One of the most elegant and understated grand complication timepieces of recent time, reference 3939 unites the sonorous charms of a two-gong minute repeater with the gravity-defying precision of a tourbillon escapement. In keeping with its eternal style, reference 3939 ignores the contemporary trend for larger cases, measuring 33 mm. in diameter, an achievement for such a technically sophisticated timepiece.
Launched in 1993 and produced until 2009, the reference is one of the very few Patek Philippe references to feature an enamel dial with Breguet numerals. Crafted in 1993, the present watch is part of the early timepieces to be delivered by the manufacture and has been cherished since then by an important private collector. Preserved in excellent overall condition with a case displaying clear hallmarks and no apparent signs of polishing, the mechanism of the timepiece provides a beautiful, clear and distinctive tone, particular to minute repeaters of the period.
The Donzé Enamel Dial
A close inspection of the dial reveals that the under 6 o’clock the Swiss has a triangle, or delta, on each side in black enamel. It is known that 3939 enamel dials from this period were made by Donzé Cadrans S.A. in Le Locle, Switzerland. The surprising element of this dial is that it is believed that Donzé placed the ‘Delta’ triangles on the dial as a sort of secret signature of his work, D for Delta for Donzé. These marks are easily mistaken for the APRIOR, or sigma marks, seen on dials made with gold elements. Interestingly, the 3939 dials were made with gold base plates but did not have the APRIOR mark.
Master Enameller Francis Donzé started his family company in 1972 and his niche business soon became a supplier of enamel dials to many of the most important watchmaking companies in the world, in particular Patek Philippe. In 1987, Mr. Donzé retired and his family continued the business of traditional enamel dial making. In 2012, Ulysse Nardin acquired Donzé Cadrans.
The minute repeater was believed to have been invented in the mid-1680s by an Englishman called Daniel Quare. Before the days of electricity, it allowed the wearer to tell the time in the dark. In this age of technology, minute repeaters still involve an exacting level of craftsmanship. It is often said that the maker of a minute repeater requires the ear of a musician and the hand of a surgeon.