Piaget Polo S
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s something a little crazy going on with the Patek Philippe Nautilus right now. You’re more likely to find aliens in your local Patek Philippe boutique than you are a 5711, and if and when you do happen to see one up for sale, it’s commanding prices some three times its RRP. I mean, by the time this goes out, that might even be a bargain—it’s that out of control. But there’s another option for those with neither the power, influence nor cash to find their way into this enigma, and it’s called the Piaget Polo S.
“Piffle,” you’re most likely thinking. “How can this obvious pretender bear any comparison to the mighty Nautilus?” and that’s a very good point. One is clearly based on the other, even if a smoother profile, rearranged date window and inverted bracelet finish try to convince otherwise.
But is it really? Well, yes, but not in quite the way you would think. The original Piaget Polo was a reaction to the seismic shift of watchmaking into two definitive categories, technology and luxury. On the one hand, you had your battery-powered future watches, affordable and accurate, and on the other, a blooming market for indulgent extravagance.
For Piaget—and many others, Patek Philippe included—this was a record-scratch moment. If the sluggish evolution of the Rolex Submariner hadn’t made it obvious, the Swiss watch industry is a lolloping tortoise, slow to realise and even slower to react, and it was only when Audemars Piguet unlocked the secret to avoiding imminent doom did the others follow suit.
For Patek Philippe, that was with the 1976 Nautilus, and for Piaget, the 1979 Polo. Only then the roles were reversed; the Nautilus was a copy of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak from a few years earlier, and the Polo—well, the Polo was something else altogether.
Fashioned entirely in gold, it was a watch aimed exclusively at the kind of people who enjoyed the watch’s namesake game, polo. A sport for those too wealthy to use their own legs, a polo enthusiast was exactly the kind of person for whom an immediately recognisable and expensive watch was the least they would consider.
But Piaget didn’t just do a Patek Philippe and tweak the Royal Oak just enough to avoid a copyright claim, it went all out. Yes, there was an integrated bracelet, but the similarities stopped there. Imagine an Omega Constellation, with the segmented bracelet—but with the segments continuing all the way around the watch, through the case and even across the dial. All in gold, it was striking to say the least.
And it did the trick too, making up a third of Piaget’s sales by 1980. I mean, you can just imagine how well a quirky, solid gold watch did in the eighties, a decade most well-known for its conspicuous opulence. But it’s not the eighties anymore, and whilst the Polo was absolutely spot on for that era, it’s not aged well—and so we have the Polo S instead. So yes, it may be a copy of the Nautilus, but I think the waters are muddied enough that we can forgive it that. The real question is, does it challenge the Nautilus in quality the way it does in looks?
Being fair to the Polo S, it only really needs to be half as good as the Patek Philippe, or when comparing residuals, one tenth. With your accountant hat on, however, an appreciating asset like the Nautilus makes way more sense, but let’s consider the fact that if you’re in the position to be buying one, you’re not going to be taking advice from a pair of talking hands on the internet, anyway.
So, let’s bust out the mega macro lens and begin. Patek Philippe may be a modern benchmark for watchmaking quality, but Piaget is no slouch either, responsible at one point or another for no less than the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, the world’s thinnest automatic watch and the world’s thinnest tourbillon for, well, for the sake of it.
In a way, we should be grateful to Piaget for giving us this opportunity for such a close comparison between two prominent brackets of high watchmaking. Budget wise, the Piaget—although by no means cheap—is at the bottom end of the Swiss, high-end, handmade pile, with the Patek Philippe somewhere towards the upper middle, leaving room for your Voutilainens and Roger Smiths and the like.
And there is a difference, an appreciable one when you look in close. I can see how it could seem like much of a muchness, but it’s like any pursuit: the more you know, the more you see. The dials, for instance: the Piaget Polo S is finished in an exquisite sapphire blue that radiates through the translucency of its finish. The Nautilus, however—that has not only a delicate, smoky gradient to it, but also one of the subtlest sunburst patterns I’ve ever seen, giving it a twinkle that seems to exist within the dial rather than on it.
The same goes for the brushed and polished finishes across the cases and bracelets. On the Piaget you’re looking at crisp, even brushwork and a deep, glossy polish—but again on the Patek Philippe these applications don’t so much seem like texture on the material as it is within it. The brushing is like silk, the polish like liquid. The bevelling that runs the length of the case and bracelet is a flourish that demonstrates another level of expertise over the Piaget.
Unsurprisingly, the movements are also emblematic of the budget. Although both watches are endowed with manufacturer-made calibres, the 1110P for the Piaget and the 26-330 S C in the Patek Philippe, it’s like the Patek Philippe just has extra resolution, remaining crisp as the Piaget begins to get soft.
At this point you’ll probably be grumbling to yourself about how I’m nit-picking, and do you know what—you’re right. There is a difference, it is appreciable in the right light and with the right magnification, but on any other day in any other situation, all things may as well be equal. It’s the law of diminishing returns, a law that makes choosing between these two all the more difficult.
So, which of these two similar, yet oh-so different watches, is best? Well, that’s as much about you as it is about them. If you’re willing to pay the asking or wait a long, long time, the Patek Philippe offers the better experience, but one that’s matched and even surpassed by other watches available for less—including other Patek Philippes. The Piaget is the inferior watch, but not by anywhere near the margin you might have perhaps expected, which, with consideration to the vast difference in price, becomes wholly more appealing. If you’re looking for my advice, put it this way—my money wouldn’t be going to the Swiss at all.
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