The Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is designed to be the ideal travelers’ companion. Can this new model – inspired by lesser-known Patek Philippe pilot watches – meet the claim? We explore the watch in this in-depth test from our October 2019 issue. Original photos are by Patrick Mokesch.
Patek Philippe has reinvented an aspect of itself with the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. When the Geneva-based company introduced the first model in white gold in 2015, it was met with great excitement. As a unique specimen that differs from the highly desirable sporty models in its Nautilus and Aquanaut collections, Patek is known primarily for its classical designs. Now a traditional brand like Patek Philippe can find inspiration from its own rich history without creating something entirely new. The Calatrava Pilot Travel Time traces its origins from a lesser-known part of the company’s history – its own pilots’ watches. The Ref. 5524R recalls the design of vintage Patek Philippe pilots’ watches from the 1930s with its bold luminescent numerals and hands.
Unlike the white-gold version with its matte blue dial and light-colored case, which gives the watch a decidedly sporty look, the 2018 rose-gold model emphasizes elegance – supported by the warm tone of the case, the sunburst finish on the dial and its gradual tonal change from brown to black, plus other details like applied rose-gold numerals with luminescent coating and a rose-gold prong buckle. In combination, these features present a unique and elegant pilots’ watch. Vintage-inspired numerals and two crown-like pushers on the left side provide added character and show that this timepiece offers an extra function – in this case, an easy-to-use second time zone.
This so-called “GMT” function is very often found in watches, usually with a dedicated 24-hour hand that is adjusted in hourly increments via the crown. If you can adjust a 12-hour hand independently, it proves to be more practical for travel. But this means pulling the crown out to the appropriate position, which isn’t always so easy. If you pull the crown out to the wrong position, you may end up changing the minute hand by mistake and losing the correct time. And, the hand for the second time zone may often only be able to be adjusted forward. If, for example, you are traveling to the next time zone to the west, you would have to move the hour hand 23 hours ahead, which would cause the date to advance, which must then also be corrected by advancing it 30 days.
Time Zone Setting
Patek Philippe has found a solution to these problems. Essentially, this involves the Travel Time’s two pushers, which allow the local time to be adjusted in two directions, and the two day/night indicators on the dial that enable both times to be read intuitively in a 12-hour format. Also, the date advances in both directions when the local time is set so that no correction is needed here either. Again, like our example above, if traveling to the next time zone to the west, pressing the upper pusher once will show both times correctly as well as the date. In contrast to a 24-hour hand for the home time, Patek Philippe uses two 12-hour hands, with the advantage of being able to “hide” the second hand when not traveling, thus making the dial tidier and even easier to read.
This isn’t the first time this movement has been used with this function – it has powered classic Calatrava models and been used in the Aquanaut and in the Nautilus in combination with a chronograph. Now for the first time, Patek Philippe has equipped the Calatrava Pilot with a system designed to prevent accidental adjustment of the time zone. The corrective pushers can be locked in position by turning them one-quarter clockwise. A one-quarter counterclockwise turn releases them for use – a cool feature that bestows the pushers with their mysterious aura. There’s a low risk of activating the pushers in an unlocked position, especially since a gold watch is not generally subjected to hard use. If the quarter-turn is too complicated, it is also entirely possible to leave the pushers in the unlocked position.
But pressing the pushers and the bayonet-type lock has a pleasant feel and can hardly be seen as uncomfortable or difficult. Both are easy to use and work smoothly. The pushers have a good pressure point so it is easy to tell when the hand has advanced, even without looking at the dial. Patek Philippe supplies a special stylus for adjusting the date at a recessed button. We find it better to set the date using the pusher for the local time. This may take longer but eliminates the risk of scratching the gold case with the stylus.
The crown simplifies the operation by having only one pulled position. Unfortunately, the Travel Time does not have a hack mechanism for more accurate setting of the time. Patek Philippe has added this practical function to its newer movements – it’s too bad there’s not one here since the hands that indicate the time are so easy to read. High contrast and a generous amount of luminescent coating on the hour and minutes hands and the numerical hour markers ensure optimal legibility. Both day/night indicators are clearly labeled and are easy to recognize by color: dark blue for night and white for day.
There’s also plenty to see on the back, thanks to the transparent sapphire caseback. The in-house movement 324 S C FUS with self-winding mechanism sports a gold oscillating weight with circular graining. The bridges are decorated with a côtes de Genève finish and beveled and polished edges. The screw heads are carefully polished in-house by Patek Philippe. This is yet another indication of why Patek Philippe watches demand such high prices – there’s an impressive degree of handcrafting and manual finishing in each timepiece.
