Patek Philippe watches on Auction

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 3, 2018.

The reference 1579 chronograph in steel with a pulsation dial.Photos by Bloomberg

A possibly unique reference 5970G with Breguet numerals that belonged to Eric Clapton.

A time-only watch with a two-tone dial made by André Zibach.

A possibly unique reference 5004R with a pulsation dial.

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With all the Baselworld chaos and the year’s newest releases, it’s easy to forget that auction season is close on the horizon. Each springtime, all the major auction houses will host sales — and with the way things have been going in recent years, we can almost certainly count on new records being set, never-before-seen watches being brought to market, and new trends developing. Kicking things off yesterday, Sotheby’s hosted its 423-lot watch auction in Hong Kong. The hefty catalogue contained many great pieces at all price points, but four Patek Philippe watches truly stood out. Each could be a cover lot and has a story to tell.


Reference 1579 chronograph in steel with a pulsation dial

If you’re anything like me, you look at this watch and your heart starts beating faster. Just look at it. Alright, fanboying aside, the reference 1579 is truly special. The watch wasn’t actually made as you see it here until 1991, despite being a reference from the 1940s. In the late 80s, Patek Philippe invited a few good clients who owned 1579s to refit the original movements into new old stock steel cases paired with new old stock dials made around 1950 but were not used. The result: a watch that’s vintage in origin, but that has lived a very different life from most. Most notably, you get a vintage watch in much better condition than similar watches that have aged more traditionally — the lugs on this case, for example, are super sharp, since it’s been less than three decades since it left the factory. This watch was sold by the original owner in 2007 and the new owner says the watch has remained completely unworn since.

There are seven total known examples of the 1579 in steel, but this one has a unique dial. In addition to the applied white gold Arabic numerals and square markers, there is a hard enamel pulsation scale, in French, around the perimeter of the dial. The result: an open, clean look with details you won’t find anywhere else. This watch is lot 2906, with an estimate of approximately US$795,000 (RM3,068,700) to US$1,534,000.


Possibly unique reference 5970G with Breguet numerals that belonged to Eric Clapton

In 2012, Eric Clapton’s platinum 2499 made serious waves in the collecting community (and it eventually sold for a whopping US$3.65 million). Since then, a few other Clapton watches have made their way to the auction block, but this one is definitely the most exciting. What you’re looking at is a possibly unique white gold 5970 with a silvered dial featuring applied black Breguet numerals and a hefty white gold bracelet. This was a custom order delivered in 2006 and it still comes with the full kit, including a certificate of origin, the Extract from the Archives, the instruction manual, an extra solid caseback (it’s fitted with a sapphire back), a setting pin, a few extra bracelet screws and a presentation box.

Even without the provenance, this would be a watch to own. Despite the Breguet numerals’ elegance, this is one of the sportier 5970 configurations we’ve ever seen and it’s tough to imagine it wearing like anything but a dream. Hopefully, whoever buys this actually enjoys it and doesn’t let it linger unworn in a safe for too long. This watch is lot 2917, with an estimate of approximately US$300,000 to US$510,000.


Time-only watch with two-tone dial made by André Zibach

This is the most unusual watch of the bunch. This watch has no reference number and never appeared in any catalogue as you see it here. It was created by André Zibach, one of the greatest Patek Philippe watchmakers of all time, in the mid 1930s as a wedding gift for a friend. He purchased the movement from Patek in 1936, though it dated all the way back to 1929, and then put it together with a case from Emile Vichet and a dial from Stern Frères.

All three major components represent exceptional examples of what those companies were capable of at the time, from the yellow gold case’s beautiful lines to the traditional movement architecture and finishing to the two-tone dial with applied Arabic numerals. Additionally, Stern and Vichet would play major roles in Patek’s future, with the Stern family eventually purchasing the company outright and Vichet making cases for watches such as the ref 130, ref 1518 and ref 2499.

Zibach may not be a household name, even for serious collectors, but he was responsible for regulating many of Patek’s best watches in the early part of the 20th century, including the legendary JB Champion ref 2458. It’s also interesting to put this in some context and think about how completely out of the question creating a watch like this today would be. The watch industry really was a totally different world back then. This watch is lot 2894, with an estimate of approximately US$31,000 to US$51,000.


Possibly unique reference 5004R with pulsation dial

What you’re looking at here is a special order reference 5004R. If you wanted the split-seconds perpetual calendar in rose gold, that typically meant getting it with a silver dial with applied Arabic numerals. It’s known that for some special customers, Patek would swap the silver for black, but for even more special customers, something unique could be done.

This watch is the only known 5004R to feature a black dial with an applied Breguet numeral at 12 o’clock and a pulsation scale around the outer edge. It may sound like these are subtle changes, but they combine to give the watch a totally different look. Any 5004 is rare — only a dozen or so were made per year between 1996 and 2012 — but something like this takes it to another level. Additionally, this watch was delivered in 2011, just a year before the model was discontinued. This watch is lot 2918, with an estimate of approximately US$703,000 to US$1,534,000.

This sale took place at Sotheby’s Hong Kong yesterday and included two sessions (at 1pm and 5pm). — Bloomberg

This article first appeared in Hodinkee, a preeminent resource for modern and vintage wristwatch enthusiasts.