Watches: A wristwatch for the price of a car, CAR+ February 2016

Published: 20 January 2016

► The dizzyingly expensive world of Patek Philippe watches
► Nautilus range is 40 this year; and the Calatrava is 83
► New 'controversial' Pilot Travel Time rocks in at over £30k 

Patek Philippe doesn’t feature often enough on this page. That’s mainly down to money. Watches whose prices start at £16k and spiral into the stratosphere risk deterring readers who (rightly) find a Casio perfectly adequate, and barely tolerate the presence of watches in a car magazine. But Pateks really are the Rolls-Royce of watches. Their value doesn’t lie in their function, but in their utter perfection and in the months of handwork that goes into each. If you could hold one, you’d get it. My prose can’t capture their appeal, but let me try to part you from your pension fund anyway.

Calatrava 5296: £17,750

The essential Patek

Patek is 177 years old. The Calatrava range has been around for 83 of those, and is now at the heart of the brand, as a 911 is to Porsche. These are simple, round-dialled watches, moderately sized, with only a few variations on seconds and date, or none at all. You might wonder how Patek can charge what it does for such minimalist watches, until you find out that they’re all cased in precious metals, or you just pick one up and feel it.

Nautilus 5711: £16,340

40 this year; still cool

Launched in 1976 and the work of Gerald Genta, the watch world’s Pininfarina, the Nautilus is now a range of steel or gold ‘sports watches’, although you’re unlikely to wear yours when downhill mountain-biking. It can be had with a range of complications, but this simple time-and-date version with the original graduated blue-black dial is arguably still the one to have. Leather straps are available, but the super-solid metal bracelet is part of the appeal.

Calatrava Pilot Travel Time: £31,320

A ‘controversial’ Patek

Patek Philippe is on a par with the Vatican for rate of change, so the launch of this watch last year was an earthquake in its usually serene world. It’s a 1930s-retro-styled, dual-time-zone pilot’s watch of the kind that more fashion-conscious Swiss watchmakers like IWC and Zenith use to pull in younger customers. Devotees couldn’t decide whether Patek was selling out or moving with the times. Might it tempt you to part with the price of a Mercedes?

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features