When I first started working on this story, I thought it would be a straightforward, historical, “look, a crazy-beautiful and extremely unusual replica Patek Philippe watch.” What I found was much, much more interesting than that. It turns out that the Patek Philippe ref. 3448 “Senza Luna” is anything but straightforward.
The reference 3448 has always been my favorite vintage reference from Patek Philippe. I will never forget the first time I saw one in the metal. I had just started working at Sotheby’s and was swimming in reference and movement numbers, frantically cataloging and ordering extracts. The head of the department came over to my desk after receiving a shipment of watches and showed me a yellow gold 3448, saying, “Take a good look at this watch, specifically the lugs. You will never see one in better condition than this.” It was so clean and sharp, so elegant and powerful. It was love at first sight.
Let’s start with the basic reference 3448. This watch is significant not only to me personally, but also in the history of watchmaking in general. While Patek Philippe did not invent the perpetual calendar (that honor belongs to English watchmaker Thomas Mudge), it was an early adopter, as far as modern watchmaking firms go, creating a perpetual calendar pocket watch in 1864 and applying for a patent for a perpetual calendar movement in 1889. Later, the first perpetual calendar wristwatch was created in 1925, when Patek fitted a 19th-century ladies’ perpetual calendar movement (no. 97.975), originally made for a pendant watch, into a wristwatch case and sold it to Thomas Emery that same year. However, one should note that Breguet and Audemars Piguet were also making perpetual calendar wristwatches in the early 20th century, but those came later and today we are going to stay focused on Patek.
Patek Philippe made two types of perpetual calendars, those with a chronograph like the reference 1518 and those that were just perpetual calendars. The former are definitely interesting and there’s tons of complexity to discuss, but it’s the latter, simpler watches that come into play in this story.
Patek Philippe made two non-referenced perpetual calendar wristwatches, no. 198.167 in 1930 and no. 860.183 in 1936 with retrograde date. Patek later moved on to the reference number system and produced the following: reference 1526 (1941-1952) with caliber 12”’-120QP, reference 1591 (1944-1947) with only two known examples; reference 2497 (1950-1963) with caliber 27-SCQ; and then reference 2438-1 (1955-1963), which is the same as the 2497 but with a screw-down caseback. Finally, there was the reference 3449, which was produced exclusively in 1961 and only in three examples. The 3449 featured the manually-wound caliber 23-300Q.
This brings us to the reference 3448, manufactured between 1962 and 1981. So, why was the 3448 different? Well, most importantly, it was the very first automatic perpetual calendar by Patek Philippe. The 3448 is powered by the caliber 27-460 Q, a modified version of the caliber 27-460 (an automatic movement without perpetual calendar). The 27-460 Q featured a yellow gold rotor, had a 38-hour power reserve, and was known for being incredibly efficient.
The incredibly rare Patek Philippe reference 3449. Only three examples were made, all in 1961.
In addition to being the first automatic perpetual calendar wrist patek philippe replica watches sale, the 3448 had an innovative case design and dial display. The 3448 was made in yellow gold (approximately 450-500 made), white gold (approximately 100 made), in rose gold (at least one known example), and platinum (also only two known examples, Jean-Claude Biver has one). Designed by Antoine Gerlach, the heavy case measures 37mm in diameter and has a solid snap-on caseback. The most important part of the case design, however, is the lugs. Angular and sharp, these lugs were unlike any produced at the time. They were a major departure from the straight, stepped, and curved lugs that people were used to seeing on the references 3449, 2497, and 1526, respectively. These lugs were futuristic, cool, crisp, and became an instant classic.
The dial layout was not as inventive, but is equally cool. The day and month are displayed with twin aperture windows under the 12 o’clock indexes, with the date and moonphase sub-dial at six o’clock. The baton indexes are perfectly proportioned, with two small studs at five and seven o’clock. The dials varied in production between 1962 and 1981 – four series in total. The first series has small enameled baton minute markers (1962-1966); the second series has perlé minute markers and a small date ring (1965 -1973); the third series has perlé minute or line divisions and large date ring (1971 -1978); and the fourth series has printed small baton minute divisions (after 1978). All in all, this was one beautiful timepiece.
