The 6 Most Undervalued Vintage Patek Philippe Models, According to Experts

To anyone with even a passing interest in Patek Philippe, one thing is abundantly clear: If value on the secondary market is the benchmark by which greatness is determined, a single model, the legendary ref. 5711/1A, aka the Nautilus, reigns supreme.

Guess which Patek Philippe is the most under-valued according to experts and collectors? Image credit: Collectability

To lovers of fine timepieces, however, the venerable Geneva-based brand is so much more than simply the maker of the most coveted wristwatch in the world. In fact, the current mania for all versions of the ref. 5711/1A — and especially the Tiffany Blue dial version released in December, now rumored to have some collectors offering 3 million USD, 60 times its $52,635 retail value — got us thinking about which vintage Patek Philippe timepieces (i.e. watches manufactured prior to the year 2000) remain undervalued.

So we asked collectors, dealers and auction house experts, including Collectability’s very own John Reardon and Tania Edwards, to weigh in. “Collectability is built on this very question,” Reardon says. “We love under-appreciated pieces that represent the values of Patek Philippe, past and present.”

Our highly debatable list of the six most undervalued and overlooked Patek Philippe watches manufactured before the 21st century appears below, in ascending order of the number of mentions each received. While the references fall into different price brackets and come from a wide swath of periods, they all represent value buys, according to our experts. Happy hunting!

6. Minute Repeater Pocket Watches

Patek Philippe open faced minute repeater made in 1905 and still sounding as beautiful as the day it left the workshops. Image credit: Collectability

Edwards is unequivocal about the area most undervalued by Patek Philippe collectors. “There’s no question it’s a minute repeater pocket watch,” she says. “We’ve sold a few exquisite models for around $20,000. The sound is mind blowing. The advantage of a pocket watch is there’s more space for the sound to resonate.” The other advantage is, of course, the relative value for money, especially compared with prices on equivalent wristwatch models. “This is an area where we are speechless all the time,” Edwards says. “You would be lucky to get a simple Patek Philippe minute repeater wristwatch for $350,000, or more likely $400,000. And yet, a simple minute repeater pocket watch starts around $20,000.”

Ringing true: detail of a Patek Philippe minute repeater pocket watch movement with two hammers and two gongs. The caliber base was made by Victorin Piguet and finished by Patek Philippe to their exacting standards. Image credit: Collectability

Pocket watches, in general, are vastly underpriced, contends Patrick Getreide, a French collector and owner of The Oak Collection, which comprises numerous one-of-a-kind Patek Philippe models, and is due to go on display at the Design Museum in London in May. “Ref. 605, a world time complication, should be the same price as a model on a bracelet, which is 2 million Swiss francs, but you can get one for 80,000 to 130,000, which is incredible,” Getreide says. “Why is it 10 times more if you have a bracelet? It’s the same complicated watch, an exact copy of the design. I can think of 20 more references that are undervalued.”

5. Ref. 96

The ref. 96 is the classic time only Calatrava made by Patek Philippe from 1932 until 1973. During its production run, many case and dial options were offered, and perhaps the above ref. 96R rose gold and black dial is the most elegant and beautiful combination. This piece was made in 1941 and has a highly finished caliber 10-120 movement. Image credit: Collectability

Getreide is also a fan of Ref. 96, Patek Philippe’s first Calatrava model. Produced between 1932 and 1973, the watch is round, hand-wound, time-only — and small in diameter. “It’s 30 mm, but you can get some for 5,000 to 10,000 francs,” Getreide says. “Today it’s not in fashion for men to wear 30 mm — it’s more for women — but it’s an exquisite watch.”

In this late series ref 96J made in 1966, the archive describes this watch as featuring an ‘Amagnetic’ caliber 27 AM 400. Unusually, the watch has a Tiffany & Co. signature in an unexpected place within the bottom half of the sub seconds dial. Image credit: Collectability

Edwards calls Ref. 96 “the quintessential Calatrava” and jokes that prices will likely have gone up since yesterday. (“It is crazy what prices are doing!” she says.) “Any Patek that just tells you the time is simple and beautiful,” she adds. “You can’t go wrong.”

