Patek Philippe reference 3974
Vintage & Auctions

Patek Philippe 3974: the legendary number

Known as Reference 3974 in the intimate circle of experts, this timepiece is part of the group of existing legends and its number alone is enough to cause a stir among seasoned collectors.

By Vincent Daveau

Some timepieces, such as the Reference 3974, are more inspiring than others. Experts remember the watches from the most prestigious maisons, notably those that use a number to reference their most elaborate creations. Thus, they will have already guessed that the watch in question is Patek Philippe’s self-winding cal. R27Q. It houses a minute-repeater and a perpetual calendar with a moon phase indicator, which has been programmed to display error-proof calendar information up to 2100.

The most complicated series of mechanical wristwatches

In 1989, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Geneva-based manufacture, this perfectly balanced 36-mm wonderful watch was produced in three versions – a size per the trend of the time.

Over the years, this exquisite timepiece has been made available in yellow gold, pink gold and platinum with silver, black or even salmon dials. Today, it is still popular even though it has registered a slight decrease in sales in the last months. This is probably due to the fierce and worthy competition the timepiece is facing which, all in all, is heavily influenced by current trends. Nevertheless, its value is still intact as, to date, it is the most complicated mechanical wristwatch ever to have been introduced on the market.

Patek Philippe reference 3974 Patek Philippe reference 3974

For the record, the watch was launched at a time when the public had really started to go back to mechanical watches (after the quartz crisis). Back then there was a craze for either old references or for those that had an air of being an antique. Patek Philippe was perfectly aware of the collection’s potential. Therefore, the brand decided to celebrate its anniversary with a unique watch that associated the two most cherished complications for collectors: a minute repeater and a perpetual calendar.

Going beyond tradition

This unique watch was conceived in order to synchronise with the dynamics of a time when modernity was a means to liven up traditional watch creations. Equipped with a hand-made self-winding mechanical caliber, the beautiful watch featured a 22-carat guilloché micro-rotor which could be made visible depending on the owner’s wish. Indeed, the watch was available with a transparent crystal back or with a filled back and with its push-pieces setting stylus embedded in the case-middle. The sapphire back also offered a view of the exceptional heart, comprising subtle hand-made finishes according to the specifications of the Geneva Hallmark, which reveals how well the craftsmen at Patek Philippe had learned the art of sobriety. The wearer can thus read the temperature indications (hot and cold) engraved in gold letters in the rhodium-plated material and decorated with the “Côtes de Genève”. There is also a regulation group composed of a straight-line lever, and a Gyromax balance that is linked to a thin balance-spring in five positions. However, the wearer will mostly admire the visible components of the minute repeater such as the hammers or the gong-like inert regulator, which is discreetly visible under the Calatrava Cross engraved in the metal – and current – emblem of Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe reference 3974 Patek Philippe reference 3974 backcase

To make the most of this open work, the bolt placed on the side of the middle case needs to be pulled so that the hammers chime the hour displayed with fine “Dauphine” hands on the dial.

When contemplating the back of this R27Q caliber with 39 rubies, there is no detail or component that gives away the presence of a perpetual calendar on the dial of this rare watch. Yet, the seasoned eye will not miss it. Indeed, experts know how to look for the distinctive elements in timers that enable them to read the date placed on the edge of the moon phase indicator. On the silvered-dial version, gold hands indicate the moon phases, the 24-hour display and the leap year. The Dauphine hands that indicate the time are also in gold whilst the day and the month are indicated by fine fire-blued hands. In order to make the watch user-friendly, a self-winding mechanism allows for a watch winder to be used. This guarantees that the watch is conveniently winded to display calendar information without any interruption.

Patek Philippe reference 3974 Patek Philippe reference 3974 on the wrist

The push-pieces fitted at 6, 11 and 12 o’clock enable a quick adjustment of the calendar information in case the watch stops.

Out of production since 2000, the today extremely famous watch is attached to an alligator strap available with either a gold pin buckle or, for more security, a deployment buckle made with the same material as that of the case.

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Patek Philippe Grand Complication 5304 R27

By Vincent DaveauContributor
Passionately complex. This year, Patek Philippe celebrates its 175th anniversary.