Perpetual Satisfaction: The Patek Philipps Ref. 5940

It’s a staple of action films –the character who doesn’t get involved in the action, who won’t get drawn in, but who, at some point, has to show what he (or she) is made of, and proceeds to demonstrate that under the surface, there’s much, much more than meets the eye. It’s the kind of character that Harrison Ford’s made a career of playing; low key, substance-over-style, but once he goes into action, he leaves the competition in the dust.

If the Patek Philippe Ref. 5940 were an actor, he’d be Harrison Ford (in, you know, the good movies.) It’s a watch that almost entirely eschews any of the traits that over the last ten years seem to be thought necessary to garner attention or reflect credit on its manufacturer. It tells the time in no unusual fashion; it incorporates no innovative escapement; it doesn’t have so much as a smidge of silicon to call its own. And yet, there is something about it which, the longer you think about it, seems to make other watches –not all, but many –seem just slightly ridiculous, with their striving for effect and novelty for its own sake.

The problem with Patek, nowadays, is that it takes a bit more effort to appreciate them as watches than it used to, and this is because to a certain extent Patek Philippe is a victim of its own success. When you hear Patek Philippe mentioned today, it is very, very often in one context: that of price. The costs of Patek watches, always slightly aggressive relative to their competition –a memo from Tiffany’s in 1856 complained that in terms of price “Patek appears to lay it on rather heavy” but also complimented the quality of the watches. While it’s true that the watches of Patek Philippe have never been inexpensive, for the most part any discussions of price, at least among enthusiasts, collectors and aficionados has always focused at least in part on the reasons why Patek Philippe watches were expensive, and not on the question of cost for its own sake. Today, with both vintage and modern Patek Philippe watches the object of pursuit not only of private individuals but even investment firms organized specifically to speculate on market fluctuations in vintage watches, the sad side effect of the sheer financial and transactional side of Patek Philippe’s presence has tended to obscure the reasons why they were considered –and still are considered, by many –to be watches for which there are reasons that high prices are asked and paid.

We present, then, for your consideration, the Patek Philippe 5940. As we’ve already said it is in no way whatsoever a cutting edge watch. It does not trifle with high beat escapements, exotic materials, or unusual case designs; the dial fonts and arrangement of hands and subdials is not only very traditional but actually slightly anachronistic, and moreover, the movement, the calibre 240 Q, was launched in 1977 and is resolutely a movement of the old school—an extra-flat, micro-rotor automatic movement that was originally built as a base caliber for Patek’s selfwinding perpetual calendars.

It is a movement of no novelty at all. What it is, however, is a movement of an extremely high degree of excellence; it has the appeal of adherence to precise exposition of tradition in a formal art that one finds in a flawlessly executed Japanese tea ceremony. The movement is very flat –the base calibre 240 is only 2.53mm high and with the perpetual calendar works hidden, as tradition dictates, discretely under the dial, the movement is only 3.88mm thick. It is precisely in its execution of the most traditional forms of the art of Genevoise watchmaking that its appeal lies, and it is an object lesson in a certain kind of excellence which has become, in a watchmaking world seemingly obsessed with novelty for its own sake, and investment value on the other, increasingly rare. It’s all the more precious for being so. It is not a watch for one seeking attention or for someone in the first glow of appreciation for mechanical horology (for price, for one reason, and for its general approach, for another) but it is a watch whose intrinsic value as a work of peerless horological craft of a purely traditional school makes it something whose price should not be a consideration –it is in its value as a treasure house of a kind of watchmaking which is increasingly on the wane that it should be appreciated.

Price available on request from Patek Philippe. The reference 5940 Perpetual Calendar with calibre 240 Q is available in a cushion-shaped 18K yellow gold case, with interchangeable sapphire display or solid snap back 18k gold case backs. Water resistant to 30 meters.

Photos courtesy Patek Philippe website.

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