Why I Bought It: Patek Philippe Reference 5170P
One of the high points of my visits to Baselworld each of the past few years has been the opportunity to tour the display of new introductions from Patek Philippe with the head of the firm’s Salons.
As we concluded our visit in March 2017, our host asked each of us to name our favorite new Patek Philippe piece, and for me the answer was obvious: the stunning Reference 5170P that had me standing slack-jawed in front of its display case long after the rest of the group had moved on to the other new pieces.
Before I even departed Basel I had requested an allocation for the 5170P, and during a recent visit to Geneva I was extremely pleased to pick up one of the first examples delivered.
How the Patek Philippe Reference 5170P fits in my collection
It may come as a bit of a surprise that in my pal Terry’s taxonomy of watch collecting (fun, patronage, foundational), for me this piece falls primarily in the “fun” category rather being a pre-meditated foundational piece for my collection.
I won’t fib to you: I’d like to spin out a lengthy tale about how I evaluated the Reference 5170P and its Caliber 29-535 PS movement against all of the likely competitors in its category, or explain how this watch fills a critical void in my portfolio somewhere between the A. Lange & Söhne Double Split and Voutilainen Masterpiece II and was therefore a carefully considered, entirely rational purchase.
But no such luck: this was one of those love-at-first-sight occurrences that has happily been backed up by my early ownership experience thus far.
Why I loved the Patek Philippe Reference 5170 and why I’m happy now that I have it
Here I’ll state the blindingly obvious: just look at that dial!
When Patek Philippe gets a dial or its features just right, as with the perfect black enamel dial on the Reference 5370 or the achingly beautiful rounded Breguet numerals on the Reference 5950, their work is in my opinion right at the top of the industry.
The graduated blue-black dial of the 5170P (designated on the Certificate of Origin as “bleu degrade noir”) has to be seen in person to be appreciated; the combination of color gradation, sunburst texture, and grooved subdials that provide just that extra bit of visual interest make for a killer combination.
Then there’s the bling; or is it?
As with the limited editions for the fortieth anniversary of the Nautilus, on the 5170P Patek Philippe has combined a dark blue dial with baton-shaped baguette-cut diamond hour markers. The visual pop is remarkable, but in most light conditions the diamonds look like highly polished metal markers that match the brilliance of the platinum case rather than gemstones.
There are other “bling” watches I’ve owned that I never took remotely close to a client meeting, but I’ve had no hesitation strapping the 5170P on before heading into business encounters.
It seems hard to believe that we are sneaking up on ten years since the introduction of the in-house Caliber 29-535 PS chronograph movement in 2009, which replaced the modified Lémania movements in prior generations of Patek Philippe chronographs, and in my view this attractive, robust, and well-conceived engine doesn’t always receive the love from collectors that it deserves.
Steady technical improvement within classical constructs is a Patek Philippe hallmark, and careful attention to seemingly arcane items like gear tooth profiles, lever geometries, and even the functional design of the column wheel cap has resulted in a chronograph movement that is a pleasure to operate. The stop-start pusher feel is progressive and the actuation decisive, and there is no noticeable jitter in the start-up of the chronograph function.
I’ll confess that I’m still getting used to the quite light return-to-zero pusher feel of Patek Philippe’s chronographs, but I do understand that it’s a design choice that the brand has made and I have absolutely no complaints about the clarity of the actuation or the accuracy of the return, which themselves are enhanced by another of those small Caliber 29-535 innovations: a pierced slot in the minute cam.
Other welcome features including hacking seconds and instantaneously jumping chronograph minutes make this movement thoroughly modern and pleasing to operate.
Did I mention that I love the way the Patek Philippe Reference 5170 looks?
While this watch looks great in the display case and with some work can be captured well in the light tent, it brightly shines (pun intended) on the wrist in a variety of lighting conditions.
It’s fun pulling up your sleeve as you move from place to place to see which personality the 5170P will be exhibiting when you see it. In bright halogen or fluorescent light it can take on a metallic bright blue shimmer reminiscent of the most recent Reference 5270G with blue dial; in lowish incandescent light it can appear to be almost black, and in natural light you get the full dark-blue to black transition that blew me away in the first place.
