Rare and extraordinary Patek Philippe timepieces are a bit like London buses it seems – you wait a long time for one and then three arrive at once! That’s certainly the case this November (2019), with three remarkable watches going under the hammer in just one month. One to Watch asked founder David Duggan to give us the lowdown on the remarkable pieces.
First up, a true one-off and, now, an industry record breaker. This stunning one-of-a-kind Patek Philippe piece was created specifically for the biennial charity auction Only Watch. The event raises funds for research on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic condition that affects one in 3,000 baby boys. The auction has taken place every two years since 2005 and was set up by the former chief executive of the Monaco Yacht Show, Luc Pettavino. His son, Paul, died of the disease aged just 21.
Those funds got a whopping boost when this piece sold for £24.2 million – or 31 million Swiss francs. The auctioneers only expected it to go for about 3 million Swiss francs, which demonstrates exactly how collectable Patek Philippe pieces are.
The Grandmaster Chime blows the previous wristwatch auction record – for Paul Newman’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona – out of the water. That piece was sold in 2017 for £13.5 million. It also pinched the overall crown from the Graves Supercomplication pocket watch. More on this in a moment…
Where to start with this piece? It goes without saying that it’s aesthetically stunning. Made in stainless steel with two dials in rose gold and black ebony, it has a reversible case that features a guilloched hobnail pattern with a patented mechanism. The dial also features the words ‘The Only One’, which would have been like catnip to a collector.
But, this being Patek Philippe, it’s not just about the aesthetics. They are the absolute masters of the complication and this is their first grande-sonnerie wristwatch. It includes no fewer than 20 complications and five separate chimes. Two of them have never been heard before – one is an acoustic alarm that strikes the preselected time and a date repeater sounding the date on demand. I would love to hear both.
There is a real romance to this watch; it’s packed with technical craftsmanship while the rose gold – still proving a popular choice in the watchmaking world – and Breguet numbers give it a delicate feel. The new owner is one lucky, if slightly poorer, collector!
The second auction item is just as remarkable if for entirely different reasons. Widely considered one of the most significant wristwatches in the world, this 18k gold tonneau-shaped minute-repeating watch was the first of several Patek Philippe watches commissioned by American industrialist and legendary watch connoisseur Henry Graves Jr. Along with his rival collector, automobile manufacturer James Ward Packard, he is credited with keeping Patek Philippe in business during the lean years of the Great Depression.
While this piece didn’t reach the heady heights of the Grandmaster Chime, it did sell at a Christie’s auction for a very respectable $4,586,895. One of the attractions of this piece is likely to have been its excellent provenance, having remained in the Graves family until it was sold to a private collector in 2012.
Graves commissioned the watch in 1927 and collected it in person from Patek Philippe in Geneva on 16 June the following year. The beautiful 18K gold case has a snap-on back engraved with the Graves family coat of arms. Its solid gold dial features black champlevé enamel Breguet numerals, subsidiary seconds and blued steel spade hands. Its dimensions are 39.5mm long by 30.5mm wide and the 12 calibre mechanism has 31 jewels and eight adjustments.
Back stories count in the watch-collecting world – and they don’t come much more fascinating than this watch’s commissioner. One of an elite group in horological circles, Graves is best known for his 1925 commission of the ‘Graves Supercomplication’ pocket watch, the world’s most complicated timepiece, with a total of 24 complications, or functions, which was only bested by Patek Philippe themselves in 1989. This extraordinary gold pocket watch took eight years to design and make by hand. Graves paid $15,000 for the Supercomplication.
Almost a century later, in 2014, the pocket watch became the most expensive timepiece ever sold at auction (including watches and pocket watches), when it went under the hammer for £15 million. Of course, the Grandmaster Chime now claims this title.
Our third and final Patek Philippe is one to watch – due up for sale at Christie’s in Hong Kong at the end of November 2019. It’s estimated to fetch anywhere between $7-14 million. Of course, the political unrest gripping Hong Kong over the past year could have an impact on this – Christie’s spring 2019 sales in the region dropped by 18% from 2018.
Nevertheless, this is another really fascinating timepiece. Made in 1953 and sold in 1957 to Patek Philippe’s distinguished retailer, Gobbi, in Milan, this extremely rare watch, known as the ‘L’Heure Bleue’, is thought to be one of only two reference 2523 dual-crown world time wristwatches to have the stunning translucent blue enamel centre to its dial. As well as being the only known example of the reference to be double-signed by both Patek Philippe and Gobbi, it is one of only seven thought to have been made in pink gold.
The large, circular, 18K gold case (35.5mm in diameter) has facetted lugs and a snap-on back. As well as its striking blue enamel centre, the dial has a gold baton and Roman numerals on an engine-turned gold chapter ring, with stylized gold hands. The inner-revolving ring is calibrated for Arabic 24 hours divided into diurnal and nocturnal hours, while the outer silvered revolving ring includes the names of 40 cities from around the world, adjusted by the crown at 9 o’clock.
The beauty of the watch’s exterior is matched only by the complexity of its inner workings, which feature the revolutionary world time system ̶ or Heures Universelles ̶ designed and patented in the early-1930s by legendary watchmaker Louis Cottier. The 12 calibre manual movement features 18 jewels.
It has been the property of a private collector since it was last auctioned, by Christie’s in Geneva, in 2010, when it exceeded its estimate of CHF1,500,000-CHF 2,500,000 by realising CHF2,675,000. So, we wait to see what happens in Hong Kong at the end of the month.
All photos courtesy of CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2019
We may not all be able to afford the Grandmaster Chime, but if you love Patek Philippe as much as we do and would like some advice on how to start your own collection, read our One To Watch ‘Your first five Patek Philippes’ feature. Or, come and visit us at our showroom in Burlington Arcade, Mayfair, and we’d be glad to help you choose the perfect timepiece.