Patek Philippe has been responsible for designing some of the most beautiful and sophisticated watches, and commands great acclaim across the globe for the fine craftsmanship and innovative technologies of every timepiece in their range. The company was founded back in 1839 by designers Antoni Patek and Francois Czapeck, though the name at that time was Patek, Czapeck & Co. They started out designing and selling high-end pocket watches, and in 1845 Francois Czapeck moved on from the company. Antonie Patek soon met a new business partner by the name of Jean Adrien Philippe, and in 1951 the company’s name was changed to Patek Philippe & Co.
In 1868, history was made when Patek Philippe created the world’s very first wristwatch. This would go on to become the preferred type of timepiece, with pocket watches gradually losing popularity ever since. Today, the iconic Geneva-based company is responsible for bringing a number of groundbreaking innovations to the industry, and retains its place at the top of the pile when it comes to luxury watchmakers. Numerous figures from the worlds of celebrities, dignitaries and even royalty wear a Patek Philippe watch, and some of the designer’s most complex and intricate watches are also among the most expensive that have ever been sold at auction.
Below are the top 10 Patek Philippe watches ever sold at auction. If you’ll like this post you may also enjoy our articles on Top 10 Most Expensive Aston Martins, A complete History of Rolex, Top 20 Most Expensive Luxury Assets, Top 10 Most Expensive Watches, Top 10 Most Expensive Hermes Handbags and Top 10 Most Expensive Jewelry
10. The 1936 Patek Philippe Pilot Watch
This timepiece first came into the world in 1936, and stood out primarily due to its revolutionary case size, which has a diameter of 55 millimeters. It is thought to be a prototype made on special request, and as such there is only a single model known to exist. The casing is made from chrome and nickel, the dial a superb black lacquer, and the scales are carved from the finest ivory varnish. The combination of these luxurious features culminates in a piece that is a work of pure art, and the auction price of the piece has reflected this. It sells at auction for around $1.7 million, and is a deserving member of this list.
Image credit: christies.com
9. The 1925 Patek Philippe Grogan Watch
There is one feature of this watch that is particularly unique: it is the only model to the Patek Philippe name that was designed specifically for left-handed people to wear. As such, the controls and keys are all fitted on the left hand side of the watch, and the chronograph is custom designed. In terms of design, it features a more square face with defined corners and the casing is fashioned from gold. When auctioned by Christie’s in 2006, the 1925 Grogan fetched $1.95 million and earned its place as one of Patek Philippe’s top timepieces.
Image credit: Pinterest.com
8. The 1944 Model 1591 Patek Philippe watch
In 1944, the world was introduced to Patek Philippe’s model 1591; a timepiece with a bold, functional stainless steel case. It features a perpetual calendar and boasts a water-resistant design that was really quite innovative for the 1940s. It is an incredibly rare piece, with only two of them known to exist in the world. Few were even aware of the existence of this model until it first came to auction in 1996. Astonishingly, it came to the auction house via India’s Maharajah, who had given it as a gift to his wedding planner. The second known Model 1591 was auctioned by Christie’s in a 2007 event, where it made history by becoming the most expensive watch with a stainless steel case ever to be auctioned. The price there for the Patek Philippe Model 1591 was a staggering $2.26 million.
Image credit: christies.com
7. The 1957 Model 2499 Patek Philippe watch
The first series Patek Philippe Model 2499 is another diamond in the ruff, with only five known to have been produced. It is a rose gold marvel, bearing the signature Patek Philippe stamp and weighing in a 18 karats. In 2007, during a special event at Christie’s, a 1957 Model 2499 became one of the most expensive watches ever to be sold up to that time. The winning bidder parted with $2.28 million to become an owner of one of the rarest watches in the world.
6. The 1953 Heures Universelles Model 2523 Patek Philippe watch
Patek Philippe’s Heures Universelles Model 2523 first hit the market in 1953 and it’s a real stunner. Its face is adorned with a vibrant design that does full justice to the grand name. You will be hard pressed to find a more meticulously-designed watch amongst the brand’s proud and extensive back-catalogue, with the enamel dial representative of a map of the entire of north America. The case of the Heures Universelles Model 2523 is made from 18 karat gold, and the piece has fetched as much as $2.9 million at auction.
