Famed for the wide range of innovations and complications that they have introduced to the watchmaking industry, Patek Philippe's pedigree as perhaps the most highly esteemed watchmaker is of no doubt to anyone. Amongst their litany of complications lies their patented annual calendar, a halfway house between the more straightforward complete calendar and the hyper-complicated perpetual calendar. First released in 1996, their first Annual Calendar, the ref. 5035, was the first watch to house Patek Phillipe's newly patented complication at the time, it was also Patek Phillipe’s acknowledgment that an in-between needed to be established.
Offered here on the site today is a highly revered reference and a fundamental evolution from the original - a beautiful Ref. 5396 Annual Calendar in 18-carat white gold. It is housed within a 38.5mm Calatrava style case in white gold, which I think is an excellent choice of case size and material for a modern-day dress watch like the Ref. 5396. The white gold case lends the watch an aura of understated elegance and its polished bezel possesses a slight downward slope, making it appear slightly larger than what the numbers on paper may suggest. Although it is not exactly an ultra-slim case at 11.2mm high, the case was constructed in such a way that it still manages to sit flat against any reasonably-sized wrist, making it quite effortless for the user to slide it under a shirt cuff. A very wearable design with excellent contemporary proportions, I would say.
In my mind, the beauty of this particular reference is mainly attributed to its wonderfully symmetrical dial layout. The day and month indicators are beautifully presented in twin apertures just beneath the Patek logo at 12 o ‘clock, followed by its central time display featuring running seconds and dauphine-style hands. Just beneath it you will find a single sub-dial with an integrated moon-phase with a 24-hour indicator. To round everything off, the date window aperture is neatly (and perfectly) presented at the 6 o ‘clock position. As someone who loves and craves order in my daily routine (and watch design in general), I find the visual of the Ref. 5396’s symmetrical dial very elegant, intuitive, and extremely satisfying to stare at for hours on end.
Now, for avid Patek Phillipe collectors/enthusiasts, I know what you are thinking. The dial layout on the Ref. 5396 also seems to hark back to an earlier reference from the 1960s - the Ref. 3448, which is a perpetual calendar that has the date displayed at the periphery of the 6 o ‘clock sub-dial. When comparing these two references side by side, one could say that the design lineage here is again, very apparent.
For all of the reasons I have elaborated above, this particular Patek Philippe 5396G-011 Annual Calendar right here is, in my mind, a compelling masterpiece of a modern dress watch and could easily be considered a classic in any era. It might not be the most frequently discussed reference, but it possesses a simple, classic appeal with just enough visual complexity to catch the eye, as well as to effortlessly complement any collector’s watch box and daily rotation.