Among the grand complications, few are as traditional and difficult to master as the perpetual calendar. In spite of this challenge, three brands have created watches that equally excel in their respective interpretations of the complication.
Patek Philippe’s 3940 is generally regarded as the brand’s modern classic for perpetuals (prior references are certainly quite collectable, but in terms of contemporary references, the 3940 is arguably the best Patek model).
Journe’s Quantième Perpétuel is less known than some of their other models such as the Resonance or Tourbillon Souverain, yet, as we will see, the layout and execution make it one of the most readable and user friendly versions on the market.
Similarly, the Langematik Perpetual shows Lange’s Germanic approach to classic complications, giving a different flavor than what is offered by Patek and Journe.
Among high end dress perpetuals, you will be hard pressed to find three references that are equally exceptional. To help decide which is best (if there is such a thing), we will compare these models across various criteria and see which comes out on top!
Born in the midst of the quartz crisis, the Patek Philippe reference 3940 was launched alongside the 3970 as an unequivocal affirmation that Patek would not back down from its commitment to fine timepieces. First introduced in 1985, the 3940 was prized for its simultaneous complication and wearability. At the time, having a 36mm wrist watch with a perpetual calendar complication and maintaining only 8mm of thickness was a triumph for the Swiss watchmaking industry. In addition to the 3940 milestone, Patek had set a variety of records in the past as the first to create a perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1925, the first retrograde perpetual wristwatch in 1937, and the first to serially manufacture a perpetual wristwatch in 1944 with the venerated reference 1591. The brand is synonymous with the complication, and no comparison of great perpetuals would be remotely representative of the best options without a Patek reference.
Launched in 2015, the Journe Quantième Perpétuel was the first perpetual calendar to feature instantaneous jumping digital displays. This practically means that the day, date and month all switch in perfect time with one another. For a precision complication such as the perpetual, this was not only an important milestone, but also an impressive mechanical feat. Having a digital display switch requires a significant amount of torque from the mainspring, putting a drain on the power reserve; this is magnified significantly when you have multiple digital displays all jumping simultaneously. Nonetheless, Journe accomplished it, providing the instant jump alongside a hefty power reserve of no less than 120 hours.
Like the Journe Quantième Perpétuel, the Langematik Perpetual is one of Lange’s most underappreciated pieces. First introduced in 2001, the Langematik perpetual was presented in platinum with the reference 310.025 and yellow gold with reference 310.021. Keep in mind that this piece was presented less than 10 years after the inaugural Lange collection of 1994. For a brand to introduce such a masterful piece so close to its reintegration is an impressive achievement for any company. As we will explore, the Langematik Perpetual also incorporates many of the foundational elements of the Lange design language and its Teutonic influences.
Of the watches covered here, the 3940 is the most traditional in the mix. A standard 3 register display contains the calendar indications, small round applique dot indexes mark the minutes, and faceted indices at the hour markers. The case of the 3940 is flowing with soft curves, no hard edges, and a svelte presence reinforced by its 36mm x 8mm proportions. The beauty of this piece is its subtlety. The 3940 went through several iterations, with the first series (the one pictured here) featuring stepped subsidiary dials and later renditions using scooped ones. Regardless, the 3940 conveys a hierarchy in the dial structure that helps to subdivide the dial tastefully. When looking at the majority of the perpetual calendar displays, this is what most think of, and many brands use this format to this day.
Next up, is a completely different format. As we’ve alluded to previously, the main intrigue of the Journe Quantième Perpétuel is its digital displays. Some perpetuals have the unfortunate struggle of looking cluttered. There’s certainly a lot of info to incorporate into a small plot of dial real estate and as a result, some pieces look cramped (we’ll let you decide if you agree). Journe has therefore chosen to get rid of the subsidiary dial format and instead opt for windows with instantaneously swapping digit displays. This simplifies the dial aesthetics and leaves the piece looking less like a perpetual and more like a time-only watch, and in the best way possible. The dial of the Quantième Perpétuel is a beautiful mixture of textures, from the main surface guilloché to snailing on the power reserve. Journe is known to do things his own way, and we feel that the same can be said by the Quantième Perpétuel. Although it doesn’t receive as much press as many other models, it’s every bit as good if not better.
