Over the next eight days, we will witness two historic auctions, in Geneva, Switzerland, that will offer for sale the most legendary Patek Philippe watches that our generation is likely to see under one (or two roofs). On Sunday, November 9, 2014, Christie’s will celebrate the 175th anniversary of Patek Philippe with an auction of 100 Patek Philippe watches. On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Sotheby’s will hold an auction of “Important Watches”, which will include what is thought by many to be the most important watch of all, the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication watch (shown below).
I do not own a Patek Philippe watch (yet), and these two Geneva auctions will not present the right moment for me to purchase my first one. Still, I am interested in the Patek Philippe brand and its history, and I am especially interested in the Graves Supercomplication watch. Others who are far more qualified may offer “Buyer’s Guides” to the watches. My contribution to these historic auctions will be this “Reader’s Guide”, an overview of some of the books, postings and other materials that have been published for these auctions.
Whether or not you will bidding or buying at these auctions, you can enjoy these publications. On a $200 budget, you can buy three nice books; on no budget at all, you can enjoy some excellent postings and videos on the Internet. Who says that you have to have money to enjoy Patek Philippe watches!
Christie’s Patek Philippe 175th Anniversary Auction
On Sunday, November 9, 2014, Christie’s will celebrate the 175th anniversary of Patek Philippe with an auction of 100 Patek Philippe watches. These 100 watches cover the entire range of Patek Phillipe’s history and a majority of the watches have not previously been offered for sale in a public auction. We see the earliest open face pocket watches from Patek Philippe’s earliest days, through its first wristwatches in the early 20th century, and then the amazing variety of chronographs and other complicated watches through the first half of the 20th century. In additional to the more mainstream watches, we see a few curiosities, such as pearl and diamond pendants from the late 19th century (Lots 14 and 15) and a handful of table clocks. There are three samples of Nautilus and Ellipse watches from the 1980s, along with one perpetual calendar chronograph from 1993, although Christie’s has made it clear that it is not covering the last two decades of Patek Philippe watches. These more recent watches will be offered in special sales held in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York.
You can visit Christie’s homepage for the Patek Philippe 175th Anniversary Auction, HERE.
Christie’s Patek Philippe 175 Auction Catalog — Print Version
The printed catalog for the Christie’s Patek Philippe 175 auction is a magnificent 330-page work of art. In addition to detailed description of the 100 watches being sold, we have a wonderful illustrated history of Patek Philippe, at the beginning of the book, and numerous sidebars throughout the book, that present additional illustrations and information.
A typical presentation for a watch would be three or four pages, showing the watch and providing some interesting background information. For example, below is the listing for Lot 24, a perpetual calendar watch made in 1910. The catalog provides a thorough technical description of this unique watch, and even a photo of the original invoice, from when the watch was sold in 1912.
The catalog presents additional information for some of the more important watches. For example, in presenting Lot 64, an 18 karat gold two-crown world time wristwatch, before even seeing the watch, we read the story of Lou Cottier, the man who invented the “heures universalles”, the system which made the watch possible. Shown below are the spread about Mr. Cottier, followed by detailed information and photos covering the watch being sold.
In describing these 100 watches, Christie’s provides the reader with a fascinating history of Patek Philippe, as a company, and descriptions of many of the company’s technical innovations. Christie’s also provides interesting about the men behind the technical innovations – for example, Andres Zibach with the gyromax balance and Louis Cottier, who pioneered the “heuers universalelles” world time system. (Mr. Zibach’s personal watch will be sold in the auction (Lot 53).
The catalog provides interesting profiles of some of the gentlemen who owned the watches being sold, from William E. Boeing, who founded a company to produce airplanes (Lot 35), to Jean-Claude Biver, who has recently revived the Hublot brand (Lot 45) [both these watches are shown below] Through these profiles, we see that if an important customer wanted a particular watch or combination of complications, Patek Philippe was happy to oblige.
With 330 pages to describe 100 watches, Christie’s has not cut any corners. There are magnificent photos of each of the watches, along with related ephemera — original invoices for many of the watches, related advertisements and catalog entries, and correspondence between Patek Philippe and its customers. The smallest details of the watches receive full treatment. For example, the catalog provides a two-page spread seeking to explain the three tiny red stripes on the minute hand of Mr. Boeing’s chronograph, and an explanation as to why a pocket chronograph (Lot 40) might have the spiraled tachymeter scale measuring speeds between 20 and 60 units per hour.
The catalog provides photos and information covering some of the brand’s legendary dealers, from Gubelin in Lucerne, to the LaViano dealership in Westwood, New Jersey, which had the distinction of selling a perpetual calendar chronograph, in 1961, for $1,500, that carries an estimate of $660,000 to $1,100,000 in next week’s auction.
Overall, Christie’s spectacular auction catalog left me with a new appreciation of what the Patek Philippe brand represents – watches that combine magnificent designs with technical innovations, and are built to the highest standards. It is a tribute to Patek Philippe that so many of these watches are thought to be unique (truly one-of-a-kind watches). If a customer wanted a particular configuration or complication, then Patek Philippe would built it. It is a tribute to Christie’s that it was able to assemble so many of these remarkable watches for the November 9 auction.
Christie’s printed catalog is accompanied by an 8-page brochure that serves as a quick reference for the 100 watches.