Cockpit classic: Patek Philippe Pilot Travel Time

Exploring the ongoing appeal of Patek’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time watch

Watches & Jewellery 1 Dec 2020

There’s usually no shortage of ‘shock and awe’ when Patek Philippe unveils a new watch, but at the 2015 Baselworld show, the reactions definitely erred towards the ‘shock’ side when the revered maker pulled the wraps off its aviation-inspired Calatrava Pilot Travel Time.

Within moments, horology forums were awash with criticism of the 42mm watch as all manner of self-proclaimed experts scoffed at Patek’s claimed aviation heritage, with some even accusing the brand of creating a pastiche based on existing, vintage-style pilot watches by makers such as Zenith and IWC.

Patek president Thierry Stern, meanwhile, simply shrugged his shoulders and observed that 50 per cent of his clients would like it, and 50 per cent wouldn’t – but they would all want to buy it.

He was right – and, once everyone had settled down, the waiting lists had been firmly established and the former naysayers had deemed it ‘a modern classic’, the original Reference 5524G in white gold was joined by a red gold version in 2018 and also served as the basis for a platinum alarm watch costing £173,000.

But while the look of the various Pilot Travel Time derivatives might seem radical compared with what we’ve come to expect from Patek, the firm did establish form in the aviation sector when it made some serious cockpit watches for a brief period during the 1930s, a couple of which can be seen in its decidedly remarkable Geneva museum.

Beyond its historical authenticity, the 5524 was and remains a truly functional, legible, and thoroughly useful wrist watch with a skeletonised hour hand to display ‘home’ time, bold ‘local’ time pointers and a pair of left-mounted, screw-down pushers that enable the hour to be quickly adjusted in either direction.

There’s also a large date counter at six o’clock (which is linked to local time) and a simple system of light and dark dots to show whether it is day or night at home or abroad.

Behind the inky-blue, high-gloss dial and white gold case sits the superbly finished Caliber 324 self-winding movement (borrowed from the Aquanaut Travel Time), complete with anti-magnetic Spiromax balance spring.

Some people might be put off by the size of the watch. At 42mm – plus the extra ‘knobs’ – it’s simply too much of a wrist-full for those of slighter build – a fact that Patek addressed with the introduction of a 37.5mm red gold, brown dial version in 2018.

The smaller size was also adopted for a delectable limited edition, steel-cased model with a light blue dial and a blue Cordura strap that was launched at last year’s Patek Philippe Grand Exhibition in Singapore. And for those who managed to get one, it will undoubtedly prove to be a cast-iron investment.

Originally, the 37.5mm Pilot Travel Time was touted as a watch for women – but now there’s the new, white gold version, pictured here, that’s being strongly marketed as a ‘unisex’ offering and which does look entirely suitable for men or women.

It has all the appeal of the larger white gold model, but is probably a more practical proposition for daily use – and, of course, fits right in with the trend (if it can be called that) for less ostentatious luxury. It also comes with two straps (one blue and one brown) – and, if you’re feeling generous, you can share it with your partner.