Despite being beautiful, the reference 3448 isn’t exactly what you would describe as a “rare” watch. Unusual, sure, but not rare in the same sense as the 3449. You probably don’t see it on the subway every day, but about one per year comes up at auction (usually in yellow gold), and they tend to do very well, depending on condition. Last year at Christie’s in Geneva, a white gold version sold for 629,000 CHF ($646,109 at time of publication) against an estimate of 300,000 to 500,000 CHF. This was an early example with a desirable second series dial. Additionally, a yellow gold version sold at Sotheby’s in December 2016 for $237,500 with buyer’s premium against an estimate of $80,000 to 120,000. A pink gold version sold at Christie’s Geneva in 2011 as well for 2,099,000 CHF against an estimate of 500,000 to 1,000,000 CHF. Now, obviously, prices vary on condition and rarity, but the value of nice 3448s continues to grow over time.
So, you may be thinking, “Wow! A pink gold 3448 fetching 2 million CHF? And only two known!?” Yes, it’s pretty remarkable and they are definitely incredibly rare. But not as rare as this next piece. Dubbed the “Unique Patek Philippe 3448,” this example features a special dial with a sub-dial that indicates both the date and leap year, in lieu of a moonphase. It was made for Alan Banbery, who, as you may know, worked for Patek Philippe for almost 50 years. He started in sales and later became the buyer for the Patek Philippe Museum and oversaw the production of extracts for a period of time. He retired from Patek in the late 1990s/early 2000s. He also wrote the book on Patek Philippe (no, really he actually wrote the book Patek Philippe) and is known in the watch world as an esteemed source for everything related to the brand.
The “Unique Patek Philippe 3448” sold at Sotheby’s Geneva in November 2008.
This watch, rumored to be a gift from the Stern family to Banbery (not too shabby), is distinguished by the atypical dial that displays the leap year in lieu of the moonphase. As confirmed by the Extract from the Archives, the watch was born a standard 3448 in yellow gold in 1970, with the dial and movement modified in 1975. Additionally, this watch is noted and illustrated in the Banbery & Huber book Patek Philippe on page 221.
In order to display the leap year, Patek Philippe had master watchmaker Max Berney remove the moonphase disk and adjust the plate so that the leap year could be displayed with a small secondary hand. The special dial was produced by Stern Frères, the official dial-maker for Patek Philippe. The dial features the perlé minute markers; however the minute indexes are set on the interior of the track rather than within it.
This unique piece is incredibly cool and it’s likely it at least partially inspired the later reference 3450, which was released in 1981 (though the leap year on that watch is shown with a small aperture between three and four o’clock). This unique 3448 was sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva in 2008 for 1,840,900 CHF against an estimate of 1,300,000 to 2,000,000 CHF. Who purchased the watch is still a mystery and it has not appeared again in a public sale.
The Reference 3448 ‘Senza Luna’
Okay, so we’ve finally arrived at those baffling 3448 “Senza Luna” watches. What are these watches, you ask? These are incredibly unusual timepieces and only six have ever come up at auction (with two actually having been sold twice). The “Senza Luna” (which means “moonless” in Italian) are variations on the 3448 distinguished by the lack of moonphase aperture, instead having a simple sub-dial with just the date indication.
At first I thought these were just really awesome watches with super-rare dials – so much so, in fact, that I might have even called the Senza Luna my new grail watch. However, after I started doing some digging, it became clear very quickly that something was not quite right. I reached out to nearly a dozen sources to gather more information and clarify some discrepancies, and only two people would go on record about these watches at all. Representatives of Antiquorum, Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s all declined to comment on the record about the Senza Luna and representatives from Bonhams were unable to provide the records we requested. Clearly something is up with these watches.
But before we get into what we don’t know, let’s look at the facts we do know. Here’s a chart detailing each of the Senza Luna watches, plus the unique ref. 3448 above.
So, as you can see, a total of seven moon-less 3448s have come up at auction. We are going to leave the unique piece made for Banbery out of the conversation going forward, as it has been confirmed both by Patek Philippe with two extracts from the archives and by the Huber and Banbery book.
That leaves six of the exotic Senza Luna watches. All but one (which was withdrawn from a sale at Auktionen Dr. H. Crott – more on that later) achieved crazy prices for the times in which they were sold, with the highest price achieved 696,500 CHF in 2004. To put things in perspective, in 2004 a standard reference 3448 was selling for around 100,000 to 150,000 CHF, and in 2008 the watches were still selling for around the same price (prior to the recession). Like I said, these were achieving totally crazy prices. So, what’s the big deal?
