These days the idea of Patek Philippe running into financial difficulty seems unfathomable, ludicrous even. The Swiss Patek Philippe replica watches manufacturer has proven itself impervious to trends and by all accounts seems to have been largely unaffected by the recent downturn in the Swiss watch industry. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to Patek, Philippe & Cie (as the company was formally known) in the early part of the 20th-century. Despite numerous patents and awards to its name, as well as an extensive client list that included some of the world’s most prominent collectors of the time, the company found itself in trouble.
Its saviour came in the form of brothers Jean and Charles Henri Stern, who purchased a controlling interest in the company in 1932. Their family already owned Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Frères, a dial manufacturing firm that supplied Patek, among other Swiss manufacturers. The brothers knew that to steady the ship they would need to introduce a simplified, mainstream model that would broaden the appeal of Patek Philippe timepieces beyond high-end collectors, whilst still maintaining the brand’s exceptional reputation for quality and excellence in design and manufacturing. Their solution was the Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 96.
In the early 1930’s, the wristwatch was still a relatively new phenomenon but one that had rapidly gained popularity following its widespread use in World War I. In the mainstream, the wristwatch was beginning to emerge as a reliable instrument, a useful tool even for those far removed from the battlefield. At the same time, the pocket watch, which was closely associated with the rail roads, seemed more and more outdated with the advent of automobiles and aviation. Accuracy and reliability were the buzz words of the day, trumping design and aesthetics. Recognising this shift in the market, Patek Philippe unveiled a timepiece that seamlessly combined precision with prestige.
The Calatrava takes its name from the ornate Calatrava cross, the cruciform symbol first used on the marching banners of the Calatrava knights who defended the Calatrava fortress against the Moors in 1158. This same symbol was registered as a trademark, alongside Patek Philippe & Cie, on April 27th, 1887, although it only started appearing more regularly on the crowns and movements of Patek Philippe watches from the 1960’s onwards. The use of the Calatrava name for this collection gives an indication of its significance to the brand, and indeed it has played a major role ever since.
The epitome of understated elegance, the Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 96 fake watches are considered by many to be the blueprint for the ultimate dress watch. It’s also the first model to introduce numbered references to Patek Philippe’s timepieces. Inspired by the Bauhaus principle of form follows function, the minimalist design created by David Penney distilled timekeeping down to its most pure essence. There were no superfluous details, no unnecessary flourishes, and yet the concept has remained virtually unchanged for 85 years since its introduction in 1932. It’s no coincidence that vintage Calatravas are still highly sought after by collectors. Before we go into the details, however, I think it’s helpful to have some understanding of the Bauhaus school itself to fully appreciate the underlying elements that make the original design so ageless.