Patek Philippe Ref. 3448 – the first ever self-winding perpetual calendar

It is now 57 years since the first release of the Patek Philippe Ref. 3448. For me, it remains one of the finest perpetual calendars ever made. It has retained a freshness and appeal that mark it out as something quite special.

A watch manufacturer gains reputation through a variety of different avenues. For Patek Philippe, one could argue that over its long history, it has maintained a dedication to quality and craftsmanship that has set it apart from other manufacturers. Equally, one could argue that Patek Philippe has been in the vanguard of developing horological breakthroughs that have established it as a pioneer. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to highly complicated watches. One could perhaps extend the argument further and suggest that the perpetual calendar more than any other complication is central to that history. That is probably quite a controversial statement to make, but actually it is a statement that can be readily justified by the facts.

In 1925 Patek Philippe produced the first ever perpetual calendar wristwatch – Reference No. 97.975. In 1941, it produced the Reference 1518, the first ever serially-produced perpetual calendar chronograph. And in 1962, it released the first ever self-winding perpetual calendar, the Reference 3448. When it comes to perpetual calendar complication, Patek Philippe have consistently led the industry in terms of horological breakthroughs. This article will focus on the last of the above technological breakthroughs – Reference 3448.

The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, owned a 3448. Art icon, Andy Warhol, also owned a 3448. Somehow, those two personalities capture quite well the spirit of the 3448. The 1960s, as an era, conjures up an aura of rebellion, of rock and roll, of freedom and creativity. The 3448, at the time of its launch, was very much a part of this moment. The 3448 moved away from the more rounded case style, embracing a more angular and edged style.

Described at the time of its launch as “futuristic”, the 3448 was not especially popular during the early years of production. In total, just 586 examples were produced over the 20 year period between 1962-1981. Approximately 100 examples in white gold and 450-500 in yellow gold. Two examples exist in platinum but these were made as special requests after production had ceased so are not really part of the official run. There is also two examples in rose gold!

So why is the Reference 3448 so special? In an internal Patek Philippe newsletter from 1963 (Courtesy Nicholas Foulkes), it described the Reference 3448 automatic perpetual calendar as “The Watch that Thinks”. Further, such was the magnitude of the innovation at the time, it went on to describe the watch as “one of the most amazing personal timepieces ever designed. Automatically, with no need for the owner to correct it for long or short months, it shows the time, the day, the month, the date, and the phase of the moon.” It concludes by describing the watch as “the wonder watch that thinks for itself.” Clearly, Patek Philippe believed that they had created an engineering marvel. They had.

The Reference 3448 is equipped with Caliber 27-460Q with a straight line lever escapement. The watch has a diameter of 37.5mm and a height of 43.8mm and depth of 12mm. The 27-460 movement was actually first introduced in 1960 and converted into a perpetual calendar in 1962.

So, in 1962, Patek Philippe released the world’s first perpetual calendar that was self-winding. It soon took on the nickname of the “Padellone” courtesy of its case shape. Today, the reference is 57 years old and its case shape looks as fresh and modern as it did back in the 1960s. Indeed, when one looks at many watches from the 1960-70s era, they can take on a very dated persona. The 3448, however, appears to have a more timeless (almost effortless) look about it. In the same way that the Porsche 911 DNA pervades through time, the same can be said of the Reference 3448. It has captured something quite unusual in being able to remain as fresh today as it was in the 1960s. Ironically, both the first Porsche 911 and the Patek Philippe 3448 were revealed to the world at almost exactly the same time.

As an owner, what appeals to me about the reference 3448? Well, for a start, I truly appreciate the fact that it is not only the first self-winding perpetual calendar made by Patek Philippe, but the first self-winding perpetual calendar that was ever produced as a wristwatch by any manufacturer. As that internal newsletter suggests, it marks an important moment in horological history. I also believe that Patek Philippe’s description of the watch as “one of the most amazing personal timepieces ever designed” is a prescient view of its timeless design.

I feel as happy wearing this watch incongruously with a pair of jeans as I do in a suit out at a fancy restaurant. The watch is totally at ease on the wrist. Its case size of 37.5mm works well for the design. A touch bigger than the 5110, but given its greater depth of 12mm (9.8mm on 5110) and the nature of its lugs, it actually feels a much bigger watch on the wrist. The lugs deserve a special mention. Typically, within Patek Philippe, lugs were straight or stepped and occasionally curved. The lugs on the 3448 were radically different being sharp and angled – more Bauhaus than anything. This set a very different standard for design of its complications.

Bauhaus influenced lugs – sharper….more angular.

The layout of the dial is, for me, the crowning glory of the watch. There is a simplicity of its layout that presents the perfect perpetual calendar. Of course, one can argue that the lack of leap year indicator makes it harder to set, but at the same time the lack of “portholes” makes the dial aesthetically much more beautiful. The dial has a clarity and purity that I find totally absorbing. And then, of course, there is the exposition of the moonphase. It is just of a different vibrancy to the modern variations. The colour of the blue set against the gold inlay of the moon – just absorbing. One looks at the perfection of this execution and just marvels.

The quality and uniqueness of the moonphase is simply stunning. Vibrant. Contrasting. Exquisite.

Over the period 1962-1981, there emerged essentially four different versions of the dial. Between 1962-1966, the minute markers were enamelled. Between 1965-1973 the date ring becomes smaller and the minute markers are perlé. Between 1971-1978, the date ring becomes larger again. And between 1978-1981, the minute divisions are printed. I have definitely seen very early versions of the watch that have much later dial variants. Some have clearly had dials replaced at service. Finding an early version with original dial and in good condition can be tricky. I have now seen quite a few versions of this watch and tend to find their dials in variable condition. Similarly, the shape of the case with its angular lugs predisposes it to the occasional ding. Yet, when one finds one in great condition, there can be few watches that can compete.

Details like the double hallmarking and inset crown add those small but invaluable features to the 3448

Yes, the Porsche GT3 RS is technologically light years ahead of the very first Porsche 911. Faster. More reliable. Better road handling. More advanced technology. “Better” in every respect. Well, nearly every respect. The first 911 will, forever, have more class than its modern day successor and its place in history is sealed. And that is what exudes from the 3448. It is a supremely classy watch that has its place in history sealed. Or, as Patek Philippe described it more aptly, “one of the most amazing personal timepieces ever designed.”