Patek Philippe is one of the most celebrated brands in the history of watchmaking, but among its vast catalog of complications stand only a select number of long-running series. Among those we’ve covered in “Vintage Eye” are the Nautilus, Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, and Calatrava, yet a few notable collections remain. Among them are the Golden Ellipse — with vintage models more commonly known as just the Ellipse — a series released in 1968 and meant to champion the concepts of simple elegance and perfect proportionality (vintage 1970 model pictured below, via Christie’s).
The Ellipse was influenced in its development by the “golden ratio” sometimes seen in geometric relationships. As a result, it has long been marketed as a piece in the same vein of mathematical thinking as ancient Greek architecture, the Pyramids of Giza, and the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and Salvador Dali, all of which have featured the ratio. Today the principle is most commonly associated with the Fibonacci spiral (or “golden spiral”) and its natural approximations as observed in the shape of galactic spiraling and nautilus shells (as in the sea creature, not the Patek Philippe watch). Truth be told, I am not a mathematician and have yet to find a good source to explain how exactly this property relates to the proportions of the Golden Ellipse watch, but it’s a historic model nonetheless and certainly significant in the canon of the famed Swiss watchmaker.
The modern Golden Ellipse is offered by the brand with a sunburst blue dial and platinum case (Ref. 5738P), and with a sunburst ebony dial in rose gold (5738R), with the latter released last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the series. The polished case of this dress watch is an ovular shape, 34.5 mm across by 39.5 mm top to bottom, and wears tight to the wrist at 5.9 mm in height. It uses a subtly integrated bracelet and hidden, overlapping lugs, with a small, elegant crown coming from its side. The two sunburst dials both use an 18k gold baseplate, topped with minimalist, applied gold rectangular hour markers and simple stick hour and minute hands. In typical fashion for the brand, there is an understand white printed “Patek Philippe” and “Genève” scripts at the top of the dial, and a small “Swiss” notation at its bottom.
Inside the Golden Ellipse is the automatic manufacture Caliber 240, a gorgeous movement fitted with a solid gold micro-rotor, 27 pink jewels, Geneva stripes, and the prized Patek Philippe Seal. The thin caliber is capable of a 42-hour power reserve, and despite its elegance is hidden behind an unadorned, brushed caseback. Each of the models is offered with a pair of matching gold cuff links, with the rose-gold version marketed by the brand at $30,850 and the platinum at $50,460.
After the Calatrava, first released in 1932, the Golden Ellipse is the second oldest continuous collection in Patek Philippe’s modern catalog, and like the Calatrava, the Ellipse watch has seen changes and diversification over its years in existence. At the watch’s peak in the late 1970s, there were 65 different Ellipse models in various shape, sizes, complication, and materials. Yet, through that era and right up to the modern models, the underlying essential form of the watch has persisted. In today’s design, we can see the heritage of the vintage models in the shape and proportion of the case, the hidden lugs overlapping the band, and the classic dial configuration with the applied rectangular markers and stick hands. There’s also the continued use of Caliber 240, a movement that debuted in 1977 on the first automatic Ellipse, the Ref. 3738. Although the movement has seen subtle improvements since its release, it uses the same micro-rotor design and emphasizes thinness to elevate the overall appeal of the watch in its segment.
Differences between the modern and vintage variants of the Ellipse watch are also apparent, seen foremost in the modern finishing and construction quality presented in today’s references — as in the vibrancy of the sunburst dial and sturdy precision-build of the case. The materials and coloration of the two contemporary models are also quite different from the deep blue dial and yellow-gold case the original Ellipse was known for, as is the more prominent modern crown compared to the rounded vintage version. Finally, as is common in almost all historical watches still produced today, the modern Golden Ellipse uses the contemporary “jumbo” sizing introduced in 2008 rather than the 33-mm standard sizing used on many models in the past.
At the time of its release, more than 50 years ago, the Ellipse’s ovular case shape was uncommon in the watch market, and this distinctiveness helped the model quickly found itself a cult following. It was a historically significant design that pushed the market, and less than 10 years later, in 1977, Patek presented another horological milestone within the Ellipse case: the superb Caliber 240, a movement produced during the growing threat presented by quartz watches to traditional watchmaking. Today — likely due to the style established by this Patek Philippe watch years ago — the ovular shape is more common in the luxury market, as are mechanical micro-rotor movements, but for many consumers none can compete with the appealing simplicity and historical pedigree of the Golden Ellipse.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Weiss 38-mm Standard Issue Field Watch with its historical influences, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.