Development of Patek Philippe
1895-1928 The Sound of Minutes
2019 SOLD for CHF 4.6M including premium
Along three decades from 1922, Henry Graves Jr bought 39 special watches from Patek Philippe. In 1928 he came in person to Geneva to approve the drawing of the watch with 25 complications which will be delivered to him in 1933.
During this trip, Graves buys a wristwatch incorporating a movement from 1895, which today appears to be Patek Philippe's oldest example of minute repeater. Its 40 mm long tonneau-shaped case made in 1927 was specially adapted to incorporate this very early mechanism and to optimize the repeating sound. The engraving of Graves's coat of arms is added on the yellow gold case for that purchase.
This watch surfaced for the first time in 2012 in the deceased estate of Graves's grandson. It was sold by Sotheby's for $ 3M on June 14, 2012 over a lower estimate of $ 600K. It is estimated CHF 3M for sale by Christie's in Geneva on November 11, lot 154.
On 11 November, the Geneva Important Watches auction will be highlighted by Henry Graves Jr.’s unique yellow gold tonneau minute repeater of 1927, the first and earliest wristwatch in his outstanding collection of approximately 30 watches by Patek Philippe https://t.co/rLWkgoS7HB pic.twitter.com/OaD3PBOoSI— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) September 25, 2019
1898 The Secret of Patek Philippe's Success
2013 SOLD 2.25 M$ including premium
In the nineteenth century Patek Philippe had already filed many patents. However, a pocket watch recently discovered with its certificate and invoice changes the vision that historians could have on the development of the brand.
In October 1900, an American banker named Stephen S. Palmer came to Geneva to buy three Patek Philippe watches, one of which is the subject of this article. It includes the best complications available at that time: minute repeater, months, days of the week, split-seconds chronograph, grande and petite sonnerie and phases of the moon.
The story of its design is not known. The Palmer monogram filling the entire back of this gold watch leaves no doubt that it meets the requirements of a special order similar to those, better documented but much later, by Packard or Graves.
This piece is extraordinary. This is the earliest known watch in which Patek Philippe succeeded in bringing together so many complications in a single pocket watch. It is for sale by Christie's in New York on June 11. It is so unusual that the auction house has not yet established an estimate. I invite you to read the excellent and well illustrated article shared by Haute Time.
Here begins the dream. This masterpiece representing a technological breakthrough cannot be unique. Until yesterday, Palmer was known as a benefactor of Princeton University but not as a lover of watches. Where are the other watches purchased by Palmer? What are their features? Are similar wonders still sleeping in the chests of the descendants of unindentified wealthy clients?
The sales records of Patek Philippe are remarkably detailed. This exciting discovery will certainly challenge the experts in the company to review the documents of that period to start hunting for similar pieces. A new page just opens in the history of watchmaking.
POST SALE COMMENT
This specimen exceptional in the history of Patek Philippe was sold for $ 2.25 million including premium, well above its higher estimate.
Another information about dates: this watch sold in 1900 had been manufactured in 1898.
This watch is discussed by Aurel Bacs in the video below (shared by Meehna Goldsmith) :
1923 Sport and Complication
2014 SOLD 2.96 M$ including premium
In the 1920s, their development teams managed to incorporate the complications in small and thin cases compatible with the use on the wrist, thus winning a major part in a promising market. Then the miniaturization of the combinations of complications generated the masterpieces of modern watchmaking.
Three prestigious complications received the greatest attention: repetition, perpetual calendar and split.
The chronographe à rattrapante (split seconds chronograph) includes two centered hands. One of them runs its rotation in sixty seconds. The other is stopped by the action of a pusher and joins the first hand when the measurement is achieved. This complication is very popular for the measurement of time intervals in sporting competitions.
In 1923, Patek Philippe manufactures and sells a single specimen of split seconds chronograph wristwatch assembled in an old 'montre d'officier' case. This piece that can be considered as a prototype had no immediate commercial following. For this reason, some of its other features are also unique such as its calibration to 60 minutes and the design of its dial.
This historic watch was sold for nearly CHF 3M by Antiquorum on November 14, 1999, equivalent at that time to $ 1.9 M. It is estimated $ 800K, for sale by Sotheby's in New York on June 10, lot 175.
POST SALE COMMENT
This watch is a key step in the fabulous technological development of Patek Philippe. It was sold for $ 2.96 million including premium.
1927 Patek Philippe 130 in Stainless Steel
2015 SOLD for CHF 4.6M including premium by Phillips
1927 The Minute Repeating
2014 SOLD 1.2 MCHF including premium
Time repeating by an activated chime was important before the invention of the electric light, to know the time during the night. The minute was the shortest period that was considered useful.
