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. As Sean Song, a vintage watch dealer and collector puts it,
"It marked a return for high-end watch brands. At the moment, I think the 3940 is more important to Patek Philippe themselves than to collectors, as they know just how significant this release was for the continuity of their brand."
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.
An early second series example
The reference 3940, produced between 1985 and 2007, has been categorised into a sequence of different series by collectors. This particular example is from the early second series, which is most notably distinguished by the absence of a cross in the leap year indicator at 3 o’clock - a feature which is present in all subsequent examples of the reference.
The early second series is believed to have been produced between 1987 and 1989, following the first series with sunken sub-dials, which is also believed to have been produced for a short two-year run. Alongside the first series, these early second series examples are the most elusive executions of the reference within normal production, believed to have been made in as few examples.
A vintage aesthetic
Despite the 22-year lifespan of the reference, it is only approximately in the first four years that we see a leap year indicator at 3 o’clock without a cross. The absence of this additional cross creates a design with greater symmetry and balance, which is also more faithful to the original envisioning of the reference 3940. In the eyes of certain collectors, though the cross was certainly added by Patek Philippe to help with legibility, some charm of the initial model is lost with the adoption of this functional change.
Other than slight changes in the Patek Philippe signature at 12 o’clock, the early second series also features the same serif font used in the sub-dials of the first series - another feature which is slightly modernised in subsequent iterations, moving away from a more classic, almost vintage, Patek Philippe aesthetic. This particular example is further distinguished by its Italian dial, which is seen far less frequently than the more common English and German ones.
The dial has three registers, with the various functions neatly balanced out. The sub-dial at three o'clock shows the 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.
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 Italian dial features all the characteristics of an early second series example, including the lack of a cross in the leap year indicator, 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 a very 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 Genevian 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 early second series Patek Philippe 3940J is accompanied by an impressive array of paperwork and documentation. It comes with its outer cardboard box, inner leather box, setting pin, instruction manuals (including one that features a first series ref. 3940 on the cover), leather pouch and its Certificate of Origin (confirming sale in March, 1989 in Vicenza, Italy). It comes on one of our stone grey Stockholm grained leather straps. It is also accompanied by its original Patek Philippe leather strap and yellow gold tang buckle.
Though it is keeping perfect time and all the functions work properly, the watch hasn’t been serviced in the past 5 years. As such, this Patek Philippe 3940J is offered with a complimentary service from Patek Philippe. Timeless, elegant and discontinued - the reference 3940 is an investment for life, to be worn - and appreciated, daily.
Viewings can be arranged in Central London by appointment.