It was the beginning of the 1980s when the vintage watch market was born from the passion of a few Italian collectors. Nowadays, almost 30 years after, what used to be the product of a few collector’s enthusiasm is being translated in multimillion transactions and auction world records. Inevitably, the vintage watch market is being placed in the same level as art and classic car collections whereas the collectors themselves, are amongst the most powerful and passionate people around the world. There is no better example to showcase this shift rather than the Phillips Auction Number Four that took place in Geneva on 12th of November 2016. We were there, in between a crowded room filled with ardent and aspiring collectors and we witnessed how one lot, the No. 38 and 13 minutes were able to produce the most breathtaking auction result in the history of watchmaking. The Patek Philippe timepiece with reference 1518 in humble steel, became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold in public with the astonishing amount of USD 11,136,642.
Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in stainless steel, manufactured in 1943. Sold at the Phillips auction in November 2016 for CHF11,002,000 (approx. 10,198,000€) . Discover more at www.phillips.com
The history of the reference 1518 begins in 1941, in the midst of the turmoil of WWII. During the Swiss Watch Fair Basel, modernly known as Baselwolrd, Patek Philippe presented an unprecedented wristwatch, a perpetual calendar featuring for the first time a chronograph, a timepiece that was not directly commissioned by a prominent personality as the times commanded but would be serially produced for the years to come until 1954. From this day after, Patek Philippe would change his course and along with his, the history of watchmaking. Other references would follow to complete this wonderful lineage of perpetual calendar chronographs, all based on the very first inception, the 1518.
As if this incredible beginning was not enough, one of the most interesting traits of this reference lays in the materials. From all 281 watches produced throughout 13 years, only 4 were made in stainless steel. In fact, these four examples –at least the ones that are publicly known- are the only perpetual calendar chronographs in white metal, with the only exception the 2499 in platinum that accounts for two examples.
Patek Philippe ref. 2499 Fourth Series in platinum, manufactured in 1987.
The rest of the materials were in yellow gold as majority and approximately 55 in pink gold. The 1518 and 2499, dominated the horology market of perpetual calendar chronograph for almost half a century, as the sole examples of high-end complicated wristwatches. In the glimpse of an eye, these two references are remarkably similar, due to the dial design but their differences are distinctive. The 1518 has downturned lugs and moreover, it only features square pushers, an attribute that is found only in the first out of four series of the 2499.
Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in stainless steel, 1943, yellow gold, 1951 and pink gold, 1948. Sold by Phillips in November 2016, for CHF11,002,000 (approx. 10,198,000€), CHF598,000 (approx. 554,000€), and CHF1,474,000 (approx. 1,366,000€), respectively. Discover more at www.phillips.com
In terms of characteristics, the 1518 has a 35mm diameter and a dial that features an enamel tachymeter scale, twin apertures showing the day and month at the 12th o’clock position, two chronograph subdials at the 3 and 9 o’clock position as well as the date display and the incredible moonphase at 6 o’clock. Up until today, this elegant design would inspire all perpetual calendar chronographs of the house, proving its eternal style. At the heart of this timepiece, was a Valjoux ebauche, that was in-house upgraded in order to meet the highest possible standards set by Patek Philippe, finally named Calibre 13 130Q (13’’’130). The complete number of the movement is found engraved on the rear of the dial.
Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in yellow gold, manufactured in the end of the 1940s. Discover more at www.onlyvintage.com
Analyzing further this reference, one has to admit that the stainless steel version could represent an important chapter of Patek Philippe on its own since it embodies the true values of vintage watch collecting: rarity, history and design, all cased in the subtle elegance of steel. Four known examples with the three of them carrying identical cases, all manufactured from Genevor SA and produced one next to another in a historic sequence of case numbers. In a recent interview, Mr. Aurel Bacs revealed that from his knowledge, the fourth example exists but was never fitted with a movement therefore never making it as a watch.
Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in steel, details of the dial. Discover more at www.phillips.com
The first one, featuring a case number 508473 has also the number 1 engraved, proudly showcasing it was the first ever produced. It is the one that as our introduction explained, was sold for the amount of 11.136.642 USD. According to historic records, this very first reference was manufactured in 1943 and sold in 1944 in Hungary at a retailer named Joseph Lang.
What we love about this reference is its complicated simplicity. All of its vaunted characteristics lay bare for the eye to see, admire and excite. With this timepiece, Patek Philippe encapsulated what most collectors, in any domain, dream of. In our opinion, a new chapter has begun to unfold for the history of vintage watches. Auctions like this, represent the true enthusiasm of more and more people who appreciate history, rarity and extraordinary designs, the exact same traits that inspired the very first Italian collectors to start this beautiful journey.
Author: Luca Balella