Here is what we know for sure. Five of the six watches were sold publicly between 2000 and 2008, with the withdrawn lot from Crott being the exception. All five watches made their market debuts at Antiquorum. The first two, sold in 2000 and 2003, do not come with Patek Philippe extracts at all. From there, things get a lot more complicated.
For watch number three, the listing online notes the existence of an extract, but there is no image of the extract and Antiquorum was unable to get us a copy of the original printed catalog, so we do not know whether or not an image of it was present there.
The listing for watch number four, on the other hand, notes the existence of the extract and an image of it was displayed alongside the watch in the printed catalog. However, this extract indicates that the watch left the factory with a moonphase complication, and, suspiciously, under “Type of Dial” we simply get “Not mentioned.”
When watch number five was first sold in 2004, the existence of an extract was indicated, but it was not present in the catalog. But, when the watch resurfaced in 2007, a copy of the extract was printed in the catalog and that extract looked nearly identical to that of watch number four, with both the moonphase complication noted and the absence of any substantive information about the dial.
For the sixth watch, the one withdrawn from Auktionen Dr. H. Crott, I spoke with the auction house’s owner, Stefan Muser. According to Muser, they took in the white gold 3448 Senza Luna with bracelet, but promptly withdrew it from the sale, as Patek Philippe believed it to be a replica authentic Patek Philippe watch, but was unable to confirm whether or not the watch had originally left the factory with that dial.
Additionally, Antiquorum describes the first three as special orders for important Patek Philippe clients, while the final three were described as part of a small batch with prototype dials. The discrepancies in the stories being told by those selling the watches add to the confusion.
There are discrepancies in the dials themselves as well. All have the perlé minute markers without sigmas at the base of the dial. Around 1970-1971, the Swiss Association Pour la Promotion Industrielle de l’Or (APRIOR) began encouraging members to mark dials made of gold or with gold indexes with so-called “APRIOR sigmas” on either side of the “Swiss” signature. Members included many of the larger brands, including Rolex, IWC, and, of course, Patek Philippe. So, we can deduce that all of these dials were likely produced before 1971, while three of the watches were definitely produced well after 1971. This means that either the dials or the cases sat around, since the years don’t match up. However, if you look really closely (I know it is hard, the resolution of these images isn’t great), all the dials differ slightly. The graphics around the date sub-dials, in particular, are inconsistent and the sub-dials themselves vary in size as well. Thus, it’s hard to believe that the dials on these six watches came from a single batch.
At this point, I’m left asking myself a lot of questions that begin with “why.” Why do the dials of these six watches vary? Why do the extracts not note the dials in any meaningful way? Why were half supposedly made for individuals, while the other half were part of a prototype series? Why wouldn’t Patek Philippe, a company known for its due diligence and remarkable archive system, not have any record of these dials? Why did six previously-unheard-of watches come up at auction in a span of eight years? Why haven’t we seen a Senza Luna at auction in nearly a decade? And, most importantly, why is no one in the auction world willing to say anything publicly about any of these watches?
However, esteemed collector and author John Goldberger, of Talking Watches fame, was extremely helpful. According to Goldberger, the six Senza Luna dials were found in a drawer by a dealer in the 1990s and applied to existing reference 3448 watches, presumably fresh-to-market examples so the serial numbers couldn’t be linked to other publicly-known watches. He believes that the dials were in fact produced by Stern Frères, but were abandoned in the factory at some point, later to be discovered by someone with ulterior motives.
One final thing to note – according to Goldberger, the cases for these watches all still have the moonphase corrector between the lugs. You can see one present on one of the white gold Senza Luna (see image below), but with the photos we have here it’s not possible to verify this for the others.
Additionally, I spoke to collector and managing director of TimeZone William Massena, who stated, “The absence of any scholarship around these watches is strange. When? Whom? Why? Where? We usually have at least answers to some of these questions, but for the ‘Senza Luna,’ we have nothing.”
And he’s totally right. Unlike with the unique 3448, which is clearly as it should be, there are no drawings in any book, there are no archival photographs, and there is no supporting literature for any of the other six cheap patek philippe replica watches.
I reached out to Patek Philippe to see if anyone there had anything to offer in the way of clarification, and so far they have been unable to offer any new documentation. We will update this story if that changes in the future.