The 5208R-001 is a standout among Patek Philippe wristwatches of the twenty-first century; it exhausts superlatives. Even in an era of haute horlogerie that witnesses the routine arrival of outrageously complicated, expensive, and exclusive watches, Patek’s legendary “triple complication” remains breathtaking. A true milestone for the grande dame of high horology, the 5208 was the first wristwatch grande complication offered in series by the Geneva manufacture.
Traditionally, grande complication watches are defined as pocket watches or wristwatches that include at least a chronograph, a perpetual calendar, and a minute repeater. The 5208 includes all of the above – and more. The perpetual calendar employed is a unique aperture type equipped with instantaneous jumping action that takes effect precisely at midnight. This system ensures that once every four years, the day, date, month, and leap year phase indicator will jump simultaneously – and in a split-second – at 12am.
Moon phase and age can be read from a display at six o’clock with an accuracy of over 122 years between corrections.
For vintage character more than any practical reason, Patek fits a monopusher chronograph system rather than a standard double-action stopwatch. This is a nod to the grande complication pocket watches of antiquity – all of which would have employed a single pusher to start, stop, and reset their chronograph functions. Pusher feel is paramount, and crisp column wheel action ensures that the 5208 possesses the tactile qualities of the best mechanical chronographs.
And then there’s the minute repeater. Regardless of other functions, any Patek Philippe “chiming” complication is defined first and foremost by its on-demand repetition of the hours, quarters, and minutes after the quarter. All versions of the 5208 employ exquisitely black-polished strikers on commensurately specular gongs to ring with a stellar volume, tone, and sustain. Thanks to a centrifugal governor, the repeater chimes act with a paced and lyrical cadence rather than ringing like an alarm. Urban legend holds that Patek chief Thierry Stern tests the sonic qualities of every Patek repeater and personally approves outbound watches prior to delivery.
The original 5208P – in platinum – launched at Baselworld 2011 in what turned out to be a banner year for Patek Philippe complications. The same show witnessed the debuts of the Aquanaut Travel Time 5164A and 5270G Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. No matter; the 5208P was the firm’s star of Basel 2011.
Patek Philippe introduced that original 5208 to great acclaim, but excitement has never has translated to output volume. Annual production of the 5208 has amounted to a few dozen units at most, and that must be considered against the scope of Patek Philippe’s annual production of over 50,000 watches.
Several variations on the 5208 exist. As part of Patek’s biennial domination of the “Only Watch” charity event, a 5208T in piece unique titanium form delivered over 6.2 million Swiss francs. 2018 brought a new take on the triple complication in the form of the 5208R, a rose gold model that remains in production as of 2021.
By Patek Philippe standards, the 5208 is a large watch at 42mm in diameter and 15.1mm in thickness. All dimensions considered, the 5208 wears larger than the 42m Rolex Explorer II, and it cuts an unmistakable profile on any wrist. That’s said, the 5208’s sheer mass is tempered by the nuance and grace of its details. In profile, the 5208’s lugs are scalloped, concave, and skeletonized. Lug profiles taper to fine points The 5208’s bezel is concave in profile, and the skeletal lugs frame a narrow case band.
All 5208 deliveries are preceded by a mandatory application by the prospective owner and approval by the Stern family. Examples that appear on preowned markets offer rare opportunities to buy the watch without a trial by fire on Thierry Stern’s desk. Apparently, Stern himself has passed this bar since the Patek Philippe chief has been spotted wearing the 5208P at watch industry engagements. Depending on who you ask, Vladimir Putin may – or may not – have owned a 5208P at one point, but even the speculation on this matter reflects the monumental prominence and power of the kind of figures associated with this watch.
Each Patek Philippe 5208 includes the technically formidable caliber R CH 27 PS QI. This automatic movement was purpose-built for the 5208 series, and it includes a dazzling combination of 61 jewels and 719 parts in total.
A silicon hairspring hardens the movement against magnetic fields, and a silicon “Pulsomax” escapement improves both performance and the time intervals between mechanical overhauls. This technology, which was developed as part of the Patek Philippe “Advanced Research” series, is rare on Patek Philippe haute complication models. Combine the unique escapement, the silicon hairspring, six-position regulation, and Patek Philippe’s corporate “seal,” and the result is a suite of features that allow Patek to guarantee performance of at least -3/+2 seconds per day from the factory.
The use of automatic winding improves the daily practicality of a watch most collectors would be inclined to handle gingerly and with gloved hands. Despite retail prices between $900,000 and $1,000,000, all versions of the 5208 are designed to be used on the wrist rather than smothered in a safe.
While standard Patek Philippe watches include a blend of manual and mechanical finishing, the 5208 and similar flagship models receive additional handcraft process. All components are hand-finished including highlights such as black polished repeater strikers, an engine-turned guilloche micro rotor, broad côtes de Genève, and mirrored bevels or anglage. Wheels, screws, and posts are exhaustively detailed.
Any Patek Philippe 5208 represents the apex of haut de gamme watchmaking and the ultimate addition to any collection. More than a trophy, this 5208R represents a wearable investment. It’s the wrist borne equivalent of a 2004 Porsche Carrera GT parked in the garage and a Peter Paul Reubens hanging on the living room wall. It is an extraordinarily usable and robust high complication for daily enjoyment.