Patek Philippe Pilot’s Watch – Flop?

Patek Philippe Pilot's watch

The Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is a product of an extremely conservative segment in an extremely conservative industry. Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron, Jaeger-leCoultre, Piaget, IWC – luxury Swiss and German watches survived the quartz crisis by surviving. By not changing . . .

They learned their lesson. When a Swiss or German watchmaker have a hit – like the Rolex Daytona or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak – they build their business on milking the model with endless variations and . . . call it good.

Rolex Sky-Dweller

The last truly new Rolex was nearly a decade ago, when the Swiss watchmaker introduced the Sky-Dweller. “New watches” from luxury watch brands are extremely limited edition “novelties” – not significant updates to their bread-and-butter model lines or entirely new model lines.

Lange Zeitwerk

That said, every now and then, Swiss and German watch brands kick out the jams.

Whether it’s the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 or the Lange Zeitwerk, we should celebrate brands daring to put something new out in the marketplace – whether it works or not. It sure beats heavy breathing over the same watch, painted black.

Patek Philippe pilot's watch standing up

Patek Philippe dropped the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time in 2015. A tool watch from the most coveted Swiss watchmaker? It was news.

The five-handed timepiece debuted to mixed reviews. Even HoDinkee’s Steven Pulvirent questioned the new model: “I really wanted to like it,” he prevaricated.

While the Travel Time embodies all the clever design, viruoistic engineering and quality control that’s made Patek Philippe the premier player, while it elicited predictably breathlessly overwrought praise from some corners of the internet, adulation for the model was in short supply.

Five years after the 5524G’s introduction, how did Patek do? Is the watch a tough sell that grew into a cherished icon like the Nautilus, or a WTF-were-they-thinking flop?

Patek Philippe 5524 side-on

Perception

Five years ago, the watch press didn’t know what to make of this thing. Today it’s largely forgotten.

Apart from some coverage last year – when Patek introduced the lady’s version – the internet has been silent. Google Trends doesn’t even have enough data to aggregate search terms (a problem that doesn’t exist for the Nautilus).

It doesn’t help that Patek hasn’t given the line much support. In 2018, they introduced a rose gold variant. The most recent Calatrava Pilot Travel Time has an alarm complication. At nearly a quarter million bucks it’s for a very limited client base.

The most obvious omission is the lack of a steel version. The idea of a precious metal tool watch is a hard one for most of the buying public to grasp. With its parsimonious approach to producing the steel watches consumers crave, Patek is once again turning its back on a large potential market.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot on Chrono24

Secondary market

When the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time was introduced at the [now-defunct] Baselworld show, the company made all the right noises about producing the $47,600 watch in limited quantities. The goal (as always): assure residual values

What does it look like today? Patek bumped-up the retail price to $49,560. You can buy a Travel Time NIB all day long for ten grand less.

I don’t truck with the secondary market being any sort of expression of worth. But it’s absolutely the best way of gauging demand. The market has spoken. Patek seriously misjudged the market for a Patek Philippe pilot’s watch.

Patek Philippe pilot's watch caseback

On the Merits

The final question: how is the watch itself, regardless of what everyone thinks?

The Calatrava Pilot Travel Tim is handsome, at least to my eyes. No doubt it’s perfectly finished – like everything else that comes from Patek’s factory in Geneva. I’m sure the watch makes the no-doubt-well-heeled buyers who purchased one happy, and that’s what matters.

But . . .

Patek Philippe 55245G

Ultimately all pilot’s watches adhere to a formula. Just as dive watches need certain elements to be functional (codified in an International Organization for Standardization, er, standard), a pilot’s watch needs to be large, legible and easy to adjust.

These restrictions ensure that most pilot’s watches look largely similar, hampering the designers’ freedom to innovate. And that’s where the Patek Philippe missed the plane boat. It’s a pilot’s watch first, a Patek Philippe second.

Patek’s products are perceived as old money status symbols. Offering consumers a timepiece as prosaic as a pilot’s watch – a tool watch – was a jarring betrayal of Patek Philippe’s brand premise.

The Patek pilot watch was a huge risk – whose success could have easily been a failure: a drag on Patek’s reputation for making watches above the horological fray.

Patek Philippe Pilot on its side

Conclusion

The “risk” ended up being no risk at all, and the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Time still managed to underperform. The watch hasn’t spawned a new line or a family of popular watches, demand has been tepid, and everyone has forgotten about it.

Bottom line: the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is a rare Patek. A flop.

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