Graves owned four minute repeating wristwatches. Comparing two of them, both commissioned and assembled in 1927 and delivered in 1928, provides some interesting insights into the co-ordination of Graves requirements with the expertise of Patek Philippe.
Patek Philippe tried very early to miniaturize the repeating mechanism but its assembly into a wristwatch was not a priority. Before Packard and Graves, clients did not eagerly sought the technical feat .
One of these 1927 Graves watches was the encasing of a movement that Patek Philippe had made as early as 1895 certainly as a prototype. This tonneau shaped watch in yellow gold was sold for $ 3M including premium by Sotheby's on 14 June 2012.
The technical progress is higher in the other watch for which Patek Philippe managed to reduce down to 24 mm the size of the movement. This cushion shaped platinum wristwatch is estimated CHF 1.2 million, for sale by Christie's in Geneva on May 12, lot 101 in the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
The price, CHF 1.2M including premium, remained below the estimate.
1928 A White Gold Chronograph
2011 SOLD 3.2 MCHF including premium
In 1926, Patek Philippe introduced the single button chronograph watch. The simplicity of the pusher can give a great elegance to this model for which the cushion shape is particularly suitable.
Made in 1928, sold in 1931, the copy presented by Christie's has a feature perhaps unique in its class: it is made in 18K white gold, including the hands and the numerals applied on the silvered dial. The photo is shared by Auction News Network.
These chronographs were of course available in other materials: pink gold, platinum, steel. On November 14, 2006, Sotheby's sold CHF 916K including premium a watch in 18K yellow gold with black numerals. Its production is simultaneous with the specimen for sale by Christie's: the serial numbers of the mechanisms differ by less than 200 units.
These watches are also contemporary of the beginning of the great economic depression. These difficulties increased the competition to luxury. It was believed that this market sector could survive the crisis better than the product lines for greater use. We had similar discussions about cars.
To appreciate this remark, remember a very different model, the Patek Philippe pocket watch with 24 complications delivered in 1933 to Henry Graves Jr. This wonder of wonders was sold for $ 11M including premium by Sotheby's in December 1999.
POST SALE COMMENT
Christie's was convincing: this watch has all the qualities. It was sold CHF 3.2 million including premium.
1932 The Best Customer of Patek Philippe
2011 SOLD 1.15 MCHF including premium
Henry Graves Jr., born in a banking family, had made his fortune in railroads. He was known as an art collector, but his posthumous fame is due to his collection of watches.
His passion was to specify to Patek Philippe the most complicated watches in the world, and he had much imagination! For him, the Genevan company built the watch with 24 complications which he paid CHF 60K in 1933 andwhich reached $ 11M including premium at Sotheby's in 1999.
Of course, these private operations were not visible to the general public. It is also not known exactly how many unique pieces Graves purchased to Patek Philippe. The figure of 30 is suggested by Christie's.
In 1932, during the development of the Supercomplication watch, Patek Philippe manufactured for Graves the pocket watch with platinum open face which is the subject of this article. The following year, this specimen was regarded as holding the world record for precision during contests organized by the Geneva Observatory.
For the second time, this superb watch is for sale by Christie's in Geneva. It is estimated between CHF 800K and 1.4 million, for sale on November 14. It had been sold CHF 843K including premium on 17 November 2008. Three years ago, such a price was slightly more than US$ 700K. Today, by comparison, the lower estimate is equal to US$ 900K.
POST SALE COMMENT
This watch of prestigious origin was sold CHF 1.15 million including premium.
While the sale is still in progress, we can already observe that three other Patek Philippe did better, including an outstanding result at CHF 2.1 million including premium for a model 3448 with perpetual calendar manufactured in 1968.
1933 Supercomplication for the Use of New York
2014 SOLD for CHF 23.2M including premium
By 1900, the Palmer specimen was a pocket watch with minute repeater, months, days of the week, split-second chronograph, grande and petite sonnerie and the phases of the moon.
James Ward Packard, the car industrialist, was one of the most demanding customers of Patek Philippe. In 1916, he obtained a pocket watch with sixteen complications, and in 1927 he had a celestial chart added to nine other complications in a single watch.
When Packard died in 1928, the New York banker Henry Graves Jr. had already ordered the world's most complicated pocket watch, with 24 complications divided into two dials including the night time sky from New York City.
Completed in 1932, the Supercomplication is a unique piece for which Patek Philippe had mobilized their best specialists. The assembly of its 920 components in a case 74 mm in diameter and 36 mm thick is a technical feat that will remain unmatched until the era of computer-aided design.