4. Ref. 5040

Shape of the future: the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar moon-phase ref. 5040 was produced from 1998 – 2007, the first series until 1998 and the second series until 2005. It is estimated that 1800 pieces were made in yellow gold with 80 so far back to the market; 450 in pink gold with 24 back to the market; 500 in white gold with 38 back to the market and 600 in platinum with 30 back in the market. Image credit: Philips

Patek’s legacy of creating shaped watches is often overlooked, but a few tonneau-shaped perpetual calendars introduced in the 1990s, and now valued under $50,000, are starting to attract more interest. Take ref. 5040, for example. Reardon describes it as a reference he “will be giving lots of attention in 2022 and beyond while I can still buy them at this attractive price point.” Edwards worked for Patek Philippe in the ’90s and distinctly remembers the less-than-auspicious reaction the model received upon its introduction. “When it came out, we thought Patek had lost its mind,” she says. “Who’s going to wear this strange shaped watch? If they’re spending this much money, they want a more conservative design. But now, it’s just super cool looking. And it’s around $50,000 for an important complication by Patek.”

Sort after shape: the ref. 5040 is finding a new market of collectors as its value grows. Image credit: Sotheby’s

Another tonneau-shaped example due for its moment in the spotlight, notes Getreide, is ref. 5041, a tonneau-shaped style made between 1995 and 2003. “You can get it for a very low price, and it will become very important in the future,” he says.

3. Ref. 5085-1/A

The Neptune family of watches was launched in 1996 as an alternative to the Nautilus which was (ironically) not very desirable by the market at the time. The innovative Neptune was meant to re-energize the Patek Philippe sports watch category and was offered alongside the newly announced Aquanaut. The bold case design with prominent crown guards gave a distinctive look that is only now getting the appreciation it deserves. Image credit: Sotheby’s

While it may not go viral on Instagram, this relatively unknown 1990s-era Patek wristwatch, dubbed the Neptune, was conceived as a sporty update to the Nautilus. Equipped with the same movement as the ref. 3712 Nautilus (caliber 240 PS), the Neptune came in a round 37 mm case in steel, two-tone or gold. For some astute collectors, the bracelet model represents a true value for anyone interested in steel sport watches but unable to buy into the category due to soaring prices. “In pictures, I’m not so sure about this watch, but in person it’s fabulous — but not many people get to see them in person,” says Keith Davis, head of watches for Christie’s Americas. “It’s time-only, really beautifully made, still a modern size. Nobody talks about it.”

Ladies too: back in the late 1990s, Patek Philippe wanted to offer a new sports watch alternative to compete in the market, especially in the crowded ladies luxury market dominated by Rolex and Cartier. The ‘Neptune’ was the answer. This collection was launched in 1996 and featured an endless selection of dial and gem variants. This example is the elegant 18K yellow gold ref. 4880/1J. Made in 2000. Image credit: Collectability

Well, not exactly nobody. Asher Rapkin and Gabe Reilly, the co-founders of Collective Horology, a collector’s group based in California, described the Neptune as “another relative value hidden in plain sight.” They drew attention to its design, which, unlike the Nautilus, did not originate with the celebrated Gerald Genta. “Arguably more so than the Nautilus or Aquanaut, the Neptune offers a distinctively Patek take on the sports watch,” they write in an email. “In other words, it’s no Genta-inspired design, but rather an organic evolution of Patek’s classical approach to watchmaking. And it’s rare: Launched in 1998, it was discontinued only years later. Given its relative scarcity and the quality examples still available, it likewise represents a value — and one that won’t last long.”