5. The 1923 Officer Patek Philippe watch
The 1923 Officer is a peerless, one-of-a-kind timepiece that exudes classic sophistication and stylistic features. Its case is crafted from yellow gold with a weight of 18 karats, and its chronograph is distinctive and memorable. The piece incorporates an exterior chapter ring, which features calibration for 1/5th seconds, and two subsidiary dials: one at the ‘9’ position displaying continuous seconds, and a 60-minute register at the ‘3’ position.
The 1923 Officer is the only chronograph watch from Patek Philippe’s portfolio which includes a 60-minute counter, and it is also the only model they have which features a dial of white enamel adorned with black Breguet numerals. It is also the world’s earliest know split-seconds chronograph born as a wristwatch from any watchmaking company. The chronograph function is controlled via the button on the band for stop, start and reset, while the split-second hand function can be controlled with the winding crown. The Patek Philippe Museum was the subject of a fierce bidding war, and eventually ended up in the hands of the Patek Philippe Museum for a cool $2.965 million.
Image credit: timeandwatches.com
4. The 1927 Minute Repeating Wristwatch Patek Philippe watch
This enigmatically-shaped watch includes beautiful yellow gold and bears the coat of arms of the Graves family. Henry Graves had a close connection with Patek Philippe, and also owned their Super Complication piece, which carried a value of $11 million but wasn’t worn on the wrist. When auctioneers at Sotheby’s put the 1927 Minute Repeating timepiece up for sale, with a reserve price of $600,000, it actually ended up selling for a grand total of $2.99 million. One defining feature of the watch is that it was specially made for Henry Graves, and incorporated his personal “Esse Quam Videri” message, which means “To be, not to seem”.
3. The 1951 Ref 2499 Patek Philippe watch
The First Series of Ref 2499 Patek Philippe wristwatches is made from rose gold with a weight of 18 karats. Its many outstanding features include signature stamping, a moon phase dial and a perpetual calendar. A standard 1951 Ref 2499 First Series watch will cost at least $2.12 million at auction, but that’s not the piece we are interested in here. In 2012 a very special platinum Ref 2499 was auctioned; one of only two that were constructed with this platinum casing. But what made it truly special was that it came from the private collection of music icon Eric Clapton, known for his long-term commitment to collecting Patek Philippe watches. His piece sold for $3,655,757. It is special characteristics like this, or sometimes seemingly minute distinctions, that can make all the difference when it comes to auction price. Collectors love scarcity, and unique features are extremely in-demand.
2. The 1939 Platinum World Time Patek Philippe watch
The platinum World Time wristwatch stands out as Patek Philippe’s absolute masterpiece in terms of design. There was only a single World Time model produced, which instantly sets it apart from most other watches out there. Meticulous, rigorous craftsmanship was poured into every element of the design, which incorporates a list of no less than 42 of the world’s most prominent cities and 24 time zones from all over the globe around the face in painstaking precision. It sold at the Antiqorum in 2002 for an impressive $4.03 million.
1. The 1943 Ref 1527 Patek Philippe watch
The most impressive Patek Philippe wristwatch ever to appear at auction also held the highest pricetag. The 1943 Ref 1527 sold for an incredible $5.5 million in a record-breaking sale at a 2010 Christie’s auction in Geneva – the home of the company’s headquarters for its entire history. It became the most expensive wristwatch ever made, with only two pocket watches topping its remarkable price. The winning bid was made by a Swiss museum that wanted to exhibit the timepiece for its unique features and Patek Philippe’s close connections to Switzerland.
The vintage timepiece includes a chronograph, an elaborate moon phase display and a relentlessly iconic perpetual calendar. Add to this some deluxe features like minute markings, gold Arabic numbers, bi-metallic compensation balance, a date indicator and no less than 23 encrusted gemstones and it’s no wonder this beautiful work of art fetched such a high price at auction. The 37 millimeter dial is silver matte, and larger than the vast majority of dials on watches produced around the same era. Its case is yellow gold and weighs in at 18 karats.
Special mention….the Calibre 89
Patek Philippe’s most complicated watch ever went on sale at Sotheby’s in Geneva a few years back, with an estimate of $6.4m – $9.9m. The Calibre 89 pocket watch was unveiled to the world in 1989 to mark the 150-year anniversary of the Swiss watchmaker; at the time it was the world’s most complicated watch, a record that held until 2005.
The Calibre 89 was able to hold the record thanks to its 33 complications – a complication being any feature beyond the displaying of hours and minutes. As well as traditional timekeeping functions, the timepiece also has calendar functions, chronograph functions, and chiming functions.
