Updated Nov 2015
The 3970 Series began in 1986 and was discontinued in 2004. It consisted of three series plus the Ref. 3971. It replaced the 2499/100 which ran from 1951 to 1986. There are three distinctly different series but will be addressing the 1st and 2nd series plus the 3971.
The 1st series 3970 began in 1986 (s/n 875000) it had the solid snap back, dials were two tone with the two sub-dials having a distinctly difference in color than the rest of the dial. They used the Serif font on the date dial, the Baton hour markers were squared off at the ends and they had leaf hands (Feuille). I have been a big fan of this series so decided to search the Internet and see how many of them made it to the secondary market. And of those that did what metal were they.
The 1st series was limited to approximately 100 watches. The reference 3971 began production at approximately the same time as the 3970 as there were many included in the 1st series.
The 3970 and the 3971 were identical in every way except the 3971 had a sapphire back while the 3970 had the solid snap back. The first 3971 I found sold on the secondary market was a sapphire snap back. I owned that particular watch which was s/n 875009 making this the 10th one made. The interesting story is there was a 3970, s/n 875008, that also had a sapphire snap back. Both came with the 2 tone dial along with a snap back sapphire crystal back. It is reported there were only thirteen 3971’s with the sapphire snap back, (see Fig. 2) one resides in the Patek museum in Geneva. They are very rare and highly desirable. The 3971 at a later date was then changed into the screw back. It is unknown to me how many 3971’s were actually made. I was able to locate a total of 33 total between 1st and 2nd series and they broke down as follows:
23 yellow gold
5 pink gold
4 white gold
3 with dore (champagne)dial
As I mentioned above the first 3971 was s/n 879009 and the last I was able to locate was s/n 875675. At this time there were 3970’s being sold with both a solid and sapphire back.
The Patek price sheet in 1986 had just the 3970 listed and it was “price on request”. In 1987 the price for a 3970J was $42,000usd, 1988 the price was $46,500usd. Though the 3970 was dis-continued on 2004 it was on the 2005 price list. At that time the platinum was $104,000usd, the rose & white was $91,300, and the yellow was $89,200. Quite a jump from their original price. Interestingly there was no mention of the 3971 on the 1986, 87, or 88 price lists that I have. It would be interesting to know if there was a price difference between the 3970 and 3971 and how did a collector order one?
I searched all the data bases on line which cover the major auction houses plus some private sales that were mine or friends told me about and found the following;
—Total 1st series = 32 watches of which
—3970 =23 all YG, 22 silver dial One dial replaced by Stern to a Silver Arabic.
—3971’s = 9 all YG , 8 silver dial, 1 gilt dial.
Patek began the 2nd series and the case back was changed to a solid screw back. I don’t know if the case was fully waterproof at this stage. The dial changed very slightly, it was no longer 2 tone but the baton markers, font, and hands were the same. Patek must have received many requests around this time for special dials some of which they accommodated. This resulted in a variety of different case/dial combinations, thus making this reference (imo) one of the most interesting in Patek history.
During the run of the 2nd series you also had the option to order the sapphire crystal screw back separately, you will see many 2nd series with both backs. The movement s/n during the 2nd series was mostly in the 875XXX range. I say mostly because I was able to find several of the 2nd series with 876XXX s/n. The 2nd series ran from 1986 to approx. 1991, again with a few exceptions. On the 2nd series there was a period of 1 – 2 years where they had put large hallmarks on the side of the lugs. This is a very popular feature but again difficult to find. I was able to find a total of 129 of the 2nd series that have come to the secondary market.
—Total 2nd series = 129 (3970 + 3971 combined)
—3970 = 103
—9 white gold
—16 rose gold
—3971 = 26
—16 yellow gold
—5 white gold
—5 rose gold
Patek in 1991/92 merged the 3970/3971 into what is known as the 3rd series and called it 3970E. The “E” standing for “etanche” or translated “waterproof”. There are some transition watches that have some of the characteristics of the 2nd series and 3rd series in particular the platinum. The platinum models did not get a sapphire back until several years later and in some cases the font was still sans serif.
There were several changes at this time. The dial changed font size, color, and the hour baton markers which went from squared ends to triangular. The hands changed from the leaf to the baton style. All the 3970E’s now came with both backs which required a new box. The box was a little larger and had a clip for the spare back. Again it appears as in the earlier years there were requests for special dials and some of them were granted so you get a large variety of looks. The 3rd series was in production from 1991 to 2004 and was the most popular grand complication in Pateks history in terms of numbers produced.
