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Like Rolex, Patek Philippe is an independent brand, and so this storied Swiss watchmaker has carved an esoteric path through the thickets of horology to create what many argue are the very best watches in the world. "Best," of course, doesn’t mean perfect. Naysayers armed with a flimsy (and deeply ironic) anti-luxury ethos typically target the high prices and then have little left to say, because a Patek Phillipe watch — even if you don’t like the thing or what you presume it stands for — is an undeniably awesome piece of human ingenuity.
Patek Philippe's History
Established in 1839, the company now known as Patek Philippe was founded by Polish watchmakers Antoni Patek and (Czech-born) Franciszek Czapek. A few short years later, the two went separate ways, leading to Czapek & Cie. and Patek partnering with French watchmaker Adrien Philippe. And the rest is history.
Not really, of course. The company has since developed a vast collection that currently includes over 160 watches and over 50 in-house movements. Patek made watches for royalty in the 1800s and hyper-complicated masterpieces like the famous Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch. But this doesn't quite explain the brand's rise to its current lionized status. Under first Philippe Stern and subsequently his son and current president Thierry, the brand has thrived in the modern era. It's known for highly complex and elegant perpetual calendar watches, some of the finest finishing in the business — and, of course, the sporty and legendary Nautilus.
For an exhaustive list of all that’s on offer, we suggest ordering a hard copy of the Patek Philippe catalog. It is an elegant picture book that deserves a spot on any serious watch fan’s shelf. For those who are looking to navigate this dense collection without wading through the complex marketing rhetoric, we have assembled the following relatively stripped-down guide to get you well acquainted with Patek Philippe in short order.
Why Are Patek Philippe Watches So Expensive?
Patek is no ordinary watch brand. It's a darling of collectors for its approach to and execution of its craft, widely regarded as representing tradition and excellence in watchmaking — and it's deserving of this reputation. Call it art, if you will, but this kind of thing doesn't come cheap for a number of reasons (explaining exactly why watches can be so expensive can be tricky). While the sticker price of Patek Philippe watches start at five figures and goes (way) up from there, the brand isn't alone in its price segment.
The sticker price isn't what Patek watches are best known for. It's at auctions where you'll find the craziest watch prices, and two brands utterly dominate the scene: Rolex and Patek Philippe. The most expensive watch ever sold at auction is a Patek Philippe. The brand has a feverish following among collectors, but it's even broken into the mainstream consciousness thanks to, primarily, the coveted Nautilus as many celebrities' flex of choice.
Patek Philippe Watch Collections
Let’s first get our heads around the major categories within the Patek Philippe collection.
Nautilus: An icon of the 1970s that helped Patek Philippe enter the sports watch market in 1976.
Aquanaut: Brought out in 1997 as an affordable alternative to the Nautilus, these watches have become hard to come by, especially in steel.
Calatrava: Patek Philippe’s Bauhaus-inspired round dress watches, first released in the late 1920s. Typically simple and elegant, with time and date only, these blank canvases also get paved with diamonds.
Complications: Usually housing two or three complications (mechanical devices that do something other than telling the time), these watches range from clean and simple dials to deeply decorative ones.
Grand Complications: Within horology, a grand complication has several complications within one watch. There’s no hard line, but most folks agree that (excluding a date mechanism) three complications or more constitutes a grand complication.
Golden Ellipse: Originally issued in 1968, these truly unique oblong ultra-thin watches are available again in an updated larger size. Some of the most elegant time-only watches ever created.
Twenty~4: 36mm and smaller, round or square, mechanical or quartz, these are dress watches for women.
Some would say that Patek Philippe was playing catch up to Audemars Piguet’s groundbreaking Royal Oak when it hired acclaimed designer Gerald Genta in the 1970s, but the resulting watch, the Nautilus, went on to be a disco-era classic unto itself. Today the demand is so high that you’ll have to wiggle your way onto a long waitlist to get one.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711
Patek announced it was discontinuing its insanely popular 5711 in 2021, but not before it got this final farewell version with a green dial. Many consider it the perfect luxury sports watch at 40mm. The real deal is the steel, and it’s rarer than the gold versions with years-long waiting lists that often only regular customers can even join. The basic 5711 is the Nautilus model Patek riffs on the most, so we’ll be showing you more 40mm Nautilus models below.
