Christie’s historic Patek Philippe 175th Anniversary Sale was the most highly anticipated sale in the watch auction calendar for 2014. Today November 9, 2014, this unique Evening Sale provided collectors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire rare and important timepieces from Patek Philippe. This thematic sale further solidified Patek Philippe’s historic breadth of production as true works of art. Each piece had been scrupulously vetted for this sale, and included only the rarest, most sought-after, beautiful timepieces representing Patek Philippe’s expert craftsmanship. The sale included only vintage watches spanning from the early years of the esteemed manufacturer’s production in the 19th century through to the 1980s. To memorialize this unique sale, a commemorative silver Patek Philippe coin was included with each of the 100 lots, engraved with the individual lot number. In addition, all lots will be delivered with a special Patek Philippe 175 box and Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives dated with the date of the sale. This sale with all lots but one sold, fetched over $21 million USD —buyer's premium included.
The highlight of the evening was a Patek Philippe ref. 2499 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph with Moon Phases that sold for the outstanding amount of $2.7 Million USD —buyer's premium included.
With Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present watch in 1951 and its subsequent sale on 17 April 1956, this watch also included its Patek Philippe presentation box. There are, in the history of watch collecting, some wristwatch models that have risen in the hearts and minds of collectors to the point that they are considered ultimate goals in the field; timepieces that combine in one case all the features that appeal to the watch connoisseur: astounding technical complexity, unparalleled aesthetical appeal and a legendary level of rarity. These are works of industrial art that already are, only a few decades after the beginning of a proper vintage wristwatch market, worldwide recognized as landmark achievements of the field, and undisputed "holy grails" for any collector. Such timepieces are so rare that, even combining all the models from all the brands that can be included into this stellar category, the total number of pieces probably would not exceed a few dozen: truly the stuff of legend. We are talking about watches such as the Patek Philippe steel 1518, the Rolex split-second, or the present lot: the legendary Patek Philippe pink gold 2499 first series.
In order to fully understand the gravity of this wristwatch, it is necessary to examine its role and importance in the history of Patek Philippe. Reference 2499 is a perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moonphases. This set of complications is the "signature watch" by Patek Philippe. Many other sets of complications have starred in a Patek Philippe model at some point in time, but perpetual chronograph are the only line of watches that not only has always been present in Patek's catalogue since its first appearance on the market in 1941, but which kept a very recognizable style. In a way, one could say these models are the true custodians of Patek Philippe DNA and identity. As mentioned, this line of wristwatches saw the light of day in 1941, with the presentation of reference 1518, the first serially produced perpetual chronograph by any brand. Its three subcounters dial is such an achievement of design that it will be kept virtually unchanged through all the different incarnations of the perpetual chrono. The heir to the 1518 is reference 2499, followed by 3970 in 1989. From 2004 to 2010 the torch was passed on to reference 5970, and the youngest heir is 5270, in production today. All these references, and especially the first two models, 1518 and 2499, are well known for having frustrated countless of Patek Philippe clients because of their limited availability. For example, reference 2499 was in production for 35 years. The total output was, however, a meager 349 pieces, all series and all metals combined. This means less than one watch a month. It is indeed a model reserved for the true Patek Philippe conoisseurs.
Reference 2499 is divided into four different series, with slightly different case and dial details.
- The first series, exemplified by the watch offered here, features square pushers and a traditional tachymetre dial layout with outer railway fifth of a second divisions.
- The second series keeps the same dial layout of the first series, but utilizes round pushers.
- The third series has a cleaner dial layout, without tachymetre scale, and round pushers
- The fourth series, also known as reference 2499/100, is the same as the third series, but with a glazed display case back.
The first series was available until 1960, and it is considered particularly collectible not only for the limited production (a total of less than four dozen) but also because it is the only series of 2499 to feature the very recognizable and attractive square pushers. Intriguingly, this can be considered a transitional series, as the square pushers are typical of reference 1518. Their appeal is so undeniable that recently Patek Philippe reintroduced it in the two latest versions of their perpetual chronos: reference 5970 and 5270.
The first series can be further divided into two groups, according to the kind of case back used: the very first examples (from 1950 and 1951) feature cases made by famed case maker Emile Vichet, with a flat case back. This style was successively abandoned in favor of a round case back. Obviously, flat case backs can be considered more appealing in virtue of their rarity, and the fact that they are the original incarnation of reference 2499, the way it was originally conceived by Patek Philippe's designers, without adulterations induced by market feedback. The present watch is a wonderful occasion to admire such design in one of its most pristine iterations.
First series 2499 are known in both yellow and pink gold. However, out of the less than 50 watches belonging to this group, only 4 are known in pink gold from the market, and it is an educated guess that the overall production is not much higher than that, thus making the pink 2499 first series one of the scarcest watches in history. The four known watches bear the following movement numbers: 868'248, 868'249 —the present lot—, 868'250, 868'338. Consequently, the present watch may be the second pink 2499 ever produced.