A feature-rich timepiece
Some of the most notable features on the clock face of the watch include a day of the month indicator, in an arc underneath the numbers on the top half of the face. Just below this, two windows inlaid into the watch face tell the user the year, as well as whether or not it is a leap year. Lower down on the watch, two windows indicate the day of the week, and the month.
Three smaller dials on the south, west, and east sides of the watch face displaying more data for the user. The south dial has a seconds hand, while also doubling up to show moon phases. The west dial has an elapsed time indicator (ETI), that runs up to twelve hours, while the east dial has an ETI that runs up to 30 minutes.
Flip the watch over, and you’ll find many more features, including a zodiadc signs guide, a celestial chart, a sunrise and sunset indicator, as well as many more. That a watch is able to execute so many functions simultaneously is a testament to Patek Philippe’s horological engineering.
A rare opportunity to pick up a historic watch
This was the first time the Calibre 89 has been up for sale since 2009, when it sold at auction for $5m. Items like this don’t crop up at auction very often, so if you’re interested in them, you have to take the opportunity when it arises. As already discussed, the Calibre 89 looked set to smash its previous sale price, with the low-end estimate at $6.4m.
The current record for an auction sale of a pocket watch is $24m, another Patek Philippe, in fact. The Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication, built in 1933, sold at Sotheby’s for the world record fee in 2014. Interestingly, the watch was the most complicated watch in the world for over 50 years, until its 24 complications were bested by none other than the Calibre 89, with 33.
With an estimate much lower than $24m, it’s hard – but not impossible – to see the Calibre 89 breaking the world record. However, stranger things have happened. In the auction environment, two or more determined bidders can drive prices into the stratosphere. It might sound like a cliché to say ‘anything can happen’ but in the world of auctions, there’s a certain truth to that statement.
In a digital age where smartphones reign supreme, it’s encouraging that people are still willing to pay good money for the precision engineering of a deluxe clockwork timepiece. Whether the value comes from a tried-and-tested way of telling time or the beauty of wearing a work of art on the wrist, watch buyers are prepared to invest serious amounts of money in the most luxurious watches. Patek Philippe watches are some of the most in-demand as collector’s items, and the pieces listed here are at the very top-end of the scale in terms of what people have been willing to spend their money on at auction.
A bit on the history of Patek Phillipe watches…
Anyone who has ever had the honour of owning a hand finished and highly individual Patek Philippe timepiece will know what a marvel of design creativity and watchmaking genius it is.
They are aspirational items; watches favoured by the highest echelons of society and members of royal families for generations. Demand for new Patek Philippe watches is so high that some of the Genevan manufacturer’s most-sought-after items are only available on application, and you join a waiting list that could last years. The process also requires evidence of your credentials as a collector.
How did Patek Philippe become such as illustrious brand, and what’s the story behind the company’s globally renowned expertise?
Defining the indefinable
Among the many reasons that distinctive and distinguished Patek Philippe watches earn such devotion is they are not ostentatiously “high end”. Their genius is often in their understated simplicity of design, to complement the intricacies of their watchmaking craftsmanship.
The words that spring to mind include elegant, unpretentious and confidently genius.
One of the ways that the Patek Philippe company underpins and protects this high value and strong brand loyalty is by not over-producing its ageless timepieces. Only a limited number of watches are crafted each year. In the company’s prestigious 180 year history, less than a million timepieces have carried that distinctive logo.
This has all served to increase the passion to own a Patek Philippe, as demand outstrips supply.
The care and precision that goes into each watch is also another factor that makes the company’s output less prolific than other brands. It is believed that Patek Philippe invests at least nine months of production time in each item that carries its moniker. Some of its more complex timepieces are the result of around two years of professional design, construction and quality checking.
The movements in a Patek Philippe watch are always created by hand, with infinite attention to detail. Each case is usually created in-house from solid gold or platinum.
Many of the skills used today are the same as those employed in the earliest days of the company’s history. Though engineering expertise is important to Patek Philippe, it believes that superlative handcrafting is far more important than the ability of modern technology to “save time”.
It is this incredible expertise in watchmaking that ultimately sets the company apart. It’s the little details that provide evidence that each piece is a “labour of love”, including flawlessly polished hands, faceted batons and intricate multifaceted movements.