- Case Diameter: 40mm
- Complications: date
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712
You can get a Nautilus in different precious metals, totally iced out (covered in diamonds) or with various combinations of complications — it wouldn't make sense to simply list every one of them here, but the 5712 is a good example of some of the variety to expect. This model is in steel with a moon phase and pointer date on one subdial, the seconds to another subdial, and a power reserve gauge all in an asymmetric but striking layout.
- Case Diameter: 40.5mm
- Complications: Moonphase, date, power reserve gauge
Patek Philippe Nautilus Dual Time 5990
Though sporty by nature, we did say that the Nautilus collection could get complicated and ritzy, didn't we? Only available in steel and rose gold, the 5990 is a true world traveler, with jumping local hour hand and Patek’s unique AM/PM indicators for both local and home time — with the complex flyback chronograph function thrown in just for the heck of it. The waiting list is long enough for you to save up the $100k+ you’ll need to hand over for it.
- Case Diameter: 40.5mm
Complications: Flyback chronograph, dual time, date, dual AM/PM indicators
Launched in 1997, the Aquanaut was Patek’s attempt to offer a more affordable sports watch. It is, however, an incredibly cool, water-ready watch that has a sportier edge than the Nautilus, largely due to the bold numerals and its iconic mid-century dial engraving (until they pave it with diamonds, that is).
Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5167
This is the most stripped-down Patek Philippe sports watch, and for those who think it doesn’t have enough going on, we suggest you get one on wrist and see if that doesn’t change your mind. The bezel is a subtle 16-sided affair, with brushed and polished casework that glimmers in steel and gold.
- Case Diameter: 40mm
- Complications: Date
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time 5164
Patek Phillipe’s clever dual time complication with the date on a handsome subdial and dual-AM/PM indicators takes the Aquanaut around the world without a hitch. It’s 0.8mm larger than its simpler cousin above and feels like a genuine sport watch.
- Case Diameter: 40.8mm
Complications: Dual time, jumping hour hand, dual AM/PM indicators
During the Great Depression, Patek launched the Calatrava as a Bauhaus-inspired solution to the draining bank accounts of America and Europe (very few folks were buying complicated wristwatches then). Like many solutions to hardship, the Calatrava broke the mold and set Patek Philippe ahead as a modern-thinking company. Today, these elegant watches defy the ages to appear as current as ever.
Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196
With a minimalist subdial for the running seconds hand and its refreshing lack of date window, the 5196 epitomizes the unadorned Bauhaus aesthetic that undergirds the Calatrava line. Running on a manually wound movement, the 37mm case harkens back to an era when watches were generally smaller, but the 5196 has a massive wrist presence.
- Case Diameter: 37mm
- Complications: N/A
Patek Philippe Calatrava “Clous de Paris” 6119
A larger diameter, hobnail-textured bezel and brushed dial together make this one of the most striking modern Calatrava models, showing that the line doesn't have to be purely conservative.
- Case Diameter: 39mm
Often featuring two or more complications (or non-time-telling devices), there are currently 36 individual models within this line from Patek Philippe. We direct you to their Complications Page to explore all of them, but we’ve selected some representative models that are sure to whet your appetite for these hand-made beauties.
Patek Philippe Complications 5396R
A clever layout, this automatic watch sneaks a 24-hour hand onto its subdial, while three separate apertures display day, date, and month.
- Case Diameter: 38.5mm
Complications: Moon phase, annual calendar, 24-hour hand
Patek Philippe Complications 5905
That this watch manages a flyback chronograph and an annual calendar function within a single watch is a testament to how efficient design can promote elegance to the forefront. Add in those gothic apertures across the top, and you’ve got perhaps the most symmetrical complicated watch of all time. In steel on a bracelet with a dazzling green dial makes it suddenly sporty, modern and one of the standout releases of 2021.