Finally, the Langematik Perpetual returns to the traditional three register primary display of the 3940, albeit with a few differences. Notably, Lange is known for the outsize date; here, Lange has moved that outsize date to the top of the dial in the prominent position. This is actually not only a great way to call upon the iconic date display, but also the most convenient piece of info to amplify, since most people are checking the date alongside the time with the most frequency, rather than say the leap year cycle or month, which most are either not needing or already on top of. Like the Journe, there’s a lot of texturing on the subsidiary dials and the hour indexes are indicated with applique roman numerals. Bold text is printed in black ink and sword hands proudly display the time. Considering that both the Patek and the Lange use similar layouts, the two could not be more different. Whereas the Patek is soft and minimalist, the Lange is strong, with slab sides and a strong typeface. The Lange is much more ornately decorated on the dial. Additionally, the 3940 has no seconds hand, so the Lange is much more kinetic in its dial presentation, which will be appreciated by some and hated by others. It should be noted that the exact reference pictured above is not the most typical example, as it features a gem-set bezel. Normal variants merely use a typical metal bezel and case.
As can be easily seen, these three interpretations of the complication yield entirely different results in spite of some common DNA and the exact same complication. Different collectors gravitate strongly towards one or the other, or in some cases, must look to other aspects of the watch to decide which is better, say, the movement.
While the dial displays were in many cases dramatically different, on the movement side, the three watches are closer than you might think. The Patek Philippe 3940 is powered by the legendary caliber 240Q, a micro-rotor movement that has been used on other ultra-thin dress watches in the Patek catalog. The micro rotor is invaluable in thinning out the movement and helping to keep the case profile equally refined. The rotor itself is fashioned from gold, which contrasts nicely with the main body of the movement.
Journe’s Quantième Perpétuel is equipped with the caliber 1300.3, a member of the Octa line. These automatic winding calibers are made entirely from rose gold, adding significant heft to the already fully precious metal watch. To accommodate the addition of the perpetual calendar, the rotor is offset slightly on the backside of the movement, leaving space for the additional componentry on the top side of the dial for the additional complication. Notably, the Journe provides 120 hours of power reserve, which is far and away the highest power reserve of any of the pieces in the mix. This is particularly valuable if you don’t plan on wearing your perpetual daily, and want the piece to keep running without needing adjustment. We have already more than touched on the complexity of an instantaneous changing date, but it is interesting to note that Journe used an incredibly powerful camera to record the date switches to ensure that all indicators swapped exactly in sync, a level of precision far greater than perceivable by the human eye.
Finally, the Lange Quantième Perpétuel uses the Sax-O-Mat L922.1 movement, which, like the 240Q from Patek, also uses a micro-rotor. Lange has chosen to place a platinum strip around the precious metal rotor to add torque to the small rotor mechanism. This Sax-O-Mat L922.1 is, like all Lange calibers, exquisitely hand finished with a black polished swan’s neck regulator and free hand engraved balance cock. Blued screws abound throughout the movement. These appointments, alongside the Glashutte striping, perlage, and anglage, frame the piece with a decidedly German finishing quality that helps set it apart from the others.
Having covered the details in depth, we are prepared to suggest that each watch is catered towards a slightly different customer. If you want the most traditional and classic interpretation of the complication, the 3940 is the definitive choice. The standard that all modern perpetuals are compared to, it is by far the most reserved of the options, and a plethora of series make the watch available in yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, and platinum, with various different dials as well. The watch is a complete classic and one of our favorites.
The Journe Quantième Perpétuel is perfect for the collector that doesn’t want the typical perpetual calendar, is particularly enthusiastic about mechanical achievements, and appreciates the simplified layout this format affords. Journe is certainly more expensive than Patek in this case, but for the connoisseur that picks this piece, the ability to own such a unique display will help to justify the expense, plus, it’s one of the more obscure Journe references, which should help its long-term collectibility — only time will tell.
Finally, the Lange is the best option for those that like efficient design, bold aesthetics, and a traditional underlying DNA. If you like the Patek but want a bit more decoration, this is where you look. The big date is quite cool as well. Some will certainly find the Lange and Journe to be too flashy, and will pick the Patek for its timeless minimalism. Regardless, we feel the Langematik perpetual should be considered more seriously when looking at ultra high end watches with the perpetual calendar complication.
So there you have it. Three watches, three different interpretations, three different collectors. Each is the best perpetual calendar in the world, only for a different person. It is no surprise that each of these brands is considered an industry leader, yet the question remains, which is best suited for your tastes and preferences?