Thinking about starting a collection of Patek Philippe watches? Pre-owned Patek Philippe specialist David Duggan has all the advice you need in his new collector’s guide, covering the Calatrava, Aquanaut, Nautilus, Perpetual Calendar and, of course, the iconic Minute Repeater.
As the saying goes, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.” These timepieces are designed literally to stand the test of time. And with their aesthetic beauty and flawless craftsmanship, they are widely considered some of the finest watches in the world. They certainly count among some of the favourites in the David Duggan showroom.
If you’ve got your eye on a Patek Philippe but are new to the world of watch collecting, then it can be a little tricky to know where to start. So, One To Watch sat down with David Duggan himself to get his thoughts on the first five Patek Philippe pieces a new collector should consider – from the perfect entry-level timepiece to the ultimate in top-end watch investment.
An ideal entry-level dress watch
Generally considered Patek Philippe’s flagship watch, the Calatrava was introduced in 1932 as a timepiece oozing universal appeal. Its design was influenced by Bauhaus’s minimalist principles, featuring a 31mm bezel, a white face with gold hands and a small subsidiary dial at the six o’clock mark. At just 9mm in width, the watch lies low on the wrist.
It is perhaps the most unchanged timepiece in the industry – truly a timeless classic. Of course, Patek Philippe has released a number of models in that time – from the striking blue 4897/300G-001 in white gold to the classic 5196J-001 in yellow gold – but the fundamental design remains the same.
Many new models are available nowadays, with bezels of up to 37mm and varying designs on the faces, so there is sure to be something to suit everyone’s taste.
David’s recommendation: “I would recommend starting with the reference 5119, as it’s an absolutely classic, manual-wound Calatrava. My all-time favourite, however, is the officer’s watch, the reference 3960. Patek Phillipe released this reference in 1989 to celebrate its 150th anniversary, and only made 2,000 in yellow gold. I once turned one down at £3,600 and 18 months later it was selling at between £15,000 and £20,000, a value it’s held ever since.”
For those in search of a timepiece with a utilitarian feel
The Aquanaut is a more casual alternative to some of Patek Phillipe’s dressier pieces. Launched in 1997 – and inspired by another Patek icon, the Nautilus (more on this in a moment) – the Aquanaut features a rounded octagonal case, vertically satin-finished flats and chamfered and polished edges.
Unlike the Nautilus, however, the Aquanaut adopted a simpler three-part design that eliminated the need for left- and right-hand hinges, while continuing to ensure water resistance to depths of 120 metres.
With its ‘Tropical’ rubber strap – made of a new composite material that is ultra-resistant to wear, saltwater and UV radiation – the Aquanaut is an extremely durable watch, combining sporty appeal with all the classic qualities of Patek Philippe timepiece, perfect for the new collector.
To mark its 20th anniversary, Patek released the reference 5168G, with a white gold case and beautiful gradient dial that moves from blue to black. With a diameter of 42.2mm, it’s also the largest Aquanaut on the market and another nod to the original 1976 Nautilus.
David’s recommendation: In 2018, Patek Philippe launched the Aquanaut Chronograph Ref. 5968A, and I think it’s a great, sporty model for those seeking to purchase a new, rather than vintage, watch. It seems the market agrees as well, resale prices are confirming this model’s desirability, so it’s a very sound investment right now.
A true classic in luxury sports watches
The Nautilus was introduced in 1976 and marked Patek Philippe’s first step into luxury sports watch design. It was created by the renowned watch designer, Gérald Genta, who was inspired by the Stern family’s (Patek’s owners) love of sailing.
Named after Captain Nemo’s submarine in the 1870 Jules Verne novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the Nautilus features a porthole-shaped bezel and ‘ears’ to represent the porthole’s hinges. With its stainless-steel bracelet, octagonal bezel and 42mm case (earning it the nickname ‘Jumbo’), this is a bold, functional sports watch that has become one of Patek’s most successful timepieces.
