90-Year Legacy of The Iconic Patek Philippe Calatrava

06 Nov, 2022 Chat 0
90-Year Legacy of The Iconic Patek Philippe Calatrava

An icon? A classic? It would be willful ignorance if one describes Patek Philippe Calatrava or tries to sum up its importance with these overused and often wrongly-attributed adjectives. Not many watches have been able to impact the watchmaking world as Calatrava, and for good reason. It kicked off an entire genre of horology and is best referred to as the ultimate reference of a dress watch.

Patek Philippe Calatrava
Patek Philippe Calatrava, one of the most popular watches of all time, celebrates its 90th anniversary this year

This year, as Calatrava celebrates its 90th anniversary, we look back upon its genesis and how a simple time-only piece became one of the most popular watches of all time.

The History Of Patek Philippe Calatrava

During the late 19th century, Patek Philippe, then called Patek, Philippe & Cie, was a revered watch brand with several inventions, patents, and awards to its name. It had a niche clientele counting elite patrons and known collectors. Then 1929 came around, and the Great Depression hit the world. Like many industries during that time, the Swiss watch industry too received a death blow. Patek Philippe, whose finances started dwindling in the face of a depressed economy, was saved by the Stern brothers. Jean and Charles Henri Stern acquired a controlling stake in the company in 1932. Now, all they were looking for was a tentpole timepiece that could course-correct the brand’s future. Later in the same year, Calatrava was introduced and did just that. 

Patek Philippe Calatrava
David Penney was the genius behind the understated, elegant look of the Calatrava, inspired by the Bauhaus art of the early 20th century

David Penney was the genius behind the understated, elegant look of the Calatrava. While designing the watch, he took inspiration from the Bauhaus art that originated during the early 20th century in Germany. It’s an art form characterised by empirical aesthetics and adhered to the less is more approach. Subsequently, the original Calatrava, called the reference 96, was an understated, straightforward timepiece imbued in luxury and heritage, featuring no extra frills. 

It was a round gold watch, 31mm wide and only 9mm thick. It had a smooth polished bezel and an ivory dial featuring applied baton markers, dauphine hands, and a seconds subdial at six o’clock. The lugs were tapered allowing the watch to sit comfortably on the wrist. As the brand did not make its movements till then, reference 96 was powered by a mechanical calibre manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre. However, this quickly changed from 1934 onwards when Calatravas started housing an in-house developed movement called 12”’120.

From the addition of the date and moonphase complications in 1936 to the first automatic calibre in 1953 and the signature hobnail bezel in 1973, Calatrava evolved gracefully over the years while retaining its signature sophistication and opulence.

What Made Calatrava So Popular?

In trying to understand what caused Calatrava to become so popular and desirable, a number of reasons emerge. First, Calatrava stood out from all the other watches introduced in that era in terms of shape. While Cartier was playing big with the quadrilateral shape via Santos and Tank, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso carried a distinct rectangular form, and the Rolex Oyster sported a cushion case. Amidst these angular forms, Calatrava’s subtle rounded shape was not only unique but also manifested unrestrained versatility, unlike the rest.

Patek Philippe Calatrava
Calatrava, with its muted look, boasts singularity and exudes an unmistakable charm. In fact, the watch\'s understated appeal is one of the biggest reasons behind its unprecedented affluence

However, the case shape alone could not have created that kind of magic had it not been complemented by the timeless aesthetics of David Penney, constituting the second reason why Calatrava became so popular. The inception of Calatrava was preceded by the Art Deco period that brought about timepieces with elaborate designs and intricate decorations. Therefore, Calatrava with its muted look boasted singularity and exuded an unmistakable charm. In fact, Calatrava’s understated appeal is one of the biggest reasons behind its unprecedented affluence. Stripped of any unnecessary elements, Calatrava delivered sophisticated watchmaking to perfection.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Watch
The air of exclusivity and the Patek Philippe name count as significant grounds behind Calatrava’s success

Another significant ground behind Calatrava’s success was its fine pedigree. It was backed by the Patek Philippe name, which had stood for unparalleled precision and reliability in watchmaking since 1839. And finally, the air of exclusivity which has always surrounded the prestigious Patek Philippe watches. The limited supply of the watch in the market made it a premium timepiece, coveted by the crème de la crème of society. 

Today, Calatrava has encompassed everything from watches with intricately-designed dials to haute horology timepieces. Yet, irrespective of how different the look, material or size of a particular Calatrava may be, it still identifies with the timeless appeal and charm of the original. For 90 years, Calatrava has glorified Patek Philippe’s repertoire, consistently sought after by collectors and true patrons of the maison. And we are pretty sure that it’ll continue doing so for many more years to come. 

Happy Anniversary, Patek Philippe Calatrava


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