that it took a certain time to reach new clients. We work on designing timeless evolutions, but we also need to surprise and bring novelty to our clients and catch the interest of new generations of clients. Most importantly, our watches have to be elegant; the design must reflect the Patek Philippe DNA.”

Associating a previously ignored material – even ordinary steel – to a flagship model allows it to gain in desirability and can contribute to increasing its value. Consequently, complicated Patek watches in steel tend to be very valuable. Stern says, “Patek Philippe’s stainless steel watches have always ranked among the most desirable timepieces because they were crafted only in small numbers, so the aim was to revisit a successful complication model and strengthen its desirability by combining a strong design, strong type of complication with steel – a winning mix for our established clients and for new clients.”

But why walk away from a good thing? After all, the precious metal models of an extremely modern and important calendar-chronograph in the company’s history are still very much in demand and Patek could have continued selling them, while introducing its stainless steel variation. Perhaps this hints at the upcoming launch of a replacement model in a precious metal, especially as Patek turns 175 this year, with celebrations that have been seven years in the planning.

The Ref. 5960/1A is truly a timepiece that nobody expected, but that everyone will wish they had. The 5960P was the original platinum version, the 5960R in rose gold and now the 5960/1A. The “1” means it’s on a Patek “drop” links bracelet, and the “A” stands for “acier”, French for “steel”. Just last year, the brand had introduced the 5960P with a black dial, replacing the original model with a grey dial. Able to automatically distinguish between months that are 30 and 31 days long, annual calendars only require manual correction once per year, on the 1st of March, and they are less complicated and less expensive to make than their perpetual calendar counterparts, while still making for an interesting and user-friendly function.

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In-House Movement

The Ref. 5960/1A houses the same Patek-manufactured CH 28-520 IRM QA 24H automatic calibre with annual calendar and chronograph complications as its predecessors (the brand’s first proprietary self-winding chronograph movement entirely developed and produced in-house), as well as the highly-legible dial featuring three apertures that show the day, date and month, respectively, across the top and a small 55-hour power reserve indicator below. However, the layout of the three-layered mono-counter chronograph scales at six o’clock has changed, with a 12-hour totaliser around the outer edge, a zero- to 30-minute totaliser in the middle and a 30- to 60-minute totaliser at the centre. The chronograph minutes were previously on the circumference and the hours on the inside of the sub-dial. There is also a day/night indicator at six o’clock, displayed via a tiny blue or black dot.

The exquisitely-finished 456-component movement with central gold rotor is visible through the sapphire crystal caseback, and has been stamped with the Patek Philippe Seal, the brand’s very own exclusive technical and aesthetic hallmark. This quality-control programme requires a movement of this size to perform with a rate deviation of no more than -3 to +2 seconds per day. The base movement was built from 302 parts, while the annual calendar module adds another 154 components. Beating with a frequency of 28,800 semi-oscillations per hour and water-resistant to 30m, it mixes a classic column wheel with a vertical disc clutch, which eliminates the risk of hand jump or recoil when the stopwatch function is activated. Accuracy is assured by Patek’s own patented Spiromax balance spring made of the silicon derivative Silinvar, and an antimagnetic Gyromax balance wheel with superior isochronous properties and thus better rate results in the long run.

Stern had wanted to introduce a new “aggressive” style to the watch dial and worked closely with his wife, Sandrine, Head of Watch Creation, drawing inspiration from many sources, including market knowledge and understanding of their clients’ preferences, but most importantly ensuring that it reflected their tastes and the brand’s DNA and values. He details the creative process, “A new design evolution takes about one to two years depending on the model. The new Ref. 5960 in steel introduces a new design for the dial and revisited mono-counter, the case and movement remain the same and the steel bracelet is an evolution of an existing gold bracelet, perfectly adapted to the Ref. 5960 for comfortable active wear. The aim when revisiting the design of this successful model was to work on a dial that would offer a new contemporary style with perfect readability of the indications, so there was a lot of detailed work to reach the unique tri-dimensional contrasted design.”

The timepiece’s appearance has therefore been updated with a silvery-grey opaline dial set with apertures outlined by black oxidised white gold rims and a black power reserve indicator. The chronograph display itself features a black applied 12-hour counter scale, which, together with the dozen other black oxidised gold appliqués, enhances the three-dimensional architecture of the dial. For the first day of each month, the number “1” of the date disc is painted red, while all the other figures are in the standard black on white. The chronograph second and minute hands are in bright red lacquer and the numerals of the chronograph sub-dials have been modernised. The three-faceted central hour and minute hands in black oxidised white gold are coated with luminescence, rarely seen on Patek’s production watches except for its sports lines. Because of its hardness, the stainless steel of the 40.5-mm case measuring 13.55mm thick takes much longer to polish than gold, testifying to the competence of Patek’s case-making ateliers. The Ref. 5960/1A retails for SEK391,600, or CHF45,000, which is about one-third less than the price of the Ref. 5960R in rose gold.

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