Patek Philippe has released a number of variations over the years – using different metals and adding complications, new colours and dial variations. To celebrate the Nautilus’s 40th birthday in 2016, the company released two limited edition models – the reference 5711/1P, with a solid platinum case and 18K gold dial, featuring a dark blue hue with a bright/dark gradation, and the reference 5976/1G chronograph in 18K white gold.
David’s recommendations: Right now, the Nautilus is massively popular, and I personally love the Travel Time Chronograph 5990 series. Its self-winding chronograph with dual time module makes this a great investment choice. I think it’s quite simply a wonderful watch.
A legend in the horological world
The Perpetual Calendar is one of the most romantic of Patek Philippe’s designs and a watch that was truly ahead of its time. Although first released in 1925 as the reference 97975, it was the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph reference 1518, released in 1941, that would earn the model its legendary status.
The first series-produced Patek Philippe to feature chronographs, the 1518 was a watch of true Patek-esque simplistic beauty, with a round dial 35mm in size, two chronographs at three and nine ‘o’clock, an open date display at six o’clock and a silver/white bezel on a classic leather strap.
The 1518 is at its rarest and most valuable, however, in stainless-steel. Only four are thought to exist anywhere in the world, making it one of the holy grails of watch collecting.
Patek Philippe has released a range of Perpetual Calendars over the past 78 years, the most recent being the stunning reference 5320G. This timepiece has a truly vintage feel, featuring just the moonphase calendar display at six o’clock and two apertures at 12 o’clock for the day and the month – without chronographs at three and nine o’clock, denoting an air of simplicity. Patek Philippe describes it as “the watch that has been crafted for eternity” as it is able to differentiate between months with different lengths and leap years.
For the serious collector, this is a must-have.
David’s recommendation: “The reference 3450 is my all-time favourite Perpetual Calendar. It’s quite rare and comes with a six-figure price tag. But, if you’re not quite ready for such a hefty investment, the reference 3970 – a perpetual calendar and a chronograph – is incredibly good value at the moment. Its current second-hand market price is not much more than its retail price of 25 years ago. Possibly this is due to its small size – in 2019, we have noticed a definite renewed interest amongst our clients for going back to smaller watches.”
A top-end timepiece with rarity value for the experienced collector
Many collectors consider minute repeaters to be the most fascinating of watches and they don’t come much finer than from this Swiss maker – after all, Patek Philippe was the first to make a minute repeater pocket watch back in 1839. With just a click of a button, they chime the time, with a lower tone for hours, a slightly higher tone for quarter minutes and, lastly, a higher tone for those wanting to know the exact minute.
Almost a century after its invention, Patek incorporated this intricate technology into a wristwatch and has gone on to create an array of different references. Collectors can choose between two types of sound – the cathedral gong or the normal gong – the former being a more elongated tone.
One of the most wonderful things about a Patek Minute Repeater, though, is the fact that no two sound quite alike since each watch is tuned slightly differently, to give it a unique ‘fingerprint’. What’s more no watch leaves the factory until the head of the company, Thierry Stern, personally listens to and approves the sound.
A true feat of engineering, this entirely hand-made watch can take up to two years to create, meaning this is an investment piece for those with deep pockets (expect to pay a minimum of six figures). One reference 5016A even sold at auction for $7.3 million.
This is where watch collecting gets really serious and, if you can count this timepiece in your collection, you truly are privileged.
David’s recommendation: In my opinion, two of Patek Philippe’s finest minute repeaters are the 5207P (platinum) and the 5016R (rose gold). The prices are not for the faint hearted, but they would make a truly extraordinary addition to any collection. In many ways, though, I count the Ref. 3979 as my favourite. Its understated elegance is second to none. If you want to ensure that your watches will hold their value, seeking out simplicity is always a good tactic, as pared back designs never go out of fashion.
If you are more of a Rolex lover, take a look at David’s guide to creating your first collection.