Today modern, digital devices have basically rendered the mechanical chronograph obsolete. However, nothing can take away the fact that mechanical chronographs are incredibly complex pieces of machinery with hundreds of tiny parts operating in perfect synchrony.
There is something truly special about a hand-finished, manually-wound, in-house chronograph. We are not talking about the Rolex Daytona or the Audemars Piguet 26331. We are talking things up a notch, entering the pinnacle of luxury chronographs into the spectrum of high horology.
One must understand that a well-made chronograph is very difficult to perfect. This is also one of the main reasons why even brands like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin did not invest in a manually wound chronograph prior to the 2000s. Investing in R&D and manufacturing in a very difficult complication like the chronograph is deemed unnecessary as the market is highly limited. With Valjoux and Lemania readily available and proven to be one of the best chronograph base calibre in the market, there isn’t a need or demand for an in-house chronograph. Therefore, most of the chronographs produced by brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex and Audemars Piguet are all based on movements that are used by lower-tier brands such as Tag Heuer and Omega as well. The difference boils down to finishing and heavy modifications.
Where dress chronographs are concerned, few in the modern era are more distinguished than the Patek Philippe Ref. 5170. The Ref. 5170 is somewhat of an icon in itself and is a fine example of what Patek Philippe does best: timeless timepieces.
Since its inception in 2010, Ref. 5170 has seen numerous variants introduced, all of which have been well-received by the watch community. In 2017, Patek Philippe introduces yet another variant to their simple dress chronograph reference: the Ref. 5170P-001.
Examining the 5170
The 5170 we have here today is in pristine unworn condition. The previous owner has a few different variants of the 5170 but this specific Platinum anniversary model has always been a safe queen.
“It’s too exquisite for me to wear it, but the 5170P is definitely a masterpiece for any collector to enjoy.” the previous owner mentioned.
Well, the temptation to resist must be huge. Just look at this beauty.
As compared to its sibling, 5070, the 5170 in my opinion is the perfect size chronograph ever. The case of Ref. 5170P measures an elegant 39.4 mm in diameter and 10.5 mm in thickness. It sits right in the sweet spot of sizing and sits beautifully on the wrist with a profile svelte enough to wear both as a dress and sports watch. The design of the case combines utilitarian with an immaculately polished surface. It employs a generously sloped bezel that will ensure sliding underneath a dress cuff or tight sleeve is a simple task for all occasions. The rectangular pushers allow for comfortable and gratifying actuation of the chronograph functions. Finished in a simple yet striking manner, the pushers are brushed on the sides and polished on top for an alluring contrast.
When Patek Philippe gets a dial or its features just right, their work is in my opinion right at the top of the industry with the exception of some independent watchmakers. The graduated blue sunburst dial of the 5170P that graduates towards black at the periphery has to be seen in person to be appreciated. The perfect combo of colour gradation, sunburst texture, and grooved subdials with a touch of visual interest makes for a perfect combination. Same as previous iterations of the 5170, the watch has a chronograph layout with small seconds at 9 o’clock and the chronograph minute counter at 3 o’clock.
Instead of a normally printed chronograph seconds scale with or without a pulsometer scale, the 5170P dial opts for a tachymeter scale. One of the biggest highlights is the applied baguette-cut diamond hour markers. As with the limited editions for the fortieth anniversary of the Nautilus, on the 5170P Patek Philippe has combined a dark blue dial with baton-shaped baguette-cut diamond hour markers.
The visual pop is remarkable. The inclusion of diamonds is not in an offensive or vulgar manner. To be frank, most Patek diamond watches are not. Under most light conditions the diamonds hour markers are so subtle that they look like highly polished metal markers that match the brilliance of the platinum case. Credits to Patek Philippe for incorporating diamonds into the design of a timepiece in a manner that is as discreet as it is tasteful.
Another distinctive design feature on the dial is the whitened Feuille minutes as well as centre seconds hands for the chronograph, designed to distinguish them from the other hands associated with time-telling and to improve legibility. Patek Philippe decided to go for lume, dauphine hands in the new Ref. 5170P.
Unprecedented in Patek Philippe’s history of dress chronographs, all of the above factors result in what is actually the most sporty and contemporary 5170 to date.
Well decorated and dramatic movement is music to many horology aficionados’ ears. It’s been 22 years since the introduction of Patek’s first in-house Caliber 29-535 PS chronograph movement, which replaced the iconic Lémania-based movements. This attractive, robust, and well-conceived calibre is one to go down in the Patek Hall of fame.
Steady technical improvement from classical constructs is a Patek Philippe hallmark. Attention to detail for seemingly arcane parts like the gear tooth profiles, lever geometries, and even the functional design of the column wheel cap has resulted in a chronograph movement that is an absolute joy to operate. The pusher’s feel on any 5170 is progressive and there is no noticeable jitter in the start-up of the chronograph.
The 269-part, 33-jewel Calibre CH 29-535 PS is a manually-wound movement, featuring the iconic signature Gyromax balance. It has a power reserve of 65 hours while operating at a modern 4 Hz beat rate.
The Ref. 5170 collection was the first men’s watch to feature the Caliber 29-535 PS movement, followed by the flagship perpetual calendar chronograph Ref. 5270 the year after. Building an in-house chronograph movement with modern features and better performance was a long time coming for the manufacturer. The Calibre CH 29-535 PS is a column wheel, lateral clutch system and thus offers an aesthetically pleasing, architectural view through the case back.
As to Patek Philippe standard, the finishing on the movement is exquisite with polished chamfers on all edges, a black-polished column wheel cap, the symbolic Côtes de Genève on the bridges, circular graining on the wheels, and numerous other finishes applied on parts visible or hidden.
The design of this 5170 comes off as a coherent exercise by Patek Philippe in creating a sporty yet dressy chronograph. While this 5170P looks great in the display case, the dial shines brightly on the wrist in a variety of lighting conditions. It’s will be a joy to pull up your sleeve as you move from place to place to see the 5170 exhibiting different personalities under different lighting. In bright light, it takes on a metallic bright blue shimmer. Whereas in low/darker lighting it can appear to be almost black. In natural light, you will get the dark-blue to black transition that is absolutely mindblowing.
When speaking of high-end, manually-wound chronographs, one cannot do without mentioning the popular competitors such as A. Lange & Söhne or Vacheron. When high-end, in-house chronographs were virtually non-existent, great watchmakers turn the world of watchmaking upside down by presenting a high-end, in-house chronograph. When I look at the 5170, the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph came to my mind. Anyone considering the 5170 could possibly be looking at the Lange as well. But there is no comparison between these two name brands for any serious collectors. At the end of the day, it comes down to taste and preferences within your collection. If you just want an extremely well-made dress chronograph at a decent price point, 1815 is a fantastic pickup. However, if you are looking for a commemorative, unique and exquisite chronograph that has the edge in terms of aesthetics, the 5170P is one you should not miss.
Based on historical price data from auction houses and transacted sales history in the secondary market, the projected growth per annum for the 5170P is estimated to be around 7%. With collectable dress watches picking up in the secondary market, we could see the value of iconic timepieces such as this 5170P accelerating in the future.