Here are some highlights and innovations: the Spiromax hairspring is made of Silinvar, which is derived from temperature-resistant silicon with an oxidized outer layer. This allows the hairspring to remain virtually impervious to temperatures between -10 and +60° Celsius, produced using a photolithographic process on wafer-like integrated circuitry. We were given the opportunity to test this extremely sturdy spring. Unlike a metal spring, it can be pulled far out of its original shape, but still consistently return to its original form. Impacts also have little effect. Only by pulling the spring almost completely straight with tweezers did it finally break into many pieces.
That the base movement itself is from an earlier generation can be seen from the relatively low power reserve of 35 to 45 hours. For some time now, Patek Philippe has relied on the Gyromax balance and fine regulation via poising weights, which allows the hairspring to expand and contract freely for improved results. The Patek Philippe Seal sets standards for decoration as well as strict specifications for rate accuracy. These watches must show average rate results of -3 to +2 seconds per day. Their watchmakers adjust the watches in all six positions, which is rare in the industry. On the timing machine, the Calatrava Pilot showed a superior average rate of +1.5 seconds per day. The maximum deviation between the various positions, at 8 seconds, is only average.
But the quality of finishing of the case, dial, hands and strap is exceptional in every way. Close inspection, even when using a watchmaker’s loupe, reveals flawlessly polished surfaces on the case, a fine sunburst finish on the dial and a perfectly stitched calfskin strap that wraps around the wrist very comfortably. Although at 42 mm, the diameter of the case is large for Patek Philippe, it sits nicely on the wrist. The prong buckle matches the pilots’ watch scheme, is nice and flat when fastened, and is easy to use. Generally, we prefer a prong buckle of this type to most folding clasps, which often either press into the arm or are difficult to operate.
A less exciting feature of the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is its price of $49,560, but this is still within the normal range for a gold Patek Philippe watch with complications. For this price, the buyer can be assured of superior finishing and excellent value. Even though the Calatrava Pilot does not achieve the same aftermarket prices as the steel Aquanaut Travel Time (which can reach almost double the new purchase price), there is no immediate 30-percent depreciation that one may see with other brands.
Our test watch convinced us in every way – with its attractive, easily recognizable and slightly sporty design, the practical and easy-to-use second time zone with ingenious lock-down pushers, plus its superb execution and finishing in every last detail. There are no notable weaknesses, and for travel, it proves itself to be simple to use and easy to read. The price is appropriate and is justified by retaining its high value. The Calatrava Pilot Travel Time can be recommended as an excellent travel watch, and not just for air travel alone.
Manufacturer: Patek Philippe SA, Chemin du Pont-du-Centenaire 141, 1228 Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland
Reference number: 5524R
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, second time zone, day/night display for home and local time, pointer date
Movement: In-house movement 324 S C FUS, automatic, 28,800 vph, 29 jewels, quick-set date via recessed push button, poising weights on Gyromax balance wheel, Spiromax hairspring (Silinvar), Incabloc shock absorber, column wheel, diameter = 31 mm, height = 4.9 mm, 35-to-45-hour power reserve
Case: Rose gold, flat sapphire crystal without anti-glare treatment, fully threaded caseback with sapphire crystal viewing window, water resistant to 60 meters
Strap and clasp: Calfskin strap with rose-gold prong buckle
Rate results (Deviation in seconds per 24 hours):
Dial up +6
Dial down +2
Crown up 0
Crown down +1
Crown left +2
Crown right -2
Greatest deviation 8
Average deviation +1.5
Flat positions 276°
Hanging positions 249°
Dimensions: Diameter = 42 mm, height = 10.8 mm, weight = 152 g
Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): Beautifully stitched calfskin strap with high-quality pronged buckle 9
Operation (5): The crown and pushers are easy to use. A stylus is provided for the recessed date pusher. 4
Case (10): Flawlessly polished surfaces and cleanly locking pushers 9
Design (15): Patek Philippe is forging a new path with this sporty pilots’ watch design. 14
Legibility (5): Easy to read thanks to good contrast and generous luminescent coating. 5
Wearing comfort (10): Case, strap and buckle all fit very comfortably on the wrist. 10
Movement (20): Excellent decorations, fine regulator and patented silicon hairspring, but no hack mechanism. 18
Rate results (10): Adjusted in six positions, low deviation in plus range, but notable difference between the various positions. 7
Overall value (15): Expensive, but offers a lot for the price. Excellent value retention. 13
Total: 89 POINTS