3940J | Perpetual Calendar | Yellow Gold
This Patek Philippe 3940J distinguishes itself thanks to its unusual "X" leap year indicator at 3 o'clock, replacing the cross or empty space usually found there. It is one of only four known pieces to feature this, with two of those understood to be owned by Thierry Stern, the Honorary President and owner of Patek Philippe, and the other being delivered to a Patek Philippe retailer and friend of Stern's. Rare and elusive, this is the only of the four "X" 3940 watches to house a German dial, seemingly making this a unique piece.
This Patek Philippe 3940 is one of only four pieces known to feature an “X” leap year indicator. Usually, the division is marked by a cross or missing completely from the sub-dial at 3 o’clock. It is also the only one of those four examples to house a German dial, making this unique amongst those known. It is understood that two of the “X” watches are owned by Philippe Stern, the Honorary President of Patek Philippe. His family has owned the company since 1932, with his son, Thierry, now acting as the Chief Executive Officer. Housed in white and yellow gold, both of Philippe Stern’s “X” watches are believed to feature French language dials. He has frequently been seen wearing the yellow gold example, which is believed to have been his daily watch for many years. His attachment to the 3940 seems natural, considering he first introduced the reference in 1985.
The third publicly known example of an “X” ref. 3940 features a white gold case and Italian dial. It belonged to Coppo Gian Piero, the owner of a Patek Philippe retailer of the same name, based in Alessandria in Northern Italy. Though unconfirmed, it is believed that Piero was a close friend of Philippe Stern. Upon seeing the “X” leap year indicator on his ref. 3940, the story goes that he felt compelled to own a similar version, with Patek Philippe delivering it as a custom request. The paperwork for the watch carries his name and is stamped by his own eponymous retailer. The watch currently resides in a prominent French collection.
This example is the fourth Patek Philippe ref. 3940 known to bear the “X” leap year indicator, and the only one to feature a German dial. It is understood that the watch was first delivered to a German collector, though it is unclear what his relationship to Patek Philippe or the Stern family may have been. That being said, considering the other pieces were likely owned by Philippe Stern and a Patek Philippe retailer, there’s reason to believe this would also have been delivered as a special request.
The reasoning behind having an “X” leap year indicator is unclear. It is understood that the Stern pieces were prototypes of some sort, with subsequent examples having been delivered to collectors who were looking for something different, though this is unconfirmed. There is reason to believe that when Patek Philippe was considering adding a cross to their leap year indicator, from the late second series onwards, they may have briefly contemplated having an “X” instead of a “+”. This theory is supported by the fact that all four known 3940 “X” dials share all of their other features with an early second series example, before the leap year indicator was updated.
The Industry at a Juncture
The reference 3940 was introduced by Patek Philippe in 1985, at a crucial juncture. The Swiss watch industry was still feeling the effects of not only the Quartz crisis, but also a global economic downturn which resulted in massive downsizing for many watch brands, with some pivoting towards this new technology and some having to fold altogether.
But rather than follow the wind, Philippe Stern, the CEO of Patek Philippe, decided instead to double-down on the brand’s heritage by creating the reference 3940. Alongside its sister reference, the 3970, the model essentially kick-started the serial production of complicated Patek Philippe watches. Prior to this, perpetual calendars were extremely scarce.
The reference 3940 decided to abandon the aesthetics cemented by previous references. The dial layout was revamped, with the day and month aperture being replaced with three sub-dials. The sharp lines were substituted for a smoother, more modern design. Powered by a much thinner movement, it enabled an elegant, slim case that fit tightly to the wrist.
A Classic Design
A subtle detail, the "X" leap year indicator of this Patek Philippe 3940J cannot be unseen once it has been spotted. It brings an unusual touch to an otherwise familiar and balanced design. This example shares design traits with the early second series, produced between 1987 and 1989, following the first series with sunken sub-dials.
The dial has three registers, with the various functions neatly balanced out. The sub-dial at three o'clock shows the "X" leap-year counter and the months, in a slightly concave sub-register, giving depth to the lightly-brushed, opaline dial. In a similar fashion, the months and day/night indicators are placed at nine o'clock. The gold moon and stars for the moon-phase are placed at six o'clock, with the days of the month around it. It features the same serif font used in many of the sub-dials from the first series - a feature which is slightly modernised in subsequent iterations of the reference, moving away from a more classic, almost vintage, Patek Philippe aesthetic.
The dauphine hands add a touch of sharpness to what only can be described as a beautifully executed dial. Evidence suggests that the dials for the reference 3940 were produced by Stern Frères, who provided many dials to Patek Philippe during this period. The German dial features many of the characteristics associated with an early second series example, including the the early serif font on the sub-dials and the "σ SWISS σ" printed below the outer minute track.
This Patek Philippe 3940J features a nicely preserved case, with crisp hallmarks on the case-side at 9 o’clock. As is often the case with early examples, it features a solid yellow gold caseback, hiding away the true beauty of the movement in an elegant and traditional fashion.
Representing the best of Swiss design, the movement itself is no less a technical feat. This example has a solid case back, concealing the fantastic hand-finishing, the Genevan coat of arms and stripes, as well as the off-center, 22k gold micro-rotor. The ultra-thin, self-winding 240 Q base movement has been used by Patek Philippe since the 1970s, and continues to beat at the heart of their modern perpetual lines.
This Patek Philippe 3940 "X" is accompanied by an Extract from the Archives, instruction manual and setting pin. The Extract from the Archives confirms the production date as 1989, which is consistent with the stylistic elements, such as the font or placement of the "σ SWISS σ", found on the dial. Having just been serviced by Patek Philippe, it also comes with servicing paperwork. This watch comes on one of our Tokyo grey grained leather straps, alongside its original yellow gold Patek Philippe pin buckle.
To find out more about the Patek Philippe 3940, you can read our Collector's Guide.
|Model:||Perpetual Calendar Ref. 3940J|
|Movement:||mechanical automatic micro-rotor 240 Q|
|Functions:||perpetual calendar: leap year indicator, month, date, day; moonphase, day/night indicators, hours, minutes|
|Features:||"X" leap year, German dial
|Case:||36 mm 18-carat yellow gold|
|Bracelet:||Tokyo grey grained leather strap, original yellow gold tang buckle|
|Box & papers:||
Extract from the Archives, instruction manual, setting pin, Patek Philippe servicing paperwork
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