The ref. 3974 is also one of the most important pieces in the Patek Philippe catalog and was the world’s most complicated wristwatch when launched. It combined a perpetual calendar, moon phase and 24-hour indication with a minute repeater. In 1925, Patek Philippe introduced the first perpetual calendar wristwatch and the first men’s minute repeater wristwatch, made for the American automotive engineer Ralph Teetor, who was blind (and whose inventions included the first cruise control). However, it wasn’t until 1989 and the ref. 3974 that Patek combined a perpetual calendar with a minute repeater in regular production. As the catalog describing this watch states, it is “a truly astonishing culmination of a century and a half of horology at its highest level.”
The caliber R 27 Q movement comprises of 467 components with a mere thickness of 6.80 mm. The ingenious sunken 22K micro-rotor enables a self-winding movement to also be housed in such a relatively slim case size. The very first movement was numbered 1’906’000. The cases were initially made by Jean-Pierre Hagmann (early examples have the case maker’s mark). Originally trained as a jeweler, JP Hagmann set up his own company in 1984 specializing in high quality watch cases. He worked for several of the top watch manufactures, most notably perfect replica Patek Philippe for whom he made cases for the firm’s Grand Complication series such as references 3974, 3979, 5016 and 5029. Later cases for the ref. 3974 were made by Ateliers Réunis. The ref. 3974 included a sapphire crystal back option.
The ref. 3974 stayed in production until the year 2000, and final production numbers are not known, but it is estimated that around 160 pieces were made in total, most in 18K yellow gold with around 15 in 18K rose gold, 12 in 18K white gold and 20 in platinum. From these pieces only 24 yellow gold, 4 rose gold, 2 white gold and 6 platinum have come back to the market. At auction, prices have remained relatively steady with platinum watches naturally fetching the highest prices. In November 2018 at Phillips, Geneva, a platinum ref, 3974P sold for 1,032,500 CHF. In May 2019 at Antiquorum, Geneva, a yellow gold ref. 3974J sold for 389,000 CHF.