The 5204R is a split seconds (rattrapante) chronograph with perpetual calendary; a combination of complications that puts it just one chiming complication away from being a bona fide grand complication watch (traditionally the term “grand complication” meant the combination of a rattrapante chronograph, a minute repeater, and a perpetual calendar). The 5204R is the red-gold version of the original, platinum 5204, which was introduced in 2012; that watch was, in turn, the successor to the reference 5004 perpetual calendar rattrapante, which was introduced in 1996 and which Patek made only in very small numbers every year (the last 50 were made in stainless steel, priced at CHF 270,000, and sold out basically immediately, as we reported here).
As we’ve said, the great thing about the 5204R is that it’s a reminder of why Patek enjoys the reputation that it does – but why does it do that? I think it has a lot do do with, of course, the classicism and restraint in the design. There is absolutely nothing about any aspect of the design of the watch that seems to want to call attention to itself; no extraneous decorative flourishes, no engraving, gem-setting, or enameling; nothing exotic or unusual about the case shape, or numerals – indeed, nothing at all other than an overall impression of good, solid quality that is certainly without compromise, but also (the cost of the watch notwithstanding) without ostentation either. (I suppose if you wanted to, you could object to the lume on the hands; perhaps we can thank Patek Philippe for understanding the mindset of watch enthusiasts in giving us something to object to.)
The movement – Patek Philippe caliber CHR 29-535 PS Q – has the traditional, jewel-like finish typical of high end Genevan watchmaking for the last couple of centuries, but it somehow manages to avoid seeming as if it’s striving for effect as well. Amazingly enough, there is overall a feeling of sobriety to the watch, even a slight somberness, which gives the 5204 a kind of gravity that conveys exactly the kind of seriousness and attention to the business at hand you might expect from an expert lawyer or physician.
Handling the reference 5204R is rather like visiting a great cultural institution – a great museum, or going to the opera on opening night. I can’t blame Patek Philippe at all for trying, in the last few years, to expand its design repertoire; after all, to become completely static, is to become a museum of watchmaking rather than a watchmaker. At the same time, though, the 5204R is, I think, as compelling as it is because it reminds us that in a funny way, luxury watchmaking is maybe at its most satisfying when it’s not overtly luxurious. The 5204R is a reminder that the sort of luxury that takes making overt beauty as its stock in trade – something the Italians or the French historically have done as a matter of course – is not really a Swiss characteristic. What is uniquely Swiss, however, is this combination of the inherent luxury of materials (is there anything more Swiss than unadorned gold in simple geometric shapes?) and the luxury of precision mechanics taken to the furthest possible extreme. I think that’s what makes the 5204 so much a true Swiss watch – and so much a watch that stands for what, at its best, Patek Philippe means to watchmaking.
The Patek Philippe Reference 5204 R. Movement, hand-wound caliber CHR 29-535 PS Q, split seconds perpetual calendar chronograph. 32 mm diameter, height 8.7 mm, running in 24 jewels. 28,800 vph, Gyromax balance with Patek Philippe seal, maximum power reserve 65 hours with chronograph off, 55 on. Case, 40 mm in rose gold, 30 m water resistance; gold dial with opaline finish. More here from Patek Philippe; price $283,500.
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