Overall, for me this design comes off as a coherent exercise in creating a sporty dress watch. The Calatrava-style case majors in simple shapes and flat surfaces and clearly frames the striking dial; and the modified Dauphine-style main hands with touches of lume and the complementary running seconds and chronograph hands are crisp-looking and legible.
I’m still not 100 percent certain whether those frosted chronograph hands are bright silver or white, but as I have an active bet with a buddy on the topic, for the record I’m going to say silver!
But how does the Patek Philippe Reference 5170 compare with the Reference 5370P?
While many of my watch pals “get” the idea that the 5170P and its split-seconds counterpart the 5370P are appropriate complements, others aren’t so sure. I’ve received a number of queries asking why I would buy the “little brother” to my beloved 5370P rather than buying a different watch or waiting for something else to come on the scene.
When I look at the photo above, the answer is evident to me. Just as it makes complete sense to me to own both the A. Lange & Söhne Lange Double Split and Datograph Perpetual, I have no problems at all including both a sober beauty and technical marvel like the 5370P and a more exuberant, eye-popping “simple” chronograph like the 5170P in my mix.
From an evaluative perspective, the more expensive Reference 5370 impresses in areas where it should, from its added functionality to the refined, flowing, and complex lines of its sculpted case. And as you can see in the photo above, there’s just something about the look of the rattrapante version of Caliber 29-535 (at left) that takes it a level above the straight chronograph embodiment on the right.
While the basic underpinnings are the same, the added split-second components significantly spice up the view for me, and to my eye the finishing of the 5370’s movement has the elusive “glow” that characterizes high-end finishing work.
In case you’re curious, I moved the watches and lights around quite a bit trying to get the movement of the 5170P to have that same look and even switched the position of the watches left to right, but finally concluded that the finishing of the 5370P has just that bit of extra oomph.
To be fair, though, we should be comparing the 5170P against its predecessors in the line of simple Patek Philippe chronographs; I do have friends who own Reference 5070P, so you can expect a showdown sometime in the future!
Any quibbles about the Patek Philippe Reference 5170?
I haven’t found the perfect watch yet! I’ve already mentioned one item (the light return to zero pusher feel) about the Reference 5170P that I might change a bit if given a magic wand.
As long as we are on the topic of feel, the winding action is quite smooth and easy, but for my taste, a more pronounced click would be gratifying; and the Dynamometric crown (a torque-limiting device that emits a disconcerting clicking when the watch is fully wound) is perhaps one small functional innovation too many, as the effect is a bit jolting and the number of times I’ve over-wound a watch in my life is still at zero.
And while the movement finishing is attractively done, I’ve been spoiled over the years by the independents, and, as with the Reference 5370P, do wish that there were some sharp internal angles on the plates and bridges to catch the light and please the eye.
Is Patek Philippe Reference 5170 right for you?
So I bought it, but should you? The answer may be “yes” if:
- You are blown away by the aesthetics of this watch and appreciate its technical sophistication.
- You own other Patek Philippe chronographs like the 5070 but haven’t yet been convinced by the other variants of the 5170 line.
- You are looking for a fine dress chronograph that at the same time has some sizzle to it.
On the other hand, you may want to look elsewhere if:
- No matter how subtle and well-integrated, diamonds just aren’t your thing.
- You don’t yet have a dress chronograph and want to start with a more mainstream look with silver or black dial.
- You feel that available options from other makers offer what you are looking for at a more accessible price point or you just happen to like them better!
I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on this one in the comments section below: in the meantime, happy hunting!
For more information, please visit www.patek.com/en/collection/complications/5170P-001.
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Reference 5170P
Case: 39.4 x 10.9 mm, platinum with brand-characteristic diamond at 6 o’clock; sapphire crystal case back
Dial: gold with sunburst blue finish gradated to black at edges, baguette-cut diamond markers; white tachymeter scale and markings
Movement: manually wound Caliber CH 29-535 PS; 4Hz (28,800 vph); power reserve 65+ hours
Functions: hours, minutes; subsidiary seconds; 30-minute instantaneously jumping chronograph
Price: 85,000 Swiss francs at the Geneva Salon (including VAT)
Production years: 2017-present
Also published on Medium.