Patek Ref. 3417A – “The World’s Foremost Watch”

OK, I am sure that many will read the headline and consider that I am being blinded by personal bias. To be fair, I don’t think that the Reference 3417A is the world’s foremost watch. However, back in the 1950s when this watch was first made, Patek Philippe described it as such, and back then, well yes there was some justification for it.

Over the entire history of production at Patek Philippe, very few watches were made in just stainless steel. It has often been the case that watches made in precious metal have also been offered in steel, but very few just in steel. The Reference 3417A is one of such watches.

According to the history books, the inspiration for the Reference 3417A came from a special request in 1955 by Admiral Richard Byrd. Byrd had been appointed as Commander of Operation Deep Freeze – the establishment of a research base for the US in the Antarctica. Byrd had noted that the magnetic fields in the Antractica were very strong and that this would impare his watch’s accuracy. So, Patek Philippe developed a watch for Byrd that would overcome the magnetic issue. This watch was the Reference 778. Reference 778 was a one-off watch that proved to be the inspiration for the Reference 3417 that Patek Philippe put into production in 1958. The 3417 was the first dedicated amagnetic production watch from Patek Philippe.

The very first movement used between 1958-60 was the 12-400. This was upgraded around 1960 to the 27-AM-400. According to an article appearing in the Patek Philippe magazine, some 500 watches were made using the 12-400 movement and 400 made using the 27-AM-400 movement. In terms of rarity, then, the 3417 certainly qualifies.

The Amagnetic – series two dial

The upgraded movement coinatined beryllium bronze and durochrome with a soft-iron inner case. Although this was the very first specifically designed amagnetic watch by Patek Philippe, other manufacturers had also started to develop the theme during the 1950s. The Rolex Milgauss and the JLC Geophysic being two of the most famous variants. As much as I love both the Rolex and JLC variant, neither competes with the 3417A in terms of finishing and artistry. There is a panache to the 3417A that does not exist in its contemporaries. Indeed, the 3417A managed to capture something that few subsequent Calatravas have managed. It is a Patek Philippe toolwatch, but one that is very clearly at home on the wrist of the scientist adventurer. This is surely how one can imagine Admiral Byrd.

No article about the 3417A is ever really complete without mentioning “Mstanga”. Mstanga, as he is known, wrote the authoritative manual on the 3417A, detailing its several variations as well as its history. In fact, it was Mstanga who held my hand when I first purhcased my own 3417A several years ago. For anyone wanting an in-depth booklet detailing every facet of the 3417A reference, Mstanga is the man to find.

Bauhaus in design

I think it is fair to say that there are several differentiated dials within the 3417 reference. It used to be believed that there were four basic series of dial. As more and more focus has turned to this watch and as more 3417s have surfaced, it seems clear that there are many different dial permutations. My version houses the cal. 27-AM400, stamped with the Geneva seal, 18 jewels. The dial is silvered matte with applied white gold baton and arabic numerals. My version would be deemed to be a Series 2 , being manufactured in August 1964.

I am a big fan of vintage Calatrava. Over the years, I have owned many. However, of all Calatrava, I find the 3417A to be my favourite. It has something quite special about it.