The 3970 series was dis-continued in 2004 and was replaced with the larger 5970 keeping the same Lemania based movement. If you compare the 3970 to the 5970 the vast majority of the 5970’s were for the most part uniform. There are examples of different dial sets but that was the extent of the differences. All the white gold are the same as is the rose and now the yellow, not giving you the extraordinary variety you can see with the Reference 3970.
Some combinations for the 3970 rose gold are;
- 1st series snap back/silver 2 tone dial
- 2nd series screw back silver dial
- 3971 with black diamond dial
- 2nd series silver dial, enlarged hallmarks on side of case (very desirable)
- 3rd series silver baton dial
- Some combinations for the white gold are;
- 2nd series silver dial, enlarged hallmarks on side of case (I have only seen 2).
- 3rd series with gray diamond dial
- 3rd series with black baton dial.
- Some combinations of Platinum are;
- 2nd series with silver baton dial.
- Black diamond dials.
- Salmon diamond dial
- Black baton dial.
- Black Arabic dial
- 3rd series with silver baton dial
- 3rd series with diamond baguette dial
- Some combinations of yellow gold are;
- 1st series with 2 tone silver dial.
- 2nd series with silver baton dial.
- 3rd series with silver diamond dial (very rare).The combinations between the different cases, dials and hands are large, this is part of the enjoyment when looking for something different and unique. In this aspect the 3970 has not disappointed the collectors.Patek has issued a limited number of 3970’s after they discontinued production with special dials. I have seen several of them but the owners did not want me to show any pictures so I am honoring their request.I find the 3970’s fascinating especially the 1st and 2nd series. There is a large variety and the prices are very reasonable as compared to all the other chrono perpetuals made by Patek. They say the prices are lower because Patek made so many but in reality the 1st series is very limited, the 2nd series, its unknown as to how many but when you add in other features such as the large hall marks or special dials they also become limited. I have updated a list of 3970’s 1st and 2nd series that have made it to the market, it’s not a large number. If you are interested in getting a copy please pm me and I will send you a copy. If you have a 1st or 2nd series it would be good to hear from you so I can add it to my list. If you have some information about the series that you would like to share please let me know and I will attach it to this letter such as the ones below.
- Another collector supplied me with this information:
- Yes, I did get some info. I spoke to the folks at HSWA in NY when I went in for a strap change. Apparently, all late series 3970Ps have platinum pushers and crowns but white gold correctors. But the crowns and pushers in early iterations were made of white gold. Not clear when they switched to platinum. But since there were very few early iterations of the 3970 in platinum they never made platinum crowns and pushers and instead used the white gold ones. Also When patek started the 3rd series with 2 backs the platinum versions did not get the sapphire back until several years later. This information was given to him by Stern agency.
- I also received information from several collectors which I pasted below.
- Today the 3970 is perhaps the most affordable of Pateks grand complication and I believe a great bargain. I will not try to compare the technical pro’s and con’s between the Lemania and Patek new in house movement but do believe the amount of hand crafted hours it took to convert the Lemania Ebauche to make it into the 27-70, makes it very special and perhaps costly movement.
1) The main chrono hand itself appears to be a source of variation amongst the 3 series. The 1st, 2nd, and early 3rd series had a “small bottom” chrono hand while the later 3rd series had a “larger bottom” chrono hand that covers up part of the date wheel. When servicing a 3970 these days, Patek NY will change the small bottom hands to large bottom hands without informing the owner. I was told by Patek NY that the reason for this is that the large bottom hands are better balanced and hence improve chrono performance. I don’t know if collectors know or care much about this variation, but personally, it would bother me if a 1st or 2nd series piece had the post-service larger bottom hand. It does not bother me on the 3rd series pieces since they came both ways anyway and either one is “correct”
2) On the observed list of variations, you may want to add the following: – the Breguet colored dials; in addition to the 4 that went at Christies, there is also a rose gold, black dial Breguet piece – there was also the champagne/dore dial 3971 that recently went at Christies; I remember reading in an old Antiqurom catalog (one also went at Antiqurom many years ago) that there were 25 of these pieces made in total – you may want to list the “enlarged hallmarks on side of case” for the yellow gold as well, as per the piece you helped me buy a year or so ago
3) I find the series transitional pieces interesting. There seem to be many Platinum pieces in particular that are 3rd series in every way but have the 2nd series font of the day/month wheels. There also seems on the white metal pieces to have been a transition at some point from yellow moons to white moons. I do not own a platinum piece, but I find them interesting for this reason
I did not go into the different boxes or papers in this article which do exist, instead I wanted to keep the focus on the watch itself.