Another aspect of this model that fascinates collectors worldwide is its incredible looks. Cased in generous 36 or 37 mm cases —depending on the case supplier—, it is a remarkably large watch for its time. Considered the penchant of modern fashion for large timepieces, this model is one of those exceedingly rare occasions when both modern looks and vintage style manage to co-habitate under in perfect harmony.
The signature feature of reference 2499, however, is its lugs. It is hardly believable that such a small detail can claim the title of masterpiece of sculpture, but it is true nonetheless. There is something exquisitely flamboyant and at the same time strong and masculine, in the lug design. They are massive but they narrow at the end, so instead of feeling encumbering they manage to transmit an impression of solid levity. What is unanimously recognized as a genius intuition is the carved groove to their outer side, which renders them true miniature sculptures and perfectly integrates with the overall case design, which is all a game of contrasting curves, mainly exemplified by the concave bezel turning into the convex band. This case design has been so much appreciated that identical or similar versions are used in other Patek models, such as reference 2497 —see lot 63— and the modern reference 5016.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to mounting such elaborated lugs: they are extremely sensitive to polishing. There are countless examples of 2499s where the lugs are no more than mere shadows of what they used to be with the groove reduced to little more than an impression and the sharp corners rounded ghosts of their former selves. Fortunately, this incredible specimen was obviously properly cared for throughout its life: the case is pristine, the lugs perfectly preserved in all of their glory. Unsurprisingly so as the provenance of this watch is absolutely distinguished: it was last seen at auction in November 2008, in Geneva, offered by an important Italian collector. The current owner preserved it as a cherished treasure all this time, and the condition is as fabulous as it was last time the market had the opportunity to admire this masterpiece. Last, but not least, a layer of historical interest is imparted to the watch by its British importation hallmarks, which make it possibly the only known pink first series 2499 destined to the British market. As a matter of fact another first series 2499 for the British market is known, but this one is in yellow gold, retailed by Asprey, and was one of the highlights of the fall 2006 sale season, selling for 2.2 million chf.
The second highlight of the evening was an ultra rare Patek Philippe WorldTimer ref. 2523 with two crowns and which sold for $2.3 Million USD.
Certain wristwatch models are unanimously considered landmarks of horology: the first serially produced perpetual chronograph, Patek Philippe's reference 1518, is one example. Other examples are the two-crown models produced by Patek Philippe at the beginning of the second half of the last century, the celebrated World Time references 2523 and 2523/1, of which the timepiece here on offer is a remarkable specimen. These wristwatches combine all the characteristics rendering a vintage watch attractive. First of all, their aesthetic appeal is simply stunning. At 35.5mm, the case is not excessively encumbering or ostentatious, and yet the concentric rings layout of the dial, coupled with the generous bezel, grant these timepieces a presence on the wrist far exceeding that of other watches of similar size. The second crown at 9 o' clock mirrors the usual one at 3 o' clock and imbues the overall look of the piece with balance and symmetry. The deep blue enamel is a feast for the eyes, its color constantly changing and dancing according to how the light strikes it.
The apparent beauty of the case and dial design is matched by the beauty and complexity of the inner workings of the watch, the revolutionary world time system —or Heures Universelles— designed and patented in the early 1930s by legendary watchmaker Louis Cottier. Last but not least it is important to mention the extraordinary rarity of Patek Philippe's two crown world time wristwatches. Scholars assume that an exceedingly small series of calibre 12'''400 were upgraded by Cottier on behalf of Patek Philippe to become the revered 12'''400 HU —Heures Universelles— version used for reference 2523 (and later 2523/1), rendering the model one of the firm's rarest, if not the rarest, serially produced wristwatch. The watches were fitted with a variety of different types of dial centres, including engine-turned gold, cloisonné enamelled discs depicting maps or monochrome translucent blue, such as the present watch, in fact the rarest of all versions: as a matter of fact, only two other yellow 2523 are known with this dial configuration. As it so often happens in the world of vintage watch collecting, such a limited production is due to the poor reception the model received when first launched. It took decades for the taste of the public to evolve and eventually appreciate these masterpieces, which are consequently as rare as they are sought after. It is no surprise that on rare occasions examples of these ultra-rare timepieces appear at auction, they never fail to stir the market as well as the hearts of collectors. However, a specimen such as the present one is bound to capture the imagination of Patek Philippe lovers all over the world even as it is one of the best preserved examples to appear at auction in recent years. One of the "signature" characteristics of reference 2523 is its faceted lugs. A true masterpiece of design, the lugs present 3 facets: top, side and a third one inclined at 45 degrees, their sharp edges extremely sensitive to polishing. The present example however showcases angles in near mint condition, testimony of the care and reverence the watch has been treated with by its previous owner and a near impossible find for the true connoisseur looking for the ultimate gem for his or her vintage Patek Philippe collection. The fascinating dial does not show any signs of cosmetic enhancement, the royal blue colour beautifully harmonizing with the gold case material, further enhancing the incredible look of this unmatched timepiece.
