Ravishingly striking and minimalist, very few Patek Philippe wristwatches are so famous or have been the subject of so much discussion as the so-called “Senza Luna” reference 3448, a perpetual calendar watch without the moon phase indication.
Seven Senza Luna Patek Philippe watches are known to exist, the most famous being the yellow gold “Alan Banbery Senza Luna” which sold for CHF1,840,900 at Sotheby’s Geneva in 2008. This watch was accompanied by an Extract from the Archives from Patek Philippe dated 1999 confirming the special dial and the fact the watch was modified within Patek Philippe’s workshops after its initial sale in May 1970.
The known facts of the Senza Luna watches are based on the forensic study of each individual timepiece. The existence of the Banbery Senza Luna is the starting point of this discussion and proves that there were 3448s that were modified by Patek Philippe even after they left the Patek Philippe workshops for the first time. The images of this watch, including a detailed image of the movement published in Huber and Banbery’s Patek Philippe Wristwatches, pages 220-221 clearly exemplifies that Patek Philippe made special orders of the reference 3448 for important clients and in this case an employee of Patek Philippe, Alan Banbery.
Other than the publication of the Banbery book, these prototype pieces were not shared in company literature or advertisements and contribute to the mystery around these watches. Furthermore, their known Extracts from the Archives, except for no. 1’119’ 202, do not mention detailed dial descriptions mentioning the fact the watches were modified without the moon phases.
The confirmed proof from Patek Philippe of the Senza Luna legend led to a fever pitch this past summer with the revealing of the Extract from the Archives of the white gold 3448 Senza Luna movement no. 1’119’202 at the Christie’s Patek Philippe exhibition in New York. For the first time the public was able to see documented evidence of a Senza Luna from Patek Philippe with the Extract stating that movement number 1’119’202 “does not include a moon phase function.”
Sphinx-like, the 3448 “Senza Luna” has to date eluded attempts to fully understand its evolution. Shrouded in mystery, was this moonless dial type a true experimental or prototype product or special client order, or a combination of both?
A groundbreaking academic article published by the online magazine HODINKEE in February 2017 by Cara Barrett titled In-Depth The Curious Case Of The Patek Philippe Reference 3448 ‘Senza Luna’ opened a public dialogue on the question of the Senza Luna and gave these watches an almost mythical status in the public eye. This article is not to be missed in exploring their multiple facets and their place in the pantheon of Patek Philippe collecting.
The “Senza Luna” History
A total of six (excluding the “Alan Banbery”) watches are known publicly with “Senza Luna” dials: three in white gold, three in yellow gold. The majority, as far as is known from existing Extracts from the Archives, are originally described as having a moon phase indication. It is therefore assumed that all were later modified – it is really a question of “when”.
Several theories abound in relation to the conception of the “Senza Luna” and with each of the seven watches the question of when the pieces were modified is a subject of academic debate. It is certain that clients could order Patek Philippe watches on special request and many dials were made for Patek Philippe to test new concepts and design aesthetics. In a pre-digital age, the very existence of a watch such as a Senza Luna on Alan Banbery’s wrist would have had the inner circle of Patek Philippe collectors buzzing. His watch, as a brand ambassador, was sure to inspire others to own something similar.
Among the six known Senza Luna watches (the seventh being the “Alan Banbery” with the deviation of the perpetual calendar indication), the key is to try to identify which pieces were likely to have been modified by Patek Philippe in-house and which were possibly changed outside their workshops. A forensic study of each individual piece is required to make an opinion of each of them.
The study of the presently offered watch, no. 1’119’585, has led to forming a probable scenario for its production. Focusing in detail in an analytical way and with knowledge of production and sale dates it can be concluded that it is very likely that it has been modified within the Patek Philippe workshops.
What is evident immediately on examination of the case is that the moon phase corrector is still present on the band between the lower lugs – a feature of all seven known examples each with cases made for Patek Philippe by celebrated casemaker Antoine Gerlach. Upon removal of the dial, the moon phase mechanism is still extant, although without the moon disc. That the watch has been modified is not in question, but was this done by Patek Philippe? To attempt to answer this key question it is necessary to look at the known history of the movement itself - number 1’119’585, caliber 27-460 Q, made in 1981.
Fascinatingly, based on the movement number, this was the last reference 3448 ever made. The next consecutive movement number 1’119’586 was the first ever watch of the reference 3450 also of course made in 1981. That particular watch (sold by Christie’s on 12 May 2014, lot 440) was, significantly, a highly unusual and possibly unique “hybrid” - being the first reference 3450 but still fitted with the caliber 27-460 Q of the reference 3448 and therefore without the leap year indication that typifies the reference 3450, which was from then on fitted with the next generation 27-460 QB (Quantième Bissextile) with “red dot” or Roman leap year indication.
It is relevant to the “Senza Luna” as it demonstrates that at the exact moment in 1981 when the present “Senza Luna” was in the Patek Philippe workshops, the company was at a crucial stage of experimentation during the transition period between the references 3448 and 3450. It is also worth considering that in 1981 nobody would have known whether the new reference 3450 was going to be a success or not and consequently this “Senza Luna” was perhaps a trial or test piece for a planned non-moon perpetual calendar watch that never came into production. Lending credence to this theory, the present watch was not sold until the end of January 1982 meaning that for at least several months it remained in the factory workshops, hence allowing plenty of time for modifications to take place before its sale.
Patek Philippe made several watches with perpetual calendar modifications (with/without moon, with/without leap-year indication etc.) based around the 3448 and new 3450 cases at this period. Apparently, these pieces were one-offs and occasionally special orders used to gauge market potential for watches being considered for development.
The dial of the presently offered watch is in itself a work of art preserved in remarkable condition. The reverse of the dial is inscribed “OR” (French for gold) indicating it is of Geneva manufacture and a special alloy white gold used for watch dials and for jewellery. The subtle low-gloss finish, white gold “lapped” baton and pyramidal indexes, raised hard enamel signature with accented “e” and date numerals also in hard enamel is pure Patek Philippe in feel and execution.
Interestingly, the dials of the Senza Lunas are all slightly different from each other in both appearance and construction, including orientation of the date numerals and size of the indexes. The serial movement numbers range from 1’119’014 – the earliest known on a watch dating from circa 1965 – to 1’119’585, the present watch dating from 1981.
The watch offered here for sale, no. 1’119’585, was first publicly seen at Antiquorum in Geneva on 24 April 2004 when it was sold to its actual owner for CHF686,500. Unknown to the market beforehand, it is the only example of the three known white gold Senza Lunas to be born without a bracelet.
The (re-)appearance of this watch at auction gives the true Patek Philippe connoisseur the rare opportunity to acquire a timepiece of almost mythical status. Regardless, or perhaps because of the mysteries surrounding its production, the present watch is surely one of the most legendary timepieces associated with Patek Philippe.