I’ve been enjoying the Apple Watch for more than a few days at the time this post was written – and it has got me thinking a lot about not just the future of electronic wrist watch functionality, but also watch design overall. What I’ve been most interested in is not only how smartwatch design will continue to evolve, but also what design precedents came before the Apple Watch that either helped inspire it or that it appears to coincidentally resemble.
So, with that in mind, I felt it was a good idea to put together this fun little article on the odd similarities between the obscure Patek Philippe Ellipse Ref. 3582 (3582G) and the Apple Watch. I am actually rather convinced Apple was not at all inspired by the Patek Philippe 3582 during the design of the Apple Watch – so I am not suggesting that this rare Patek Philippe Ellipse is some type of direct design ancestor of the Apple Watch. Rather, I am suggesting that watch design is both cyclical and so diverse that it is often inevitable – even unique creations such as today’s smartwatches are not without interesting and amusing historical aesthetic analogs.
Perhaps the biggest irony is not how much the Apple Watch looks like this vintage circa 1970 Patek Philippe Ellipse reference 3582 timepiece, but instead, how much this Patek Philippe looks like the Apple Watch. Despite Patek Philippe’s highly conservative modern persona, for much of the brand’s history, it was incredibly prolific when it came to design experimentation and testing new concepts. Not all of Patek Philippe’s historic designs are what we could call “classics,” but I think most collectors deeply appreciate just how diverse the brand’s personality once was.
While I think the Apple Watch is a rather lovely piece of wearable electronics, not everyone is smitten with the design. I mean, it does look like a miniature iPhone on the wrist – which is actually sort of cool. Also – and I haven’t even read anyone else point this out – the Apple Watch is totally devoid of any Apple branding on the case save for text on its caseback. Even there, the “Apple” name doesn’t even exist save for the special logo which includes the Apple “apple” logo and the word “Watch.” That is very interesting, if you think about it, because it shows a high level of confidence on behalf of Apple in people’s ability now and in the future to immediately identify the product as the Apple Watch.
Going back to the notion of some traditional watch lovers criticizing the Apple Watch design, I wonder if their opinion changes knowing that the great Patek Philippe once produced something so ironically similar with the 3582. Are these purists somewhat humbled knowing that a company as respected as Patek Philippe is arguably the ancient ancestor of the “minimalist rounded rectangle” watch case design? I wonder…
It is a bit of a shame that I don’t have the Apple Watch with the Milanese bracelet to put right next to the Patek Philippe 3582, but of course that model is the closest analog and the source of what I feel is the most amusing irony. Instead, I submit to you the Apple Watch with the steel “Link Bracelet” along side this shining example of the Patek Philippe Ellipse 3582G in 18k white gold with an attached mesh metal 18k white gold bracelet.
It is sort of uncanny how much the 3582 case and bracelet seem to feel revived in the Apple Watch. Of course, the 29mm wide by 34mm tall (and just 6.7mm thick) Patek Philippe is much smaller than the 42mm tall Apple Watch, but assuming the dimensions of the Patek were proportionally increased, they would look eerily alike. The parallel design at work here speaks volumes about how watches are conceived and minds in totally separate places, in totally different times, doing totally different things, can sometimes come up with similar outcomes.
Many of the Patek Philippe Ellipse 3582 watches came in 18k yellow gold and these white gold versions appear to be the most rare. This particular version is on loan from our friends at The Keystone, who specialize in selling high-quality, and often very unique vintage watches online. They find stuff like this, which is why I like them. According to the boys at The Keystone, this particular 3582 (which is in truly excellent condition) was purchased from a collector in Japan (where so many good vintage watches come from), and is likely from the early to mid 1970s. Inside the 3582 is a mechanical, manually wound Patek Philippe caliber 23-300 PM movement.
The design of the Patek Philippe 3582 is unique for a series of reasons. It is in the Patek Philippe Ellipse collection but doesn’t have an Ellipse-shaped cased. Instead, we see the ellipse’s shape as a ring around the dial to tell the time. Based on the curvature of the “golden spiral” (using the “golden ratio” and aka the “Fibonacci spiral”), this particular shape has been used in a range of Patek Philippe Ellipse watches. It is just very interesting to see it contained within a rounded rectangular case that feels very spacey looking (for the era).
The blue face and simple dial make for a pleasant presentation in the vein of Patek Philippe modern design. Few of their watch dials today are even this simple. On the wrist, the small case size of the Patek Philippe 3582 would make for a hard sell on a man these days, but as a women’s watch it looks very interesting. Though I can easily see a lot of watch collectors wanting to seek out this model not for wear but rather for their collection.
Why is it that I am so sure the Patek Philippe Ellipse 3582 has little or nothing to do with the Apple Watch? Well, Apple worked with designer Mark Newson, whom they officially announced hiring just a few days before the Apple Watch debut in September of 2014. The similarities between the Apple Watch and Mark Newson’s previous watch design work at Ikepod have been well-noted. I think it is safe to assume that Apple had been working closely with Newson during the secret development of the Apple Watch even before their official relationship was announced. Elements from Newson’s work at the Ikepod brand from models such as the Manatee, Solaris, and Megapod can all be traced to the Apple Watch in areas such as the case as well as the bracelets and straps. Furthermore, the Apple Watch contains a lot of recent Apple “design DNA” in addition to Newson’s influence.
While I truly feel that the Apple Watch represents the future on my wrist, I am cognizant that elements of its physical design have historical analogs, and because this is going to be a much more popular consumer product around the world than most of today’s mechanical watches, I find it interesting to understand some of the design history around it – as well as what might be just an interesting irony when it comes to resembling the vintage Patek Philippe Ellipse 3582. apple.com