In modern watchmaking history, no relationship between watchmaker and retailer is more important or longer-lasting than the one between Patek Philippe and Tiffany
& Co. A sleek, contemporary product of this auspicious partnership, this reference 5150/T150 Annual Calendar is a starting point to a story not widely
discussed, and is a watch that will still be distinctive fifty years from now. Released in 2001 to celebrate the firms’ 150th year of business together,
this model isn’t particularly rare — 150 examples each were made in white, yellow, and rose gold — but it is not a standard production piece: The watch was
designed exclusively for the jeweler, a first for Patek in North America. — Chris Greenberg
Immediately noticeable on the cream-colored dial are the outsized dimensions of almost everything (with the exception of the small minute track) and the
flatness of the applied indexes. The long stick hour markers, the large ‘T’ at 12 o’clock, the long center seconds hand, and the dauphine hour and minute
hands are all without bevels or chamfers; because they are flat and don’t reflect much light, the dauphine hands look bigger still. Additionally, the dial
has three distinctly sized rectangular windows for its calendar display. The dial is asymmetrical in that respect, but on this watch that feels unique, not
unbalanced, because the months display is so distinctive. Instead of spelling out the month, the 5150 displays the word ‘month’ followed by a corresponding
number (e.g., ‘1’ for January). That alone separates this annual calendar from all its predecessors.
The three-body, white gold, officer’s style case is robust and heavy, with a sapphire exhibition back inside the hinged cover. The lugs are thick and
strong and the entire watch feels solid to hold. When viewed directly from the top the lugs flair out slightly, giving the watch a combination of
architectural and soft lines. When viewed from the crown side, the 5150 looks like a tortoise, with a large shell and short, powerful curved legs. But that
look is deceiving: The 36 mm is case is somewhat diminutive by today’s standards, which means this watch will likely accrue a more vintage feel over time.
Tiffany & Co. was and remains the only American retailer allowed to put its name on the dial of a Patek Philippe, thanks to an arrangement established
almost eighty years before the Stern family purchased Patek in 1932. The jeweler began as Tiffany & Young on the lower west side of Manhattan in 1837,
started by two young partners intent on selling ‘stationary and fancy goods,’ with help from a $1,000 family loan. A decade later, the successful firm
began augmenting its collection of fine silver, international curios, jewelry, and European diamonds with pocket watches.
John Loring (Design Director, Tiffany & Co. 1979 - 2009) confirms in the book Tiffany Timepieces that Patek & Co. was approached by the jeweler sometime in
the late 1840s to provide finished pocket watches for a second Tiffany & Young store opening in New York. In 1851, Patek & Co. became the more
modern Patek Philippe & Co., and in 1854 it signed an agreement listing Tiffany & Co. as the exclusive agent of Patek watches in North America.
(Charles Lewis Tiffany had changed the name after buying out his partners in 1853.) The deal was pragmatic for both companies, giving Tiffany access to
high-end Swiss watches that would stand out against American brands, and giving Patek entrée to the American market.
As wristwatches overtook pocket watches in men’s and women’s fashion during the early 20th century, the benefits of Tiffany’s having chosen Patek to supply
its movements became even more apparent. Patek’s wristwatch innovations had very few peers: In successive years from 1923 to 1925, Patek released its first
split-seconds chronograph, its first minute repeater, and the earliest known perpetual calendar. (The latter appears to have been a one-off or very special
piece; standard production of the perpetual calendar wristwatch didn’t begin until 1941 with the reference 1526.) Patek worked backward on its wristwatch
calendar development: That’s important to the 5150’s history because Patek developed its first perpetual calendar wristwatch — a more difficult
complication that automatically accounts for leap year and needs adjustment only once a century — a full 72 years before its first annual calendar
wristwatch, which needs adjustment every March.
That first Patek annual calendar wristwatch, the 1997 reference 5035, displayed the day, date, and month, along with a 24-hour second timezone, and was powered
by the automatic Cal. 315 S-QA. This 5150 houses the same base movement, modified to include a moonphase indicator and a power reserve that replaces the
second timezone — the Cal. 315 S QA LU. It is the same engine housed in early reference 5146 annual calendars and the special edition annual calendar
created for the German retailer Wempe in 2003, reference 5125. With 35 jewels and a beat rate of 21,600 bph (3 Hz), the 30mm movement is a good size for
this 36mm watch, and is finished in Patek style with a Gyromax balance, a 21k solid gold central rotor, and fausses côtes decoration.
Images by Austin Considine for Christie's