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Patek Philippe Chronograph: A Complication with Clear History

Recognized as one of the industry’s most prestigious brands, Patek Philippe represents the pinnacle of Swiss watchmaking. The brand is one of the few remaining independent Genevan watch manufacturers, and as a family-owned company, they make almost all of their watch components in-house. Since its debut in 1839, they have made groundbreaking complication inventions like the perpetual calendar and split-second chronograph—and of course, it would be a mistake to discuss the brand without mentioning the infamous suit of Patek Philippe Chronographs, creating quite the history of its own. In 1902, Patek Philippe patented the first double chronograph, and in 1923, they released their first split-second chronograph. Then in 1924, they created their first wristwatch with a chronograph—it was a handsome officers’ watch with a single pusher and vertical registers. About 17 years later in 1941, the Patek Philippe Chronograph suite further evolved with the release of their first perpetual calendar chronograph, a multi-complicated piece that’s coveted by many collectors. Moving to more recent years, Patek Philippe released their first in-house chronograph caliber in 2005, and in 2012, they officially began making all of their chronograph movements in-house. In sum, the Patek Philippe Chronograph can be complex yet impressive, much like its suite of wristwatches. Patek Philippe Chronographs are available in an array of multi-complicated forms including the annual calendar, perpetual calendar, world time, and double chronographs, making this collection worthy of collectors’ praise. In fact, a Patek Philippe Chronograph is so highly regarded that President FDR gave one as a gift to the Dalai Lama. If you’re interested in learning more about chronograph watches as a whole, read this article that details their place in watchmaking history.

Discover the Patek Philippe Chronograph Suite

The Patek Philippe Chronograph plays a pivotal role in the evolution, development, and design of chronographs at large. The brand’s mastery of this movement is so prevalent that many of their collections include chronograph models including the Nautilus, Aquanaut, and Grand Complications suites. Because of the breadth of Patek Philippe Chronographs available, it’s important to discuss them at a more granular level—explore a handful of standout models captured by three key categories: classic, split-second, and flyback.

Classic Chronographs

The Patek Philippe Chronograph is a fascinating addition to any collection, and they run the gamut from standard to more complex iterations. First, a few classic chronographs come to mind like the Nautilus Chronograph ref. 5980. This piece is powered by the in-house caliber CH 28-520 C and has an hour and minute counter at the 6 o’clock. Additionally, the Nautilus Travel Time is also remarkable, featuring chronograph functionality and a second time zone. This piece was presented at Baselworld in 2014 and operates with the caliber CH 28-520 C FUS. If you’re interested in a standard chronograph from the Complications collection, ref. 5930G is a great option—it is the first model in its series to feature both a world time display and chronograph. Next, the Grand Complications collection is home to the compelling Perpetual Calendar Chronograph ref. 5270R that leverages both chronograph and perpetual calendar functions, moon phase display, and day/night indicators. If you’re searching for a limited edition Patek Philippe Chronograph, read this expert review of the ref. 5975 Multi-Scale Chronographn from the 175th anniversary collection.

Split-Second Chronographs

Also referred to as a rattrapante or double chronograph, the split-second chronograph forms a league of its own. A split-second piece times intervals using two chronograph second hands and three push pieces. Interestingly, the Patek Philippe Chronograph popularized this type of complication. Take the Grand Complications Perpetual Calendar Rattrapante ref. 5204G for example—it’s a split-second chronograph that features a perpetual calendar function and moon phase display. Many Patek Philippe Chronographs couple split-second pieces with perpetual calendar functions, making these wristwatches all the more fascinating.

Flyback Chronographs

Joining the ranks of interesting chronograph types, the flyback chronograph cannot be forgotten. It’s a unique mechanism that allows the wearer to push a button just once to set the chronograph back to zero, and start it again while it’s already running. This function was designed to be work faster than a standard chronograph that requires three pushes to achieve the same outcome. Interested in a Patek Philippe Chronograph that has the flyback functionality? Complications models like the ref. 5905 are fantastic flyback chronographs—these 42mm watches have a 60-minute counter at the 6 o’clock, and feature an annual calendar with a month window at 2, day at 10, and date at 12. These pieces are also available in rose gold, white gold, and platinum.

Buying a Pre-Owned Patek Philippe Chronograph

As the world’s leading platform for All Watches, selling, and trading pre-owned luxury watches, we are dedicated to the integrity, authenticity, and quality of each watch in our expansive inventory. Plus, our selection of Patek Philippe Chronographs is ever-changing, making it a great place to look for rare or limited edition models that are no longer in production. If you love to collect Patek Philippe watches, be sure to browse our pre-owned collection of Calatrava and Gondolo as well. Or, explore our selection of exquisite collector's and Swiss watches for a familiar look and feel. Want to learn more about chronographs in particular? Read this article that discusses a few underrated and discontinued chronographs, or see our recommendations for the best chronographs of 2020.

Chronograph Pricing Guide