Introduced in 1932, the Patek Philippe Calatrava has become synonymous with understated elegance in the world of luxury watches. In this guide, we’ll explore the history of one of the world’s finest timepieces and discuss its various models and reputation in the luxury marketplace.

The year was 1839 and a watchmaker from Poland named Antoni Patek began making pocket watches in Geneva with his friend and partner Franciszek Czapek. Considered a pioneer in watchmaking, Patek decided to leave his friend half a decade later. In 1845, he partnered with legendary French watchmaker Adrien Philippe who was well known for his invention of the keyless winding mechanism. In 1851, they founded the brand known as Patek Philippe & Co. Trailblazers in the Swiss watch industry, they soon developed a reputation worldwide has the creators of the split-second hand, the perpetual calendar, the minute repeater and the chronograph.

Just a few years shy of the beginning of World War II, the Henri Stern Watch Agency in New York brought the brand to wealthy Americans, where it began to sell as a sister brand of Universal Genève. Renowned watch author of the vintage Patek Philippe official reference books, Alan Banbery, a former horologist for Gerrard & Co in London, took the reigns and became their director of sales in the mid-1960s.

Known for creating the finest timepieces in the world, Patek Philippe Calatrava has produced some of what critics consider the most collectable timepieces ever designed. Known for producing the entirety of the watch from design to distribution in-house, Patek has set the bar for the rest of the Swiss watch industry.

Patek Philippe didn’t introduce its flagship timepiece until 1932 after it was certain all previous designs had culminated in the perfect watch creation worthy of their customer’s attention. A tribute to German Bauhaus design and architecture as well as Patek Philippe’s avant-garde philosophy, the name Calatrava comes from the cross used as the watchmaker’s emblem.

At just 31mm in diameter with a slim 9mm thick case, the Ref. 96 was a game changer in the watch world due to its slim, exquisite design and remarkable engine. With a manual 18 jewel movement finished with Geneva stripes on the pocketwatch-styled bridges, the Ref 96 is one of the most collectible timepieces in the world. Considered a timeless grail watch, the perfectly round case is a direct reflection of its circular movement and the creaminess of its dial showcases clarity not often found in wristwatches. It is, all things considered, a showcase of purity and grace. Despite 37 models being released since the birth of the Calatrava, the actual design has barely changed. Known for its sleek lines and understated elegance, the timepiece has endured through the ages thanks in part to its simplicity that acts as a wrapping for one of the most complicated and beautiful movements ever created. The movements have changed slightly based on the models, and they are regularly tweaked.  Regardless of whether your timepiece is 34mm or 36mm, has an extra thin case, the quintessential hobnail pattern or a wide polished bezel, there is no mistaking the Calatrava as it is instantly recognizable regardless of the model. Patek Philippe has long used the tagline that you never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation.

In the case of the Patek Philippe Calatrava, nothing could be more accurate. The watch is renowned for its lifespan. It often passes from generation to generation and still keeps ticking due to the materials used, the craftsmanship employed in creating each watch and the fact that every timepiece is made by the hands of the world’s foremost watchmakers. While many other watchmakers have been accused of making fewer quality watches in recent years, Patek has maintained its pursuit of perfection and continues to make grail watches that are revered for their quality and artistry in comparison to competitors.

Of the 37 models produced in the Patek Philippe Calatrava Calatrava range, the most popular has been the 3919 which features the iconic guilloché “Clous de Paris” bezel that Patek introduced in 1985. Despite Patek’s hesitation to follow watch and style trends, they did retire the model and replace it in 2006 with a larger 5119 model, since men began to prefer a larger wrist watch. Many collectors have expressed their displeasure with Patek succumbing to the trend. However, Patek remained steadfast in their efforts and didn’t listen to the popular opinion. They again replaced the inaugural Ref. 96 model in 2004 with a significantly larger 5196. This reincarnation of the original 96 featured the same iconic design that the 96 was praised for but added some extra oomph. They took it from the smaller sized timepiece (that is now considered slightly feminine in comparison) to the larger timepieces that have become common, to a more conservative 37mm and added the celebrated calibre 215PS movement. Despite some purist collectors being upset by the modifications, today the 5196 is considered the most lovely and the most traditional model across all of Patek Philippe’s collections due to its pure design that emulates the inaugural Calatrava designs.