I think it would be easy to create a list of 10 iconic Patek Philippe watches. In fact, I think I could easily do a lot more than ten. However, my aim here is to create a Top 10 composed of vintage and (relatively) modern icons. And today, I will add a second to my list of icons.
I think it would also be easy for me to be judged as including only watches that I own. I started off this process with the Ref. 3700A. I do not own that specific icon. Nor do I own a number of watches that will subsequently appear on my Top 10 Icon list.
Yes, there are collectors out there who can’t see beyond what they own themselves. I don’t think my history on this blog-site suggests I am that type of collector. However, the watch that I will write about this week is, in my view, a Top 10 iconic watch. And yes, I do own it. The Ref. 5070P.
Yes, I do own one. And it is still an icon!
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5070 chronograph is something of an enigma. The 5070J was produced for around 3 years. The 5070G and 5070R were both produced for around 5 years. Each metal, yellow, white and rose, was produced with a maximum of 250 per metal per year. Consequently, around 1000-1250 exist each in white and rose gold. Between 500-750 exist in yellow gold. However, the 5070P was produced for just one year (2009) before production was stopped. At most, 250 examples of the 5070P exist. This makes the 5070P perhaps one of the rarest regular production watches ever made by Patek Philippe.
Since 2009, its status as an icon has not only persisted but has increased. Across the entire history of Patek Philippe watches, nothing really looks like a Ref. 5070. It is instantly recognisable with a very distinct personality. This is one of the factors that sways me to include it as an icon.
White, rose or yellow metals all have their appeal. However, it is the platinum version that is clearly the rock star of the four. It is 5070P that is the show-stopper. When Patek Philippe describe the 5070 as an “instant classic’, it was, in retrospect, the one year production of the 5070P that catapulted the reference into this category.
One of the feature articles in the Patek Philippe magazine (Vol. IV, Number 7) focuses on the Ref. 5070. The watch celebrates its 22nd anniversary from the first release of the yellow gold Ref. 5070J in 1998. Patek Philippe themselves describe the reference as an icon. For me, the 5070 is a highly desirable reference but the iconic status is something that is reserved solely for the 5070P. Why is the 5070P an icon? There are some obvious answers to this question. However, there are also some more subtle factors that also go a long way to explaining why the Ref. 5070P is a modern day super-grail.
Heritage and DNA
Heritage plays a big part. Patek Philippe made their reputation by making the very finest complicated watches. From perpetual calendar chronographs to self-winding perpetuals, Patek Philippe were the vanguard in high end complications. So, to own a complicated watch by Patek Philippe is something special. Yet, when it comes to the manual wind chronograph, until the Ref. 5070 was made, the last time Patek Philippe made a manual chronograph was in the late 1960s, with the Ref. 1463. Over 30 years passed without a simple chronograph in the Patek Philippe list. So, when the Ref. 5070 was announced, there was definitely some pent-up demand for it.
The Ref. 5070 was conceived from a unique reference that currently sits in the Patek Philippe museum – the Ref. 2512. This watch is a one-off legend, sitting at 46.2mm in diameter, yellow gold arabic numerals and black lacquered dial. When compared side-by-side, the bloodline from the 2512 to the 5070 is unmistakable. Like thoroughbred racehorses, bloodline means a lot within Patek Philippe. The Ref. 2512 obviously means a lot to Patek Philippe too as it is this reference that also inspired the current Calatrava novelty Ref. 5212.
The case design of the 5070 comes directly from the Ref. 2512 and is, perhaps, its most overt display of Patek Philippe DNA. The multi-stepped case frames the dial perfectly. It also does something else. The stepped design allows a 42mm watch to sit very comfortably on the wrist. Typically, I find 40mm as the perfect fit for my wrist. Yet, the case and lug design of the Ref. 5070 allows it to sit quite comfortably for me. Many owners have said exactly the same.
The stepped nature of the case makes it instantly recognisable
Another crucial factor concerning the case design of the 5070 is that essentially no other Patek Philippe looks like the 5070. It has a unique place because of this. How much does this affect its iconic status? I would actually argue that it is a very big part. An art dealer friend of mine once gave some advice on collecting art. He gave three rules. First, make sure that the artist is iconic. Second, make sure that the piece of art has characteristics that make it immediately recognisable. And finally, make sure that the artist is dead (he was not suggesting murder, by the way). The 5070 fits these rules very well.