The Supercomplication was delivered to Graves on 19 January 1933 for CHF 60K, nearly five times the price of the ultimate Packard watch. It was sold for $ 11M including premium by Sotheby's on December 2, 1999. It is for sale by Sotheby's in Geneva on November 11, lot 345.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's.
1939 Platinum Patek Philippe 1415 HU World Time
2002 SOLD for CHF 6.6M (worth at that time US $ 4M) including premium by Antiquorum
narrated in 2020 before the sale of another watch by Phillips (see below)
Patek Philippe, which had delivered their Supercomplication watch to Graves in 1933, are eager for any invention. Their first integration tests of the Heures Universelles (HU) are carried out in 1937 with the support of the inventor.
These early units are experimental. They re-use old movements, perhaps chosen from their availability in the warehouse. The 96 HU is known in two units and the 515 HU in three units. Both 96 HU Calatrava and at least one of the rectangular 515 HU are assembled with cases in the same range of serial numbers. Both types refer to 28 cities.
The 96 HU has long been considered as a unique piece. It was sold for CHF 410K including premium by Christie's on November 14, 2011. The second watch surfaced in 2011. Unrestored, it was sold as is by Sotheby's on December 6, 2011 for $ 480K including premium and for CHF 390K including premium by Phillips on June 27, 2020.
The rotation of the city ring was not compatible with the 515 but Patek Philippe did not give up. The 542 HU, assembled in five units, is the last model of prototypes before the marketing begins in 1939 under the references 1416 HU and 1415 HU. A 1415 HU was sold by Antiquorum on April 13, 2002 for CHF 6.6M including premium, worth $ 4M on that date. It is the only known example in platinum for that reference.
1943 Steel against the Wear of Time
2016 SOLD for CHF 11M including premium
The Reference 1518 is in production from 1941 to 1954. In the following of some pre-war prototypes, it is the first commercial model to offer altogether these two appealing complications which are the chronograph and the perpetual calendar, in addition to the moon phases.
It is ahead of its time and patrons do not rush. 281 watches are built in this reference which is an average of 20 per year. Most are in yellow gold. 34 of them are in pink gold : one of them previously discussed in this column was sold for $ 795K including premium by Antiquorum on April 10, 2013 ; another one, made in 1948, is for sale in Geneva by Phillips on November 13, lot 196.
The 1518 in stainless steel are extremely rare : only four are known. This is not really surprising : we must indeed recognize some contradiction between the need for a perpetual calendar and the fear of wear.
The first two 1518 in stainless steel were manufactured in 1943 and sold together to a same customer in February of the next year. One of them remaining in an immaculate condition had probably been intended by him as a spare. It is for sale by Phillips in Geneva on November 12, lot 38. The press release of September 22 is announcing an estimate in excess of CHF 3M.
RESULTS INCLUDING PREMIUM :
Stainless steel : SOLD for CHF 11M
Pink gold : SOLD for CHF 1.47M
1943 Continuous Improvement at Patek Philippe
2010 SOLD 6.25 MCHF including premium
The model 2499, introduced in 1951, is a star of the sales of watches, and it would be tedious to report all its millionaire results. Before it, for ten years, the flagship of the luxury line was the 1518, which I have not yet discussed in this column.
This is neither the one nor the other but a 1527 that is estimated 1.5 MCHF by Christie's, for sale in Geneva on May 10. Fitted with chronograph, perpetual calendar and moon phases, this watch has the features of the best models of its time, 1943, but its barrel ("tonneau") shape made it a precursor to future refinements.
1527 was manufactured in two copies only. So it is a kind of prototype or custom order carefully kept in mind by the designers of the firm in Geneva waiting for better post war times.
It was unknown to the experts before the sudden appearance of the copy of Christie's on the market 20 years ago. The other copy, simpler (no chronograph), was a surprise six years ago when the son of a former owner of Patek Philippe gave it to the museum of the brand.
POST SALE COMMENT
I warned it more than once: 2010 is a great year to be attentive to exceptional lots. This unique Patek Philippe is an important link in the history of the brand, and in the history of wristwatches as a whole.
The price obtained is as fabulous as the piece: 6.25 MCHF including premium.
Christie's was able to convince the rather closed circle of the collectors of top watches. I say "closed circle", because I had not seen any newspaper article on this lot. The auction house is proud of the result: they posted on Twitter without waiting for completion of the sale (which is also not yet finished at the time of my comment).
The image of this watch is shared post sale by La Tribune de Genève.