1932 marks an important year in Patek Philippe’shistory. Not only did the Stern family, owners of a fine dial manufacturer in Geneva, purchase the company, but it was also the year that the Calatrava watch made its debut. Patek Philippe certainly has other iconic models, such as the Nautilus, released in 1976, and the 1518, the first perpetual calendar produced for the mass (a relative term for Patek) market in 1941. But nothing has been more enduring and influential than the Calatrava.
So what does Calatrava stand for anyway? The Calatrava emblem is comprised of a Greek cross with fleur de lis tips and gets its name from the Order of Calatrava, a Spanish military order including Monks that was the second to receive Papal approval. Those popes sure had a lot of power in those days to designate whether something could legitimately exist or not. Pope Alexander III ordained the Order of Calatrava, which means “fortress of Rabah”, as a militia in 1164. Didn’t k now monks were fighting men, did you? You can learn more about the warrior men of the cloth here. At the end of the 19th century, Patek Philippe made the Calatrava cross their coat of arms. Does this mean the pope approves?
Released in 1932, the Calatrava 96 is the inaugural model of the Calatrava line. The watch in its totality reflects the Bauhaus school of design. Bauhaus was a German school founded by architect Walter Gropius that was in operation from 1919-1933. The school’s philosophy was so influential it became a movement. William Morris, a 19th century English designer also made a deep imprint. He was the one who came up with the idea that form should follow function and that art should serve society. As a result, followers of this school of thought shunned ornamentation and extraneous details.
With its sleek, rounded case and uncluttered dial, the 96 is an exemplar of Bauhaus aesthetics. The purpose of a watch is to tell the time and the 96 beautifully keeps the focus on its function with its applied gold numbers and beaded minute track. A separate subsidiary dial at 6 o’clock separates out the running seconds, allowing the eye to concentrate on one element at a time.
Several models of the 96 pay tribute to their ancestor, such as the 5119 with the classic “Clous de Paris” (hobnail) bezel introduced in the 1980’s, the 5127, which includes a date at 3 o’clock, and the bejeweled 5297. Over the years the faces have offered different permutations and the diameters increased to reflect modern tastes; however, the DNA has stayed intact, true to its initial design and making it a timeless classic. The recently release reference 5235 has all the makings of a classic as well.
It’s difficult to find a Calatrava 96 in excellent condition due to the snap on back that allowed moisture into the case and besmirched the dial. Many of the dials have been reconditioned as well as overzealously polished, both of which detract from the value.
Still, there are several that come up for auction and and are reasonably priced. You can get an important piece of watch history to wear on your wrist for about $7,000 depending upon condition.