I am fascinated by the perpetual calendar as a complication. There is something quite remarkable about the mechanical engineering that allows a watch to “know” all the idiosyncrasies of the calendar year essentially forever.
Tracing the chronology of the perpetual calendar is also a fascinating job as, inevitably, it can be found almost exclusively within the history of Patek Philippe.
Ref. 97975 released in 1925 saw Patek Philippe release the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch. In 1941, the release of the Ref. 1526 saw the first ever serially-produced perpetual calendar. It was twelve years later that Patek Philippe pioneered the Caliber 12-600AT as the first ever self-winding movement. And some nine years after that when Patek Philippe combined these two horological feats with the Ref. 3448 – the first ever serially-produced self-winding perpetual calendar. It was not for another 16 years that another manufacturer produced a self-winding perpetual calendar. 16 years!! Thanks to @books_on_time who kindly provided me with a superb article by journalist Wei Koh in “Revolution”. This article is a must-read for any fan of Patek Philippe perpetual calendars.
It is also well-known that just one year before the Ref. 3448 was released, three watches under the ref. 3449 were also released. These three watches were numbered 799000, 799001 and 799002. All manual wind 23-300Q movement, but remarkably each watch had a different case/lug design. “000” had triple-stepped bezel with angular lugs. “001” had double-stepped bezel with angular lugs. While “002” had triple-stepped bezel with straight lugs.
It is a mystery why Patek Philippe released just three watches with the 3449 reference in 1961, ahead of the 3448 self-winding novelty that followed in 1962. Mystery or not, the reference 3449 has to be one of the rarest and most desirable in the entire Patek Philippe history. Patek Philippe expert, Aura Montanari (aka John Goldberger) is the owner of the 799002. An interesting engraving on the back of this one…. “Qu’hier que demain”…. which translates roughly as “more than yesterday , less than tomorrow.” What a lovely engraving. What a fantastic philiosophy. The headline picture on this blog shows the Ref. 3448 against the Ref. 3449 background.
Ref. 3448 housed the Calibre 27-460Q. The “Padellone” as it became known had its case designed by Antoine Gerlach. It became an icon of the era thanks to its (at the time) futuristic styling and lug design, partially recessed crown and stepped bezel. Koh described the Ref. 3448 as “the 20th century’s most iconic perpetual calendar”. Further, to quote Koh….. “It is Zen reductive cool to the extreme.”
Stepped case. Bauhaus-style lugs. Zen.
The Ref. 3448 dispensed with the seconds hand. To be fair, the Bauhaus style lugs and stepped case of the Ref. 3448 presents the epitome of aesthetic purity. One of the reasons I find the Ref. 3448 to be my favourite of all perpetual calendars is the fact that it combines complexity of complication with a purity and balance of dial that is, to me, unequalled. I also find the concept of a self-winding perpetual calendar a landmark phenomenon. There is an inherent circularity of a self-winding perpetual calendar that just lifts my attention.
Double-stamped. Partially recessed crown. Small details but so important.
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.” Patek Philippe were clearly extremely proud of their creation.
For a perpetual calendar, the moonphase is crucial. Enamel is the Way.
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 are also two examples in rose gold!
Obviously, I am a big fan of the Ref. 3448. It captures for me the spirit of so much that is Patek Philippe. The Reference is almost 60 years old, yet like the Porsche 911, the essence of its DNA remains fresh and modern.