Technical review of the Patek Philippe Ellipse

The vast majority of wristwatches have a round case. This shape is obviously easier to design and manufacture, but beyond that, it probably conveys a more timeless image, more respectful of established codes.

Few models have managed to deviate from this rule while remaining enduring without being a mere passing trend. We are obviously thinking of the Tank, the Baignoire, and the Crash from Cartier, the Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet, and the Nautilus from Patek Philippe. Moreover, the latter manufacturer is not outdone with models designed notably by Gilbert Albert from the 1950s or with the Golden Ellipse, which we will discuss today.

Vintage advertisement for the Patek Philippe Ellipse

The History of the Ellipse

The history of Patek Philippe's "Ellipse" model dates back to the 1960s. In 1968, Patek Philippe introduced the "Golden Ellipse" (reference 3548 with manual winding), a watch that would quickly become emblematic of the Swiss luxury watchmaking brand.

The distinctive design of the Ellipse is characterized by its elliptical shape, hence its name. Its design is based on the golden ratio, an ancient mathematical formula considered aesthetically pleasing. This ratio is visible in various natural and artistic elements, and it inspired the slightly curved case of this model.

Vintage advertisement illustrating the unique shape of the Ellipse

At the time, this shape was innovative and bold; with its oval case, elegant and balanced, the Ellipse stood out and quickly became an icon of style and discreet luxury. The charm of this model lies in its timeless and unisex design, which serves as a blank canvas for Patek Philippe to showcase its craftsmanship. It is still available in the Patek Philippe collection catalog, making it one of the oldest lines after the Calatrava.

Over the years, Patek Philippe has continued to produce different variations, using various materials, dials, horological complications, or by playing with the shape itself. For example, the first oversized Ellipse with automatic winding (reference 3605) and the quartz hybrid between the Nautilus and the Ellipse (reference 3770). Despite this, the distinctive elliptical shape has remained a central feature of this iconic model.

The usually understated communication of the Genevan manufacturer appears more committed and does not hesitate to be more provocative, a marketing reminiscent of the communication of the automobile manufacturer Porsche at the same time.

Vintage advertisement

The Reference 3738

This article aims to focus on the most interesting version to collect, namely the jumbo version ref. 3738. This version appeared in 1977, nine years after the launch of the collection. It is the first generation with automatic winding introducing the legendary caliber 240 with micro-rotor. A real horological feat, this in-house caliber allows for an unrivaled slim case.

Introduced in 1977, the in-house caliber 240 is the thinnest automatic winding caliber of its time thanks to its micro-rotor. Present in no less than five different collections, we find it in the Nautilus, Perpetual Calendar, and also Calatrava collections.

A true signature of the Genevan manufacturer, this caliber was featured in a multitude of collections such as: Nautilus (5712), World-Time (5110, 5130), and Perpetual Calendar (3940)…

The Different Generations of the Ellipse Dial

Manufactured by the dial maker Singer (who also made the dials for the Nautilus 3700), the typography, the hands, and the indexes allow us to differentiate and date different generations

MK1 - Flat and pointed hands, flat indexes, Serif, accent on "Genève" and "sigma SWISS sigma"
MK2 - Flat and pointed hands, flat indexes, no Serif, no accent on "Genève" and "sigma SWISS sigma"
MK3 - Rectangular hands, rounded indexes, "sigma SWISS sigma"
MK4 - Rectangular hands, rounded indexes, "SWISS only"

A particularity of the collection, it is not possible to read the serial number without opening the watch, the hallmarks are stamped on the caseback. The hallmarks can help us estimate the production period as follows:

Caseback marking from 1995
Caseback marking from 1998
Caseback marking circa 2006

The certificate can help you determine its date of sale. Check out our dedicated article on how to identify a Patek Philippe serial number.

Image of a Patek Philippe certificate from 07/1988
The hallmarks are present on the left edge of the case until circa 2000
The latest series see the case hallmarks appear at 12H

Cherry on the cacke, the shape of the buckle is a reminder of the Ellipse case.

Circa 2005, we can see the introduction of variations in rose gold, or even platinum for the last deliveries.

On the occasion of the collection's 40th anniversary in 2008, Patek Philippe marketed a limited edition set of 100 units, combining the new reference 5738P (34 x39.5mm) with a reedition of the 3738P (31 x 35mm).

Image of the 40th anniversary set of the Ellipse ©Collectability

The reference 3738 (31 x 35mm) was gradually replaced by the reference 5738 (34.5 x 39.5mm), which is often considered too imposing by collectors. This latter reference introduced new metals such as platinum.

The yellow gold version was the most produced; we have also seen rare versions in white gold (which no longer exists, being replaced by platinum in the 5738). We can imagine that the ref. 3738 has a promising future as a collector's watch.

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