Insider: Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in Stainless Steel to be Auctioned at the Phillips Auction FOUR. Hands-on with the 'Once in a Lifetime Opportunity' Timepiece.

A few weeks ago we brought you the news about the upcoming Phillips Auction FOUR Taking place on November 12th and 13th of this year at Hôtel La Réserve in Genève. Today, we bring you our special coverage with our usual live pictures of three lots that for sure will be record-breaking. These three exceptional Patek Philippe ref. 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronographs in stainless steel, rose gold and yellow gold are unlike any other watches we've seen at auction lately. Furthermore, for the very first time ever in a single sale, all case material configurations produced by Patek Philippe of this coveted reference 1518 are part of the Phillips Watch Auction FOUR. What makes the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 so special, is the fact that it is the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph produced in series and only 281 examples of it were ever produced. Additionally, the majority were manufactured in yellow gold with around 44 pieces produced in in pink gold and only four known to exist in stainless steel.

Disclaimer: Since Phillips Watches is the only one that can provide you with a 'Condition Report' for any of the watches in their auctions, our live photography or verbiage regarding these watches is for your viewing/reading pleasure only. Our images or verbiage, should never be used in lieu of a condition report from Phillips. Regardless, these live photographs have not been subject to retouching or manipulation. Therefore, dust, the actual wear on watches and lint or fingerprints left from perusing the watches will be present in our images and we apologize in advance for it.

The estimates for these three timepieces are set by Phillips as follows: 

  • Patek Philippe in Stainless Steel reference 1518: CHF 3 million Swiss Francs
  • Patek Philippe Pink Gold reference 1518: CHF 600,000 to 1.2 million Swiss Francs
  • Patek Philippe Yellow gold reference 1518: CHF 250,000 to 500,000 Swiss Francs

However, we are confident that all of them will sell way above their estimate and is quite likely, that the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in stainless steel Lot 38 might break —or get pretty close to— the record set by the stainless steel Patek Philippe Monopusher Chronograph ref. 130 Doctor's Watch that sold for $4.645 Million Swiss Francs on May 10th, 2015 at the inaugural Phillips Watches Auction One held in Geneva as we reported here. Or perhaps it might break the record set by another exceptional Patek Philippe in stainless steel, the Split Seconds chronograph ref. 1436 that made history on November 8th, 2015 at the Phillips Watches Auction TWO selling for $3.301 Million Swiss Francs.

After perusing this watch during our meeting with Mr. Aurel Bacs and Paul Boutros at Phillips, all we can say is that this watch is what watch dreams are made of. With an amazing case, perfect dial and a Gay Frères rice beads bracelet made for Patek Philippe, this watch is simply stunning.

When a Patek Philippe reference 1518 is offered for sale, collectors pay attention. For them, a lifelong dream is to own any example of the reference, but for the most experienced collectors, a pink gold example of reference 1518 is the ultimate summit to achieve. But then, there is the stainless steel version. So rare that most collectors can’t even spontaneously say when the last one was at auction. So rare that most collectors have never actually seen one in the flesh and we feel honored that we have. So rare that there isn’t an example in the world’s most important and complete collection of Patek Philippe watches: The Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. Literally, a once in a lifetime opportunity to own one of less than a handful of timepieces that can be considered the non plus ultra of collectible watches.

Produced from 1941 to the early 1950s, reference 1518 was the breakthrough model that defined the state-of-the-art when it was introduced. In hindsight, it is easy to praise Patek Philippe for its successes, but when first introduced, there was no way the craftsmen at Patek Philippe knew they were laying the groundwork for a new standard in watchmaking. It was a tour-de-force of mechanical watchmaking. Integrating a full perpetual calendar with a chronograph, finished to the most meticulous degree possible, no other manufacturer except Patek Philippe could create such a timepiece in the form of a wristwatch during this era. Reference 1518 was the company’s Renaissance, a rebirth of its founding principles of innovation married to tradition. The ‘innovation’ aspect of course being that reference 1518 became the world’s first perpetual chronograph wristwatch to ever be produced in a series by any manufacturer.

Manufactured by Patek Philippe in 1943 in the midst of World War II, this reference 1518 with a 35 mm diameter case number 508,473 and movement number 863,193 is one of those watches that we will always remember touching with our bare hands, admiring it in awe and photographing for your viewing pleasure. This legendary perpetual calendar chronograph is accompanied by an Extract from the Archives confirming the date of manufacture in 1943, and subsequent sale on February 22, 1944.

Of the 281 pieces made, the majority of reference 1518 was encased in yellow gold, while approximately 20% were cased in pink gold. Scholarship has shown that during the reference’s 14-year production run, a total of only four 1518s are publicly known today to have been completed and to exist today in stainless steel. Amongst the four known examples, the present watch, until now, was the only one that had yet to appear at auction. Of the four, three were made in the first series of the 1518’s production, and one in the later series. The other three known examples remain closely held in private collections. Furthermore, this is the first time in over a decade that a stainless steel 1518 has been offered at auction. Since this watch’s rediscovery in the 1990s, it has resided in the most exclusive private collections in the world. It was not until the 1970s that Patek Philippe began to regularly produce stainless steel watches in significant numbers.

On rare occasion, stainless steel cased watches were requested by professionals, such as doctors and engineers, who wanted high quality, yet resilient watches that could withstand the daily wear and tear of their working lives. Stainless steel is therefore by far the rarest case material that Patek Philippe chose to use during the mid-20th century for their complicated watches, considering the extremely high value of their movements. It is this utter scarcity, that today, some of the firm’s most important and valuable historic watches are those encased in steel. Steel complicated watches, for many, are the ultimate in distinction to collect.

The case maker Georges Croisier, later recognized as ‘Genevor SA’, manufactured the three stainless steel references made during the 1518s first production series. Every detail that a collector would wish for, they will find within this example. In addition to the amazingly beautiful condition of this watch, the subtle nuances found within the parts are sure to impress watch scholars around the world.

The spectacular dial, manufactured by Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Frères, is engraved on the back with the last four digits of the movement number. To take it even one step further, on the back of the weekday wheel and the month wheel, the undersides of the discs are engraved on the back with the entire movement number, ‘863’193’ - all of which was done by hand. The dial is breathtaking in its beauty, and superbly preserved for a watch of its age, The raised black hard enamel signature and scales are all crisp, well-defined, and in remarkable condition. The present watch, having survived so immaculately after 70 years, will no doubt impress a lasting memory on anyone fortunate enough to see it “in the metal”.

On February 22, 1944 the watch was sold to Joseph Lang from Budapest, Hungary. In 1944 the retail price for a reference 1518 in stainless steel was 2,265 Swiss Francs —only 500 Swiss Francs less than the gold version of this model.

Most remarkably, also the 2nd example of reference 1518 in stainless steel was delivered to Mr. Lang on the same day. It is a mystery for whom these two watches were destined. However, both watches resurfaced in Hungary between the mid-1990s and 2000s.

In less than a month, we will witness history once again. Stay tuned for the results of the Phillips Auction FOUR in Geneva. For know, keep drooling over the images on this post and try to imagine how it felt to have this legendary watch on our wrist. This is another one of those wrist shots we will never forget.

For more info on Patek Philippe click here and for Phillips Watches and the rest of the lots click here.