3923A Patek Philippe Calatrava

Any vintage Patek Philippe in steel is something special. Where most manufactures create their most special offerings in precious metal, precious metals are the standard at Patek Philippe. When a reference is produced in steel, it’s always an occasion. But this steel Calatrava might not be as vintage as you think, it’s not a ref. 96, it’s just totally under the radar. This is the 3923, made from 1986 until 1999, and it may just be the best value in all of Calatrava if you have the wrist to pull it off—and I mean that in the opposite sense to how we normally hear it. This is effectively a revisited ref. 96, seen through a neo-vintage lens but left unmolested. You don’t change the recipe to Gordon Ramsay’s beef bourguignon, it’s already perfect. Patek Philippe understood that.

A few years into that production, it is said that Patek Philippe received a request to manufacture a handful of 3923s in steel from Japanese retailer Isshin Tokei Co. Ltd. It happened to be 1989, the brand’s 150th Anniversary. Patek Philippe did more than oblige, they created a limited series just for Japan. The steel case saw 50 examples in ivory, 50 examples in grey, and 50 examples in this silver dial. There aren’t actually very many truly limited, uppercase-c Calatravas, but this is one of those few. But let’s get the elephant in the room addressed: it’s 32mm. If you’ve tried true vintage Calatravas on, you’ll know they’re usually around 31mm, with a lug-to-lug (which is the measurement more responsible for how much wrist it occupies) around 35mm. The 3923 is true to the original proportion of the 96, but just ever so imperceptibly updated to modernity at 32mm with a lug-to-lug nearer 37mm. This gives just slightly more dial real estate and a thinner wearing experience. And a more precise calibre 215 PS.

There is a great demand for exceptional early Patek Philippe, but the 3923 seems to have missed this wave, I suspect largely for its sheer obscurity. Auction results have swung as low as 15K USD in the early part of the last decade to nearly 35K more recently. They’re uncommon to find, results are in the single digits. This is also a sign that I love, it simply means most have been happily residing on wrists since production, not trading hands. For good reason I’m sure; it’s hard to argue with a reference that stays so close to the ethos of the original Calatrava. It is of a different time, far from the Patek Philippe who prints Philippe Stern’s face on the dial and offers 42mm Calatravas.

This example presents in excellent overall condition. The case is full, with a light even surface wear and no significant bashes, precisely how I love to see a case from this time. Its dial is likely unrestored also. There’s a light patina developing around its brushing, but nothing more. No signs or restoration/sanding. It comes with its original papers, sans box, from a well-regarded collector in the community now beginning as a retailer, called Hidden Gem Watches.