The self-winding Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time (ref. 5524) was first unveiled during the Baselworld 2015 show. Combining in the same package a ‘historic’ dial layout of a 1930s pilot’s watch with a meticulously sculpted white gold body and an in-house self-winding movement that makes one drown in his own saliva, this is one of the most notable timekeepers presented at the trade fair.
According to the official specs, the wristwatch is powered by what they call Caliber 324 S C FUS automatic movement (we have already seen it animating their GMT-enabled Aquanaut 5146 model). This is, in fact, the good old Caliber 324 S C that also powers other members of the collection (like, for example, this compact Calatrava 5227 three-hander with date), but features a second time zone complication module riding atop of it, as well as a different calendar module replacing a more traditional calendar wheel visible through a tiny aperture with a more convenient sub-dial at 6 o’clock.
The GMT complication that allows adjusting the time in a “home” zone without affecting time-keeping abilities of the base movement was designed by Patek Philippe back in 1959 and was perfected in 1996. This particular iteration of the technology features a second hour hand that looks almost like the standard one but is open-worked. It also shows home time in the usual 12-hour format, which is, for most people, a lot more comfortable than the 24-hour military scale that we often see on less expensive models that are powered by all sorts of ETA movements.
To make using the complication even more comfortable, the Cal. 324 SC FUS also features two day/night indicators at both halves of the dial that are in fact just a couple of disks with a light and dark parts representing days and nights (I guess here I am being a Captain Obvious).
First introduced in 2004, the base movement enjoys a good reputation among owners both in terms of overall long-term reliability and accuracy.
Designed in the style of a pre-WWII pilot’s watch, the timepiece predictably features a clean, easy to grasp at a single glance dial layout. The Arabic numerals are bold and, given the amount of lume on them, must be bright in the darkness. The minute hand has a thin tip that is long enough for it to precisely indicate time on the finely printed minute track. At the same time, the tip is short enough to look well-proportioned to the hand itself.
From the point of view of pure legibility, the only issue here is the circular calendar display that some may find not that easy to read, after all. However, this is a common issue for this sort of smallish indicators, so I don’t see it as a problem. It sort of comes with the territory.
I have seen a number of comments that, quite condescendingly, compare this new Calatrava Pilot Travel Time to the last year’s limited edition Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 GMT 1903 (Ref. 96.2431.693/ 21.C740). Trying to compare these two timekeepers is like comparing a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Guard with a Humvee on the ground that both vehicles have four wheels, an internal combustion engine and, of course, both are armored. That is just not how you do it.
The only thing that reminds me of the aforementioned Zenith model is the overall styling of the dial with those vintage-styled hands and Arabic numerals that are covered with varnished Superluminova. That’s basically all.
However, if you look closely, you will immediately notice a lot of visual differences. The first of all, while the Montre d’Aeronef was made deliberately rugged with its worn-look leather strap and colored lume that looks like it was applied sixty years ago, the Calatrava Pilot was clearly designed primarily as a dress watch that happens to be styled as an “aviator”.
While the Zenith model needs you to wear something like a vintage sheepskin bomber jacket to look organic in all of its oversized glory, the Patek Philippe with its delicately styled case, refined winding crown, and pushers, as well as with its exquisitely decorated movement requires an expensive suit that costs more than an Omega Speedmaster.
The second is, of course, the physical dimensions. Compared to the 48 mm DLC-treated titanium body of Zenith, the 42 mm Pilot Travel Time is a lot more subtle. Yes, it is bigger than your normal dressy three-hander, but is still more compact than a normal “pilot.” Its lugs are deliberately short for the timepiece to occupy less space on a wrist, and all of its parts, down to the most minuscule ones (like the thickness of the hand-made calfskin leather strap, for example) are designed for the device to look as refined as practically possible without losing that old-school-cool mojo.
Also, soon to be offered at an impressive price of almost $48,000, this new member of the Calatrava family is more than five times as expensive as the Zenith. They just play in different leagues and not because titanium is more affordable than gold.
In other words, seriously comparing the two models, as well as calling one of them a rip-off is just pure rubbish. The only thing that put me off a bit at the time of writing this small review was the official water resistance meter of just 30 meters, but then I remembered that this was just a dress watch that (quite successfully) tried to look like a real aviator’s tool and my serenity returned.
Photos: Patek Philippe
Build Quality: 5/5
Overall Legibility: 5/5
Nighttime Legibility: 5/5
Value for Money: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 5/5
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time (Ref. 5524) specification
Movement: Automatic, Caliber 324 S C FUS, in-house, Gyromax balance, Spiromax Silinvar antimagnetic silicon balance spring, 294 parts, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 29
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 35 – 45 hours
Movement decoration: “Cotes de Geneve” pattern on 18-karat gold oscillating weight and bridges, beveled bridges, polished screw heads
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, ‘local’ and ‘home’ time zone (GMT), date
Case: 18-karat white gold
Size: 42.00 mm
Dial: Anthracite, sunray
Numerals: Arabic, luminous (varnished Superluminova)
Hour markers: White railway track
Hands: Blued, luminous; Open-worked ‘home’ hand
Water resistance: 30 meters
Strap: Brown calfskin leather strap with contrast stitching, 18-karat white gold buckle
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective on both sides, box