2. The Golden Ellipse

The ref. 3747 was made in the 1980s and early 1990s as the quartz alternative to the manual ref. 3746. Made with a massive, heavy integrated bracelet, this watch was originally made for a man but today can easily be considered unisex. The signature, blued-gold dial and oversized rice grain bracelet give this watch a bold and classic appeal. Made in 1991. Image credit: Collectability

The very essence of 1970s design, the Golden Ellipse watches that Patek introduced in 1968 are growing in value but at nowhere near the pace of the brand’s vintage sport models. “Undervalued is an understatement with many vintage Ellipse watches still under $10,000,” says Reardon.

James Lamdin, director of vintage and pre-owned timepieces at the Watches of Switzerland Group, says “a spectacular example on a bracelet is probably around $20,000. They have a very luxurious, streamlined, non-sporty style and they’re just exquisite watches,” he adds. “We’ve done well with them recently, but there are plenty of collectors who don’t even look at them.”

The first among many: Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse ref. 3548. In 1967, the collection started with references 3546 and 3548 which were listed in in the catalog until 1976. They were then replaced with references 3746 and 3748, each fitted with the caliber 215. The ultra-thin ref. 3589 was launched in 1970 and stayed in the collection until 1979. It was the first of Patek’s collection to use the LeCoultre base caliber 28 255, later to be used in the Nautilus ref. 3700. Image credit: Collectability

Rapkin and Reilly are equally bullish about the Ellipse: “For collectors looking for a signature design from Patek, the Ellipse meets the brief,” they write. “Not only that, more broadly, it’s aligned with a growing interest in elegant dress watches with distinctive case geometry, namely the Cartier Tank. Vintage examples represent a tremendous value for a quintessentially Patek take on an elegant dress watch.”

1. Ref. 3970

The ref. 3970 was released in 1986 and replaced the ref. 2499 as the flagship perpetual calendar chronograph of the marque. It was produced until 2004 in four series: First series 1986 – 1988, Second series 1987 – 1990, Third series 1989 – 1995 and Forth series 1994 – 2004. During its 20 year production run a total of 4000 were made. Image credit: Collectability

If the sheer number of people who selected the ref. 3970 is any indication, then this perpetual calendar chronograph, introduced in 1986 as a successor to the iconic ref. 2499, should send collectors running to their dealers (stat!). “Under $100,000, I think of a dozen references that are undervalued but the ref. 3970EJ is still the golden opportunity of choice,” says Reardon.

He is echoed by the industry’s most discerning buyers, including Jasem Al Zeraei, a.k.a. @Patekaholic (“It has to be the 3970, in all metals and dial variations”); Silas Walton, founder of A Collected Man (“It’s a stunning watch and ridiculously undervalued relative to what it represents”); and Jaclyn Li, a Harvard University student, Vancouver-based collector and co-host of The Waiting List podcast (“I consider one of my favorite references, the 3970, to be one of the most undervalued Pateks at the current moment”).

The magnificent movement of the ref. 3970 utilized a Patek Philippe-finished Lemania caliber, rather than the Valjoux caliber of its predecessor which Patek Philippe had used for 50 years. Image credit: Collectability

Few people, however, waxed as poetic about the ref. 3970 as Artemy Lechbinisky, CEO of Ineichen Auctioneers in Zurich, “This is an absolute classic of Patek Philippe complications in a 36 mm case, with a perpetual calendar and chronograph of an old-school traditional design,” he says. “Its CH 27-70 Q caliber is one of the best movements in the world in its category. Patek Philippe turned a Lemania 2310 movement blank, as if by magic, into an incredibly beautiful and, most importantly, reliable movement. Patek Philippe, as well as a handful of other brands, have given this movement the Poinçon de Genève and it certainly deserves it.

Number one: the ref. 3970 is voted the most under-valued vintage Patek Philippe. Image credit: Collectability

“In my opinion, this is the Cinderella of haute horlogerie,” concludes Lechbinisky. “There will be a royal ball soon. Now is the time to take a closer look at the 3970, as this reference is unlikely to turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight.”

To learn more about the ref. 3970 see this Collectability video.

Collectability would like to sincerely thank Victoria Gomelsky and the collectors and experts she interviewed for this fascinating look into the future of vintage Patek Philippe.

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