Patek Philippe introduced the Ref. 96 in 1932. The design was meant to evoke Bauhaus simplicity The round shape reflected the circular nature of the gears, the movement of the hands, and of time itself. The watch was nicknamed “Calatrava” after the cruciform symbol used by Patek Philippe, and this name underscored the importance of the model to the company.
The original Calatrava was a strikingly modern design for the time Rather than soldered lugs, it featured integrated tapered lugs that flowed out from the case sides and were core to the three-part case itself. The 31 mm case consisted of a snap-on back and bezel with crystal connecting to a central case that included the lugs and a hole for the two-piece winding stem and crown. Despite this, the watch is just 9 mm thick. The lugs are slightly scrolled, dropping toward the wrist so it wears extremely thin and light. The lugs are drilled as well.
Various dials were fitted, but all feature clean design and small seconds at 6 00. Many sector dials were produced, along with Breguet numerals or applied markers. A variety of hands were used, from daggers to leaves to pencils. The crown is large and knurled but usually lacks a Patek Philippe sign.
Ref. 96 lasted many years in production and spawned many descendants, both inside and outside the company. Patek Philippe generally reserves the “96” designation for modern interpretations of this design, including Ref. 3796 from the 1980's, Ref. 4896 for ladies, and Ref. 5196 and Ref. 5296 of today.