Phillips, Geneva, November 12 2016
Sold for CHF11,002,000
Described by Phillips as “one of the most legendary collector’s watches”, this example of Patek Philippe’s Reference 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph – the first watch of its type to be manufactured in series by any maker – smashed records when it crossed the block as the star of the house’s fourth Geneva sale.
In its regular forms, a 1518 is rare by anyone’s standards, with a mere 281 having been made between 1941 and 1954, most of which were in yellow gold, with fewer than 60 in pink gold – and a believed four in stainless steel. The Phillips watch is one of the latter, hence its substantial, seven-figure estimate of CHF3,000,000, and eventual sale for CHF11,002,000.
The reason so few were made in this more workmanlike material is obvious – this was a complex and expensive watch that most people thought deserved a case made from precious metal. A few, however, requested stainless steel because they wanted to use its “tool watch” functionality in the field and , therefore, needed it to be unostentatious and hardwearing.
The original Hungarian owner bought the watch in February 1944 for Sfr 2,265 and it remained in that country until resurfacing some time during the last 20 years, since when it has been illustrated in John Goldberger’s seminal tome about steel Patek watches – and been widely hailed for its remarkable original condition. The case appears just as it left the factory (i.e. unpolished, and therefore remarkably crisp), the dial is in equally stellar condition and matching on parts of the movement attest to it being entirely original. Little more needs be said – it was simply a matter of seeing how much the world’s most serious watch collectors were willing to bid.
In summary: The first steel-cased Reference 1518 to have appeared at auction in a decade caused fireworks in the saleroom. There were relatively few people in the world with the required knowledge, passion and resources that might potentially lead to ownership – but, as with all auctions, it only needed two to go head-to-head.