For Sale: One Very Rare Patek Philippe
A rare and historically significant Patek Philippe watch is up for auction next month.
The model, a reference 1518 in pink gold, dates from the late 1940s and is believed to be one of only 30 examples in existence.
The reference 1518 was the world's first perpetual calendar chronograph made in series—until then perpetual calendar chronographs had been one-offs, due to the painstaking level of expertise required to assemble them. Almost all the other versions of the 1518 exist in yellow gold, making this pink gold model especially sought-after.
The watch has spent the last two decades in what auction house Phillips, who is selling it as part of The Geneva Watch Auction: XVI on November 5 and 6, will only reveal is from "an important private European collection."
"This was extremely important both technically and design-wise," Alexandre Ghotbi, head of watches, continental Europe, and [the] Middle East for Phillips, tells Esquire. "Technically, Patek Philippe managed to reduce the size of a very complicated movement to fit into a wristwatch. Design-wise, the reference 1518 set the blueprint for the perpetual calendar wristwatch. Not only has this design been the signature for all Patek Philippe chronographs, but for many other brands as well. The creation of the 1518 can be compared to the creation of the iPhone—technical prowess, perfect design, and a benchmark."
The 1940s was an important time for Patek. After a decade of economic contraction and mass unemployment during the Great Depression bought on by the 1929 stock market crash in America, Patek Philippe found itself over-leveraged and forced to cut salaries, as well as melt down its own gold cases as a way of freeing up assets to pay staff. At one point it looked as though the then-90-year-business was about to go under.
Both the economy and Swiss watchmaking bounced back in the 1940s, with the decade seeing Patek achieve a number of horological milestones—including the creation of the world time chronograph reference 1415-1 HU, as well as a new type of balance wheel that replaced screws with small weights, a major technical innovation. Patek also started to win multiple precision competitions held by the Geneva observatory.
This early version of the perpetual calendar chronograph bears the unusual "Patek, Philippe and Co" signature on the dial and is in pristine condition—because of its snap-back case moisture has had a tendency to tarnish the dials on other models. Its estimate is CHF 800,000 to 1,600,000 (£721,898 to £14,437,976).
"The case metal determines the rarity and consequently the price of the watch," says Ghotbi. "That is why we sold an uber-rare stainless steel reference 1518, one of only four known, in 2016 for CHF 11 million."
Other rare watches due to go under the hammer in the sale include a 1945 Patek Philippe reference 530 in steel (with an estimate of CHF 500,000 to 1,000,00, or £451,000 to £14,437,976), a 1973 reference 3448 in white gold (also with an estimate of CHF 500,000 to 1,000.000) and a reference 2499 (with an estimate of CHF 400,000 to 800,000 or £360,800 to £721,552).
Other highlights include the coveted Rolex Daytona Cosmograph with the "Paul Newman" dial in an exceptionally rare yellow gold "lemon" color (again with an estimate of CHF 500,000 to 1,000.00).
Phillips is on something of a roll at the moment. It achieved a global auction sale total of $209.3 million last year, the most successful year for any auction house in watch auction history. Previous headline-grabbing sales have included Paul Newman's own Rolex "Paul Newman" Daytona, sold in 2017 for $17,752,500 (then £13.5 million) in New York, the highest result for any vintage wristwatch at auction. And a Patek Philippe reference 1518 in stainless steel, sold in 2016 for $11,112,020 (then £8.9 million), the highest result ever for a vintage Patek at auction.
The Geneva Watch Auction: XVI takes place at 2:00 p.m. on November 5, and 2:00 p.m. on November 6 at Hôtel La Réserve, Bellevue, Geneva.