When appropriately implemented, a salmon-colored dial can elevate a watch and add a welcome dose of vintage elegance. Not as intense as green or red, but not as subdued as grey or blue, salmon hits a goldilocks sweet spot between loud and boring. While the color has seen some upticks in popularity—present moment included—watch brands have been conservative in their application of this dial color.
Patek Philippe, in particular, has been very thoughtful in their use of salmon on watch dials, historically reserving it for exceptionally rare timepieces. Here we have two seminal Patek Philippe references with salmon dials, one that follows this rule, and one that breaks it.
A Unique 3940G, The Rule
The 3940 perpetual calendar is a reference that’s loved by both the brand and hobbyists. The watch was released in 1986 as a symbolic doubling down on traditional complicated horology when many brands were moving toward new technologies in the wake of the quartz crisis. Many collectors have waxed poetic about the reference—including Ben Clymer and John Reardon—and its importance to Patek Philippe. Still, I think the most impactful endorsement is that of Philippe Stern. The former Patek Philippe CEO has been photographed wearing the watch on multiple occasions, and it’s rumored that the 3940 is his reference of choice.
The 3940 was produced regularly from 1986 to 2007, with a limited batch made in 2015. Due to its long production run, you can assume this is not a rare reference. However, this specific variant—the salmon dial 3940G-029—is exceptionally scarce. This watch was released in 2015 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Grand Exhibition held at London’s Saatchi Gallery. Patek used new old stock cases, paired them with different dial colors than had ever been used before on the 3940, and as a finishing touch, borrowed the dial layout of the reference 5140. You’ll notice that aside from the dial color, the font is larger on this version as well. Produced as a part of a group of 3940s—with platinum and yellow gold being the other two variants—this white gold watch with a salmon dial is regarded as the most desirable of the batch. Production numbers for each metal are thought to be in the single digits.
The 3940G is already a beautiful timepiece, and the salmon dial further enhances this. Though it’s a modern watch, it has very classic styling and proportions that make it timeless. Measuring at 36mm in diameter and 8.8mm thick, it meets traditional dress watch standards. Powered by the 240 Q—a known quantity and widely used perpetual calendar movement from Patek Philippe—the watch displays the month, date, day, moon phase, day/night indicators, hours, minutes, and of course, leap year indicator.
The 3940G is a watch that embodies the Patek Philippe ethos of quiet confidence. While officially meant to signify the anniversary of the Grand Exhibition, it also represents the end of this important reference. The 3940 is considered one of Patek Phillipe’s greatest perpetual calendar watches. This 3940G-029 is the pinnacle of the reference.
The 5270P, The Exception
The 5270P is Patek’s modern perpetual calendar chronograph, and arguably one of the more complicated of its kind. This 5270P is a descendant of the first watch made with a perpetual calendar chronograph movement—Patek Phillipe’s 1518—released in 1941. The 1518 is not only the first watch with this complication but one of the first serially produced complicated watches in the entire watch industry.
The complication is such a complex undertaking that Patek Philippe was the only brand to implement it for almost fifty years. This example, the 5270P-001, which debuted in 2018, carries on Patek Philippe’s tradition of making industry-standard perpetual calendar chronographs.
The reason I call this watch the exception is that while most Patek Philippe watches with salmon dials are special editions, this one is a regular production model. However, I don’t want you to confuse regular production with ordinary or easy to get. This is the first time a 5270 has been made in platinum, and one must fill out an application with Patek Philippe before purchasing it. Another unique feature is the Arabic numbers from ten to two that replaced the traditional baton hour markers.
While the 1518 DNA is there, this watch’s size is distinctly modern, measuring at 41mm in diameter and 12.4mm thick. The case is stepped with welded lugs and a concave bezel giving it a strong art deco look. This continues the trend of the perpetual calendar chronograph line getting more substantial and architectural with each new reference. These changes, along with the salmon dial, really make for a unique looking 5270. When comparing it to its siblings—the 5270G-013 and the 5270G-014—with their baton indices, “chin” seconds track, and blue and silver dials, it is hard to believe they’re the same reference. The watches the 5270P-001 replaced are much more contemporary. The 5270P is not a strictly classical design, but the dial color and numerals make the timepiece warmer and add a vintage vibe that was absent from its predecessors.
As you can assume by the name of the watch, the movement is a combination of a chronograph and a perpetual calendar. Inside beats the caliber CH 29-535 PS Q powering a moon phase, leap year indicator, day/night indicator, hours, seconds, minutes, and a chronograph that measures down to fifths of a second.
This movement combination has always struck me as incredibly romantic: it shows the passage of time very granularly and broadly all at once. While the 5270P strays from tradition by being a regular production watch bestowed with a salmon dial, I think Patek Philippe is sending the message that exceptions can be made for exceptional watches.