Let’s call a spade a spade here — the Patek Philippe watch market is still entirely out of hand (no pun intended). Much like the steel Rolex market these days, finding any of the current hot Patek watches for anywhere near their retail sticker price is impossible. Though that part of the market doesn’t seem to be slowing at all, the vintage Patek market is quite diverse — and impressive. Once you shift away from the Nautilus, Aquanaut, and other key references, there are still a good number of great watches from the brand that are worth hunting for.
What seems to be often forgot these days is that the Nautilus and Aquanaut are by no means representative of the brand and all of its capabilities. The core of Patek Philippe’s watchmaking centres around two things: dress watches and complications. Now, in the entry-level bracket we certainly aren’t looking at perpetual calendars and minute repeaters. Even though some are arguing that the days of the traditional dress watch are numbered, these watches remain as timeless and beautifully crafted as ever. They’re also the most cost-effective and headache-free way of rolling the brand into your personal collection without dropping six figures.
We’ve started things off with seven selections, in a range of styles, materials, and case shapes — to ensure the search isn’t too overwhelming yet covers the basics. You may be quick to notice that a lot of these watches are on the smaller end of the spectrum when it comes to case size. This was really the norm for dress watches for decades, and while a sub-40mm case won’t appeal to everyone, these smaller proportions have fallen back into favour throughout the industry in recent years. Unlike how they were thought of four or five years ago, these smaller cases no longer seem out of place. And just a word to the wise — with these and any other pre-owned watches, know that you’ll need to do some vetting and/or grilling of the seller. Lucky for you, we’ve chosen these watches from sources we know, but it never hurts to ask plenty of questions ahead of purchasing a vintage watch of any kind. Now, let’s dive in.
Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 3520 Silver Sigma Dial
Kicking things off with this white gold Calatrava was an easy choice. Originating from the early ’70s, the compact 32mm piece is extremely slender, and in wonderful overall condition. It’s fitted with a Sigma dial, which was an obscure way of marking the use of gold for its indices and hands. While the practice didn’t last especially long, you’ll occasionally come across other watches from Patek, Rolex, Vacheron, and others that show the same little sigma logos alongside the word Swiss at the bottom of the dial. ($8,950 USD)
Patek Philippe Ellipse ref. 3644
Moving further into the ’70s, and a period where tonneau and other case shapes fell into favour, The Patek Philippe Ellipse is another interesting and affordable contender. The 3644 appeared in a wide variety of dial configurations and case materials. The little 33mm unit is only 6mm thick, and powered by Patek’s manually wound 23-300 movement. In an ideal world we’d hold out for a blue dial variant with baton indices, but those don’t seem to surface in the market all that often. ($13,500)
Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 3498
From a condition standpoint this is safely one of the cleanest Patek Philippe watches we’ve managed to track down for less than $15,000. The gold-on-gold 3498 is a simple time-only reference with no sign of running seconds, featuring a gold sunburst dial fitted in a polished yellow gold case. It’s also one of the only examples spotted from a Canadian seller, which is a big plus when it comes to not having to bear the burden of duties and taxes when importing a watch into the country. This ’60s reference is a hair bigger than its counterparts, coming in at 32mm in diameter, and is fitted with an 18mm width black leather strap. ($12,800)
Patek Philippe ref. 4222
There’s a bit of a strange movement happening in the vintage watch space — these absolutely tiny watches are rapidly starting to blur any sense of gender norms. Yes, in the ’80s (when this watch was sold), this was specifically offered as a woman’s watch, but those hard and fast rules no longer apply. More and more male collectors have been seen sporting them, appearing as more of a bracelet/accessory than a traditional wristwatch. The look might not be for everyone, but it often works surprisingly well. Going this route opens up doors to some really interesting watches, including this warm burgundy/brown manually wound Patek with a 26mm white gold square case. ($10,531)
Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 3919G
OK, to be fair, we moved the goalposts just a hair in order to include this watch, but there’s good reason behind it. This is one of very few Patek references from the modern era that sits anywhere near our price bracket — coming in at just under $15,000 USD for a reference sold in the early ’00s, we’re going to call it close enough. One of the distinct features of this reference is its hobnail bezel, which adds a peculiar character to an otherwise plain dress watch. Otherwise all of the classic hallmarks are there; a manually wound movement, a slender case profile, and a modest 33mm diameter. Thanks to the aforementioned craze surrounding steel cased Patek Philippe watches, there’s little surprise that this example is also white gold. ($14,900 USD)
Patek Philippe Ellipse ref. 3566
You noted our soft spot for the Ellipse further up in this story, so there’s little surprise that we’re sneaking in a second reference. Swapping to a white gold case, blue dial, and baton indices, this isn’t the most perfect dial we’ve ever seen. That said, it’s a Sigma dial again, plotting its creation to somewhere in the early ’70s. These minor dial flaws also make it the least expensive reference in our list. For some, A+ condition is a make or break, whereas other collectors on the entry-end of the spectrum will welcome these flaws as character. While condition plays a key role in long-term value, that’s also the joy of collecting watches — if you like it, there’s no stopping you. ($9,094)
Patek Philippe Linen Dial ref. 3854
Rounding out the pack, we’re going back to the more obscure ‘bracelet method’ of Patek collecting. The brand had a knack for creating these beautiful integrated bracelets back in the day, and this is a very sharp example from the ’90s. It’s a hair bigger than our last example, measuring 29mm across. While the seller refers to it as a Linen dial, the guilloché pattern used here is closer to the tapisserie pattern used by Audemars Piguet — a technique we discussed in a recent article about the art of dial making. The issue with some of these watches is often a matter of bracelet links. They get resized, and along the way their owners misplace the extra links. Not to worry here, as this example is said to fit a 7.5-inch wrist. ($14,928)