- Case Diameter: 42mm
- Complications: Chronograph, annual calendar, moon phase
Patek Philippe Complications Calatrava Pilot Travel Time 5524
Confusingly in the Complications and Calatrava collections simultaneously, this was an unexpected pilot's watch when it debuted a few years back. Soon sold out worldwide, Patek Philippe has been riffing on the design ever since.
- Case Diameter: 42mm (see the 7234 for the 37.5mm version)
- Complications: Dual time, date, dual AM/PM indicators
Patek Philippe Complications World Timer 5231
If the world’s cities aren’t enough for you, consider the world itself. With its Atlantic-centric hand-painted enamel map, this watch announces itself in a Transatlantic accent that might sound something like Cary Grant effortlessly wooing a beautiful dame on a plane.
- Case Diameter: 38.5mm
Complications: World timer (dual time function with world’s cities), date, AM/PM indication
With 36 current models, the Grand Complications are how Patek Philippe shows off. Including minute repeaters (chiming mechanical devices), tourbillons (rotating escapements), incredible celestial maps, and more, these watches are haute horlogerie personified. To see the entire current line of Grand Complications, visit this page, or simply peruse our selections below for a digestible taste.
Patek Philippe Grand Complications 5204
A prime example of the types of grand complication watches Patek Philippe is known for, the highly complex manually wound movement of the 5204 combines a split-second chronograph, perpetual calendar and moon phase. Equally impressive is that it all fits in a 40mm package and despite the density of information it offers it cleverly remains elegant and legible.
- Case Diameter: 40mm
- Complications: Split seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar, moonphase
Patek Philippe Grand Complications In-line Perpetual Calendar 5236
"In-Line," you see, because the day of the week, date and month are all displayed in a single aperture near 12 o'clock. This is yet another expression of elegant simplicity hiding an intense level of mechanical complication. Note that the date is "digital," in that it uses a separate disc for each digit.
- Case Diameter: 31.3mm
- Complications: Day, date, month, leap year, day/night indicator
Patek Philippe Grand Complications 6300G
Let’s get our heads around this mechanical marvel. Firstly, this is a reversible watch, which has its seemingly endless mechanisms displayed on two beautiful dials. Those complications include a strikework isolator indicator, a second time zone with AM/PM indicator, day, date (on both dials), month, leap-year cycle aperture, four-digit year display, and a 24-hour and minute subdial. To control all that from a single crown requires a crown position indication (R,A,H), which puts the watch into three separate setting modes. Price is available only on request.
- Case Diameter: 47mm
Complications: See above description
Golden Ellipse Collection
When these watches came out in 1968, there really wasn’t anything like them on the market. Ultra-thin, often paired with dripping gold bracelets reminiscent of an Antoni Gaudi cathedral, and able to jive with that era’s Armani and YSL suiting, the Golden Ellipse didn’t just depart from Patek Phillip’s aesthetic, but from that of all of horology. Reissued recently in an updated larger size, the Gold Ellipse has been warmly welcomed back into the Patek lineup.
Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse 5738
One model, two colorways — plus an artistic, hand-engraved enamel dial version for 2021.
- Case Diameter: 39.5mm
Back in 1998, Patek Philippe introduced this line of smaller, mostly jeweled watches. Especially in the bigger-is-better late 1990s, these were truly aimed at women, and remain so today. The largest is the round 7300 model at 36mm.
Also aimed at women, these smaller watches come in an assortment of elegant and traditionally feminine shapes, often encrusted with diamonds. These art-deco watches allow Patek Philippe to dip into its storied history, offering early 20th Century elegance in the digital era. Time telling plays second fiddle to the jewels throughout this lineup. Definitely not what she’ll be wearing to the gym. Sizes and prices vary.