Lastly, the third star of the night selling for over $2 Million USD was an extremely rare and very fine 18K white gold perpetual calendar wristwatch with sweep center seconds, moon phases and bracelet signed Patek Philippe, Genève, ref. 2497, movement no. 888'015, case no. 679'800, manufactured in 1953. This exceptional timepiece sold for $2.1 Million USD.
When Patek Philippe launched with enormous success reference 2499 in the early 1950s, they soon followed such acclaim with the release of another wristwatch. A cleaner model, both in case and dial, which traded off the chronograph feature in exchange for sweep centre seconds. In Patek's catalogues from 1951 to 1963, this model was produced in even less examples than its cousin reference 2499. We are of course talking of the present lot: reference 2497.
The Patek Philippe enthusiast will immediately recognize the many similarities between the two references. The case is virtually the same as that of reference 2499, the only difference being, obviously, the disappearance of the chronograph buttons in the band. The bezel, case main body and, especially, the famous shaped lugs are all details that the two models share. So similar is the genesis of the case for the two references that in fact reference 2497, like reference 2499, may present two different kinds of case backs: flat in the earliest models and rounded in later examples.
Moving onto the dial, however, the differences are more important: the elimination of the chronographic function prompted a minor revolution of the dial design. The most apparent divergence between the two models is indeed centered upon the two subsidiary dials at 3 and 9, which in reference 2499 display the 30 minutes register and the constant seconds. There is now no need for a minutes register, as this reference is not a chronograph, and the constant seconds have become sweep center seconds. The lack of chronographic functions prompted another dial modification, more subtle but with an equally momentous aesthetic impact: the outer railway fifth of a second divisions, a detail that is often found on chronometers from the 1940s, are now much smaller, without the railway style. Interestingly, this makes the dial more airy and clean, and actually predates by a decade a trend that will, in time, bring to the public absolutely sparse dials, typical of the 1970s. This evolution can be noticed in the 3rd series 2499s, first seen around the year 1960 bearing a dial layout very similar to the one of reference 2497, and in its final phase: reference 3448, which pushes the boundaries of dial minimalism to the limit.
Incorporating a massive case with an exquisitely 1940s design, elements typical of later fashions - such as the size of the case and the cleaner dial layout - and the extremely useful perpetual calendar function, it is unsurprising that this model is nowadays a collector's favorite, even for day-to-day use. One of the details that most fascinates scholars, collectors and laymen alike is probably the most subtle of all horological complications: the sweep center seconds. Modern horology, and the advent of quartz watches, numbed the public's feeling toward this feature, considered somewhat common or obvious. The true connoisseur knows differently: the constant friction that a sweep center seconds pinion withstands calls for formidable technical solutions, especially in watches conceived more than half a century ago. It is not by chance that most of the vintage models do not feature such a complication. Patek Philippe itself, after the discontinuation of reference 2497, will not create another perpetual calendar wristwatch with sweep center seconds until the end of the century, when reference 5050 is released. The constant motion of the hand around the dial is doubtlessly aesthetically extremely pleasing, as it makes the dial "alive". For the real watch lover, however, it has a nearly hypnotic charm and a deeper meaning: it is a subtle reminder of the incredibly intricate array of gears and escapements that, hidden under the dial, quietly breathes life into the watch.
Reference 2497 is powered by a modified version of the revered 27SC calibre upgraded with the perpetual calendar module. The extreme rarity of this reference has already been mentioned, but in order to grasp its true extent one should consider that only around 180 modified 27SC calibres were delivered to Patek Philippe. Not all of them, however, found their new home in a 2497. Some were destined to the 2497's waterproof sister reference (2438-1, identical in everything but with a screw back) and a minority in the less known reference 2498. Educated estimates put the total number of movements cased in a 2497 case at little more than 100. This number, however, covers all variations of reference 2497, which is known in yellow, pink and white gold as well as in platinum.
The vast majority of these watches were cased in yellow gold cases, and a couple dozen examples in pink gold cases. With the platinum and white gold versions, however, we venture into the uncharted territories that are home to the most outrageously rare wristwatches ever made. Only two platinum 2497s are known to the market, one with painted breguet numerals (sold by Christie's in May 2008 for 2.2 million francs), the other with diamond indexes, pink gold hands and bracelet. Until today, that was true for the white gold version as well, with only two other examples known.
It is with pride that Christie's rewrites history with the introduction to the public of this previously unknown treasure: the third publicly known white gold reference 2497, consigned by descendants of the original owner. In effect, confirming the extreme rarity of this reference in white gold, our research indicates that this watch was part of a batch of 20 pieces. All of them, except the present one, in yellow gold. Furthermore this example, unlike its two other white gold peers, features a white gold bracelet. While originally sold with a leather strap, shortly after the purchase the owner went back to Patek Philippe and demanded a white gold bracelet. In one of the very rare instances in which Patek Philippe agrees to a client's modification request, the watch was fitted with a bracelet by legendary jeweler Gay Frères. Indeed the bracelet clasp is stamped 2 53, which indicates a production date in the second quarter of 1953, thus a delivery to Patek Philippe sometime in late 1953, just in time to be fitted onto this watch in 1954.