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The Patek Philippe Grand Complication Debate

I have taken a bit of a hiatus from writing and no that was not because I was busy, rather it was because I mistakenly muted The Young Horologist WhatsApp group chat and forgot to respond for 14 months. I recently checked the chat and to my surprise saw that my two co-founders have taken this blog to the next level during my absence. We went from 460 Instagram followers to about 473! A whopping 0.93 followers a month. I am profoundly proud of my peers and have not stopped congratulating them on keeping this blog alive. In order to commemorate these achievements, Felix has proclaimed himself as CEO yesterday (well deserved), I have been appointed Chief Comprador of the East (CCE) and Calum has recently shaved all his hair while in isolation – we all have a place and position in life. Jokes aside, Felix and Calum have done tremendous work and I am excited to be writing again and joining the podcast regularly. I digress, on to something more important.

This piece is essentially to discuss 3 watches and an ongoing debate I seem to find myself in - which is the best modern Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar: a 3940, a 5140 or a 5327?

The definition of ‘best’ by all means is very loose and is a subjective topic but the clashing of opinions on this means someone should lay out some facts and opinions. I say ‘modern’ because I do not want to consider anything before the first series 3940 which was released as a follow up to the 3450 in 1986.

After reading this article a lot of Patek lovers are going to suggest I am crazy for loving a 39mm 2016 release Patek over a grail 36mm Patek, but I will build a case to justify my reasons. I will breakdown each watch and their distinctive characteristics and then justify why I think the 5327 comes up on top.

Image credits: Extract from WatchProSite

The story begins on a cold Swiss morning in 1985 when the famous 3450 would be replaced as flagship grand complication by a newcomer: the 3940. The 3940 took the world by storm and a specific tone needs to be set to understand why the 3940 is so important. This watch was released during the prime quartz pandemic of the 1980s where most manufacturers believed battery powered watches were the way forward and most brands began a ramp up of production for quartz watches. Even the ever so mystical Rolex gave in for a short while! Mechanical watches were about to be considered to be part of some bygone era. The 3940 was a restoration of faith into the market that a watch could be as special as this grand complication both aesthetically and mechanically. Afterall this specific reference became the daily favorite of Philippe Stern – the top man of Patek. Patek released the 3940 and the 3970 at the same time and by doing this was Patek doubling down on its stance exemplifying the importance of producing mechanical complicated watches. The 3940 has a 36mm dial with a perpetual calendar moon phase and is fueled by a micro rotor–powered calibre 240-Q. It has a movement which is truly refined and can be traced back to Patek’s fine craftmanship in the 1970s. The case which only stretches 36mm is very well laid out and it was released as a white gold model initially which emphasizes the elegant glow it exudes. The elegance of the 3940 became the gold standard reference for perpetual calendar Patek’s and a benchmark many other brands would fail to match. This watch is historically relevant and should eventually be in the collection of every major Patek lover.

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In 2006, after a 20-year reign of the infamous reference 3940 Patek Philippe decided to release the 5140 Perpetual Calendar. It was a bigger 37mm replacement to the 3940 and literally no one cared and still talked about the 3940. The dial is bigger but features tightly squished text within the sub-dials. If you ask me what I think happened, the corporate team at Patek basically sent the wrong email attachment of design drawings to the manufacturing floor and marketing department. Instead of taking responsibility for this mistake in classic Patek manner they doubled down and produced several thousands of them for the next decade. Nice one, Patek Philippe almost had us there (ha-ha). Moving on to the 5327.

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In 2016, something great happened. Patek replaced the unmemorable 5140 with what I would like to call a landmark piece for contemporary grand complications – the 5327. Ok – to be fair Patek did not improve on the sub-dial text size and it still looks a bit like the 5140. Well, the sub-dial text is actually identical to the 5140, however, there are discernable differences that make this watch really stand out today. The magnificence of this watch lies in its size. Sitting at 39mm it was an unprecedented move by Patek to make an unusually large dial for their signature grand complication piece. For someone like me who prefers time-only watches on a 36mm this would be the perfect size to enjoy the perpetual calendar. The main reason why I believe this is the watch that stands out are the re-introduction of the Brequet numerals, which is the high point for the aesthetic code of Patek dial. This is something every die hard Patek fan who loves smaller details craves for on a perpetual calendar. The 3940 and 5140 have plain and simple hour indicators and the 5327 has somewhat of an exotic touch with Brequet numerals. The blue dial in white gold is also a standout as a more creative touch for the colour scheme for this reference. This is probably the first Perpetual Calendar you could enjoy daily (hesitantly) because it’s just so easy to read the time with those numerals. In true Patek fashion the 5327 shares the same movement that’s been used for over 30 years and is the same engine for the 5140 and 3940.

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For me, the clear winner is the 5327 because of those Brequet numerals and a 39mm case size. Perhaps for the average Patek fan, the 3940 is the favorite, which I do completely understand as it is the most iconic out of the batch. However, it makes me very happy that the designers at Patek are listening to the consumers and bringing back those infamous Brequet numerals on to a larger case size.

See you guys with another article next Wednesday.

Ilkay Olmez

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