That blue dial of the 5070P
With no disrespect to the other dial variations, the blue on the platinum is spectacular. It creates a contrast with the white metal of the case in a way that few watches have achieved. I see platinum cases with blue dials as Patek Philippe presenting their most prestigious watches. And with the 5070P, it worked in a way that has, in my opinion, yet to be eclipsed.
The dial of the Ref. 5070P has so many hues of blue. It can move from almost black in nature to a most vibrant light blue depending on the natural light available. It is sublime.
The Factor X Effect
Lets be honest….the Mona Lisa is not that great a painting. Technically, it is a long way from perfect. Nor is Mona, herself, especially attractive. However, it has two things going for it that make it priceless. First, Leonardo is widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of all-time. Second, within the imperfections of the painting, the Mona Lisa “has something”. There is a Factor X about her. Nobody is saying that it is the most beautiful or technically perfect painting, but the confluence of factors that led to Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa led to it becoming plausibly the most valuable painting in the world. The 5070P has something of the Mona Lisa about it. It “has something”. Collectors the world over recognise it.
Rarity is an odd concept. When something has both limited supply AND significant demand, then that’s when the relative concept of rarity comes into play. In this relative concept of rarity, the 5070P lives in rarefied air. No more than 250 exist. Many believe that the actual production number is between 150-200.
To put this into context, the Ref. 1518 and Ref. 2499 perpetual calendar chronographs saw 281 and 349 made respectively. The Ref. 1526 perpetual calendar saw 210 made, while the self-winding 3448 perpetual calendar was at 586. These are all Patek Philippe legends. Every single one has now seen auction prices top $1m for a variant of one of these legends. And yet, there are plausibly fewer 5070Ps than any of them.
A certain body of collectors see it as of paramount importance for a movement to be in-house. When I mention that the iconic Ref. 1518 did not have an in-house movement and that it used a Valjoux Caliber 13 or that the Ref. 2499 also had the same Valjoux-based movement, there is usually an ensuing confused silence.
Patek Philippe with Valjoux movements? They certainly don’t make them any more!! So, the 5070 comes with the Nouvelle Lemania movement. In fact, with the 5070P and 5970P, these two references were the last to see the Nouvelle Lemania movement in a Patek Philippe. Patek Philippe with Nouvelle Lemania movements? They certainly don’t make them anymore!!
Just like the Valjoux Caliber 13, Patek Philippe will never again use a beautifully decorated Nouvelle Lemania movement. That adds something of significance to how unusual the Ref. 5070P is. Rather than being a flaw, the Nouvelle Lemania movement that powers the Ref. 5070 is actually a very significant attractor.
The layout of the dial has the two sub-dials perfectly aligned with the 3-9 axis. It is a personal preference but I think the dial layout benefits greatly from this. However, to create a perfect cohesion with the size of the movement, Patek Philippe used a tachymetre scale around the circumference of the dial. This choice helps the balance of the dial enormously. However, in doing so it also creates a problem insofar as the sub-dials eat into the applied numerals (2, 4, 8 and 10). For me, the perfect Ref. 5070 would not have had this feature. Having said that, the flaw is also quite a lovable flaw.
Why is the Ref. 5070P such a classic?
I hear collectors say things like “If it wasn’t for the fact that so few were made, the 5070P would not be so desirable.” Well, err…. yes. The fact is, so few were made.
The fact is, it is a manual wind chronograph in platinum with a killer blue dial – a combination Patek Philippe reserves for its most special watches.
Fact is, it has a beautifully decorated Nouvelle Lemania movement that will never appear again in future Patek Philippe watches.
And yes, the fact is that the 5070P case is stunningly different to virtually any other watch in Patek Philippe history, and has its DNA directly handed down from a unique reference that is currently in the Patek Philippe museum.
From the moment that the 5070P appeared for sale, it was sold out….it was a rock star from the start. It was one of those rare occasions when a watch was immediately labelled as iconic and subsequent history has proven that to be the case. So, alongside the Ref. 3700A, the Ref. 5070P becomes the second watch in my iconic list.