You know you are browsing an auction catalogue for a Geneva sale when you consistently stumble upon some of the most desirable Patek Philippe timepieces ever made. At the upcoming Rare Watches Geneva live auction on May 10, Christie’s will offer some of the most collectible vintage watches from the venerable Swiss brand. Here’s a look at some of them.
LOT 230: PATEK PHILIPPE REF. 3974G
When it debuted in 1989, the Reference 3974 (see main image above) was the world’s most complicated wristwatch. The combination of a self-winding minute repeating wristwatch with a perpetual calendar with a moon-phase indication was Patek Philippe at its sophisticated best. With only around 160 examples ever made in total, not only is the Ref. 3974G a rare bird, but it is also one of the most technically sound Patek Grande Complications of the period.
What makes this particular example even more special is the fact that its white gold case was made by the legendary case maker Jean-Pierre Hagmann. The majority of the Ref. 3974s were crafted in yellow gold, platinum, pink gold and less than 12 pieces in white gold. It is believed that only two examples have surfaced at the auctions this far. The watch is powered by the Cal. 27 RQ, which is made up of 467 parts and uses a 22K gold micro-rotor to amass its 48-hour power reserve. Today, the Ref. 3974 is considered a modern classic and one of the best minute repeaters produced by Patek Philippe in the last 30 years.
EST: CHF 550,000 - CHF 900,000
LOT 117: PATEK PHILIPPE REF. 605 HU IN PINK GOLD
The Reference 605 HU (Heure Universelles) World Time watches are among the most desirable Patek Philippe made in the 20th century. And this particular model offered in pink gold at the Geneva sale is an extremely well-preserved example of the Ref. 605 HU with a cloisonné enamel dial.
This reference was also one of the earliest to use Louis Cottier’s world time system, it is believed that each watch was made under Cottier’s direct supervision. Between 1939 and 1964, Cottier and Patek Philippe created a total of 95 pieces - 68 in yellow gold and 27 in pink gold. These watches were offered with either a plain metal dial or a unique cloisonné enamel dial. The latter could depict individual continents, hemispheres or even the entire planet. Only 12 pink gold examples are known with cloisonné dials, of which only four, including the present watch, features the map of North America.
Cloisonné enamels are made by an ancient technique that dates back to the BCE era. An artisan creates compartments by hand-folding gold wire (only 0.07 mm wide, no larger than human hair). Pliers are used to tease out various shapes on the base plate; these compartments are filled in with enamel and fired in a kiln. The present Ref. 605 HU ticks all the boxes when it comes to collectability and is in excellent condition.
EST: CHF 550,000 - CHF 750,000
LOT 211: PATEK PHILIPPE REF. 2499/100
The Reference 2499 is widely considered the greatest wristwatch ever made. With a production run that lasted a period of 35 years, the 2499 was made in four separate series with a total production of only 349 pieces, the majority cased in yellow gold. Such is its aura that the Ref. 2499 is today considered the ultimate statement watch today, instantly recognizable and coveted by collectors of modern and vintage alike.
This particular example, a fourth series reference made in 1984, has been consigned by the family of the original owner who purchased the watch in 1985. It has been preserved very well, the case has never been subject to polishing as evidenced by its full proportions, well-defined fluting on the lugs and the clearly visible and crisp gold hallmarks.
EST: CHF 400,000 - CHF 600,000
LOT 210: A PINK GOLD PATEK PHILIPPE REF. 1518 RETAILED BY SERPICO Y LAINO
The Reference 1518 is a historically significant timepiece – it is the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch produced in series by any watch company. First unveiled in 1941 at the Swiss Watch Fair Basel (later known as Baselworld), a perpetual calendar chronograph was seen as a major flex from the Swiss brand amidst a very turbulent time in war-torn Europe.
This particular example’s rarity is underlined by the fact that only 58 examples of the Ref. 1518 were made in pink gold. The watch is one of the very few pieces made for Patek’s Caracas agent Serpico Y Laino. The outside of the caseback displays the stamps “S.L” for Serpico Y Laino and “18K”. The calendar indications are in the Spanish since the watch was made for the Latin American market.
LOT 209 - PATEK PHILIPPE REF. 2497
Produced from 1951 to 1964, Patek’s Ref. 2497 is a rare bird indeed considering only 115 pieces were made during its 14-year-production run. A connoisseur’s delight, the Ref. 2497 has a case that’s similar to its more famous sibling, the Ref. 2499 (except for the chronograph pushers, of course).
The present reference is a formidable example of a Ref. 2497. The 38-mm-wide case has well-defined stepped lugs and the gold hallmarks are crisp and visible, indicating that this watch has been preserved in good condition. Produced in 1955, the watch runs the Cal. 27 SC movement. The 2497 was produced in two series and is distinguished by their dial layouts: the first featured applied Arabic and dot numerals and feuille hands, the second such as the present watch was fitted with applied baton numerals and dauphine hands.
EST: CHF200,000 - CHF300,000
LOT 111: PATEK PHILIPPE CALATRAVA REF. 2526G
According to our research, this Reference 2526 in white gold with a diamond-set dial is among the finest (and rarest) examples to surface at the auctions in recent times. The Ref. 2526 was among the first (if not the first) to feature the Cal. 12-600 AT, the Swiss brand’s first self-winding movement that was introduced in 1951. Although 70 examples of the Ref. 2526 were made in white gold and 70 in platinum, according to research, only 20 in white gold have surfaced so far, as opposed to 24 in platinum.
With its ‘ice-white’ aesthetic and an extract confirming the origin of the diamond-set dial, this is a watch that should appeal to vintage Patek enthusiasts. While the standard production Ref. 2526 models featured enamel dials, the present model is fitted with a silvered metallic dial with diamond-set square markers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and a baguette-cut diamond marker at 12 o'clock. It is believed that only 10 examples are known in white gold with this dial variation.
CHF 140,000 - CHF 230,000
(Nitin Nair is an Associate Specialist at Christie’s)