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A Hidden Gem: Patek Philippe Aquanaut ‘Luce’ Ref. 5261R-001

A Hidden Gem: Patek Philippe Aquanaut ‘Luce’ Ref. 5261R-001

13. November 2023

It seems that over the last decade, Swiss watch manufacturers have been taking a leaf or two out of the tech companies’ books. As well as getting more sophisticated, their new releases seem to be getting larger in diameter almost on an annual basis. So much so with wristwatches that the more traditional of collectors are spending more time in the vintage market to solve this issue for themselves. Things got extra real earlier this year when Patek Philippe took a step back and released a watch that could be enjoyed thoroughly, both by men who prefer smaller watches or women who prefer larger watches, due to its modest size. This watch is of course the new Aquanaut Annual Calendar Ref. 5261R-001. A watch that is part of the ‘Luce’ collection, but more closely represents the regular Aquanaut collection.

First Aquanaut with Annual Calendar

Besides coming in at 39.9 mm in diameter, the Ref. 5261R is also the first Aquanaut ever with an annual calendar, making it the the most complicated Aquanaut ever (not including Advanced Research Ref. 5650G). The 18-carat rose gold case is sublimely paired with an blue-grey dial and matching rubber strap, ensuring the watch packs a punch both on the outside and on the inside; historically a very successful combination for the Swiss manufacture. Besides the case size and the advanced mechanical movement which emulate the regular Aquanaut collection, the Ref. 5261R also shares the dial pattern with the regular Aquanaut collection. It differs from those in the ‘Luce’ collection in that it has much narrower and shallower grooves; a welcome addition which prevents the dial from appearing cluttered as there is already plenty going on between the single aperture, 3 subdial counters, and twelve Arabic numerals.

The 5261R does, however, retain some characteristics from the ‘Luce’ collection, such as the thinner butterfly clasp and strap, this time keeping the deeper embossed grooves. That being said, one could see the strap style instead as a nod to those used in the vintage era of Aquanaut, such as the collectable Ref. 5065. The 5261R also keeps the water resistance depth of 30 metres, instead of the 120 metres that its larger brothers are able to reach. This perhaps is the only major criticism of the watch on a non subjective basis. It is after all an Aquanaut and so should be equipped with a screw down crown at the very least.

New moonphase design

A more opinion-based criticism arose in response to Patek Philippe’s decision to flip the movement architecture round with the moonphase at the top as opposed to the bottom, which is more conventional amongst annual calendars. Some call it the Cyclops because of how it appears on the dial, half overlapping the 12 o-clock numeral. I have to admit, it took a while for me to come round to it as well, but that ‘while’ ended when I handled the piece in person. The renders used in the press release and website do this watch no justice. Once in the flesh, all those raised eyebrows about the dial layout fizzle away and all that can be seen is the perfect proportions of the watch and how well the blue is paired with the warm hue of rose gold, which in the smart confines of a Patek salon appears more resemblant of a yellow gold.

The new Ref. 5261R is certainly an obscure watch to say the least, and many are probably struggling to figure out what Patek’s objective really was. It seems to be an amalgamation of so many new and rather interesting decisions from the brand. With the smaller case size in a gold hue that appears more yellow and a strap similar to that found on the Ref. 5065, it seems Patek is injecting small doses of vintage inspiration to the new Ref. 5261R. Perhaps this could be the brands way of subtly testing the waters for something else, such as a reintroduction of other smaller sized gents sports models in yellow gold. Perhaps a Nautilus? This is something many esteemed enthusiasts (myself included) would be well receptive of. It is of course a complete unknown, but one which may become more clear in the brand’s next release of watches. After all, it’s been nearly two decades since Patek last used yellow gold in a gents sports model, and therefore it remains the only brand from the holy trinity without one in the current collection.

One thing is for sure. This watch is certainly not overlooked by male clientele and nor should it be. Already in extremely high demand, it carries importance as the first Aquanaut annual calendar and presented in a new modest case size – something quite refreshing to say the least. I know that when I say that, I am also speaking on behalf of many other enthusiasts and collectors who have longed for something of the kind. It is still a watch which divides opinions, but for that reason it finds itself in fantastic company. The first examples of the Rolex Daytona, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and various other Patek Philippe references were all divisive at the beginning, but ended up becoming very collectable later down the line and for those who could see the value at their inception, they proved to be more than fruitful purchases. The Patek Philippe Ref. 5261R-001 in my opinion will be no different, and in the future we may all look back through a clearer set of lenses.