Yesterday November 8th, 2015 in Geneva at the Phillips Watches Auction Number Two in partnership with Bacs & Russo, another vintage Patek Philippe wristwatch sets a record at auction. Selling for $3.301 Million Swiss Francs —roughly $3.291 Million USD at today's exchange rate—, the Patek Philippe Split Seconds chronograph ref. 1436 makes history. With only two examples in stainless steel that are known to exist, this watch is far from the norm where the elite of watch manufacturers would reserve their most complicated and consequently valuable movements for precious metal cases. The consequence is, however, that lovers and collectors of the finest complicated vintage wristwatches will struggle to ever find a favorite piece in a stainless steel case. The perfect example of this theory is Patek Philippe, and only too many passionate collectors of the firm’s vintage pieces regret not to have yet seen a reference 2499, two crown world time, or vintage minute repeater in a stainless steel case.
Of course, no rule is without exception and some references were eventually made in microscopic quantities in stainless steel cases. For example, we know today of only one stainless steel perpetual calendar, reference 1591, only one example of a stainless steel reference 1526, and only four examples of the legendary perpetual calendar chronograph reference 1518. These watches are today crowning either the world's most important and prestigious private collections, or are safely protected on exhibit in Patek Philippe’s own museum in Geneva. What they all have in common is that they are prominently illustrated and described in John Goldberger’s bible for collectors of Patek Philippe Steel watches, and are the material of which horological dreams are made.
Reference 1436 is no exception to this rule. One of the finest references ever made by Patek Philippe, it is one of only two vintage split second chronograph references made by the distinguished firm, and is normally cased in yellow gold with only a very small number completed in pink gold. According to scholarship, a small quantity of stainless steel cases was made during the first half of the 1940s, but less than a handful were actually ever used and fitted with movements. The present watch is now offered only for the second time ever since its original sale in 1949, having only seen three owners since its original purchase over half a century ago. Another example —movement no. 862534, and case no. 626222— was originally made for the important Italian retailer Astrua in Torino, and has not been seen in public since its last appearance at auction in 1994. It is understood that the watch is in the private ownership of one of the world’s most important collectors, with a very small chance of becoming available for purchase in the foreseeable future.
Today, these are the only two known reference 1436 watches in stainless steel made and completed in the 1940s. A third watch was made and completed in 1941 —case no. 626223, the consecutive case number to the retailer Astrua—, and sold to an Italian retailer in September of 1942 where it remained unsold for 8 years, when it was subsequently re-cased in yellow gold, meeting the taste of a once again blossoming post-war society. The whereabouts of this steel case are not known.
The present watch was originally sold to the Henry Stern Watch Agency, exclusive importers of Patek Philippe watches to the U.S.A., clearly denoted by the stamped HOX denomination on the balance bridge. Not only has it hardly seen any wear throughout its life, but also most likely not more than one case polishing in over 65 years of life. Inside the case back there are no traces of any watchmaker's interventions, and it is possible, given the extraordinary condition of the movement that it has never been dismantled or worked on since leaving Patek Philippe’s workshops in 1949. The dial is in outstandingly beautiful condition for a watch of its age, and the signature and scales are all incredible crisp, well defined and in untouched raised black hard enamel.
Given the watch’s supreme rarity, beauty, and importance, it comes as no surprise that John Goldberger has dedicated four pages to the presentation of this treasure, a privilege only shared with a handful of other watches in his book.
As a side note, the watch had an original estimate for the auction between $1.5 and $3 Million Swiss Francs. For more info on Phillips click here.