The origins of this watchmaking artistry
Patek Philippe is a rare company, in that it has been forging its craft continuously since 1839 and has guarded its fortunes against the interests of bigger conglomerates and brands. It is the last, big independent Swiss watchmaker.
Patek Philippe has been owned by the Stern family for four generations.
Even as recently as May 2019, the current Chairman, Thierry Stern, was vocal in his assertion that Patek Philippe is “not for sale”. Instead, he vowed to guide the iconic brand forwards until his own children – or some other worthy successor – can take the helm.
The announcement was prompted by rumours that Patek Philippe was the subject of a buyout of between $8 billion to $10 billion.
The Patek heritage
This fiercely independent and private owned watch manufacturer began life in the hands of Antoine Norbert de Patek. Patek was born in Poland in 1812 and fought in the Polish-Russian War, ultimately receiving his home country’s highest military honour for his heroism. When the uprising was repelled, Patek settling in France. He later moved again to live in Geneva, Switzerland.
Patek began developing his interest in the intricacies and creativity of Swiss watchmaking. He also soaked up inspiration and new skills from the work of Geneva’s outstanding plethora of jewellers and engravers. In May 1839, in partnership with fellow immigrants and family members, this fascinating man launched Patek, Czapek & Cie – Fabricants à Genève.
Though Patek’s initial partnership and company names were eventually replaced, more than once, this in no way indicates a rocky start to the company’s early years. The watches produced found immediate popularity. This growth was underpinned by success at the French Industrial Exposition of 1844, where Patek earned a Gold Medal for his patented mechanism for winding a movement, and positioning hands, without the use of a separate key.
This success was just one of the ways early Patek watches were cast firmly into the limelight, as Antoine Norbert de Patek was as astute at marketing as he was at watchmaking. He travelled extensively to promote his innovative and handcrafted products, eventually passing away in 1877 at the age of 65.
The Philippe heritage
Jean Adrien Philippe, born in 1815 in France, was also a gifted and visionary watchmaker. While living in Paris, he invented his own winding mechanism, one that enabled pocket watch owners to use a crown instead of a key.
Patek and Philippe crossed paths in Paris, at the previously mentioned French Industrial Exposition of 1844. As a result of their instant mutual respect, the gifted French watchmaker became technical director of Patek’s growing enterprise in 1845.
He was tasked with improving manufacturing methods to develop new models with additional distinctive features. This gave him the opportunity to further perfect his keyless winding mechanism, and to add more patents to the team’s list of watch process innovations. Philippe literally conceptualised the systems that are used to create movement in watches to this day.
The coupling of Patek and Philippe proved to be a “match made in heaven” in terms of superlative watchmaking. Now, the resulting handcrafted products benefited from Philippe’s mechanical genius, as well as Patek’s understanding of decoration, enamelling and jewellery.
From visionary founders, to passionate entrepreneurs
Time passed, and the founders, Patek and Philippe, were gone. The venture changed identities again in 1901 from Patek Philippe & Cie to the lengthy joint stock company “Ancienne Manufacture d’horlogerie Patek, Philippe & Cie, Société Anonyme”.
However, the company was fortunate to be in the hands of a new shareholding board of directors who were determined to protect both its future and its integrity.
Then came the Wall Street Crash and the economic hardships of the 1930s. The prestigious watchmakers reached a new watershed moment in its history. The shareholders agreed that a buyer was needed to assure its future.
The directors began talks with one of the company’s leading suppliers, dial manufacturers, Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Frères, which was owned by brothers Charles and Jean Stern. An already mutually beneficial working relationship eventually evolved into the Stern family owning the Patek Philippe company outright, from 1932 until the present day.
This new regime was responsible for the watch known as Ref. 96. The reason this is worth noting is that this product was the prototype for the Calatrava collection, which many argue is the purest line of watches in existence.
The newly reborn company also patented the Gyromax balance, another revolutionary watch mechanism that earned global interest, among other award-winning innovations and industry “firsts”.
Under the Stern family ownership, Patek Philippe also began applying its legendary innovation and vision to other business areas too. This included using the skills of its electronics team to become market leaders in railway and airport information systems.
New engineering focus, for brand betterment
The art of prestigious watchmaking remained the core of Patek Philippe.
One of the company’s most fertile periods of growth and innovation came in the 1970s. This is when engineering prowess was further developed, without compromising any of Patek Philippe’s artisan and sharply honed processes.
Building the firm’s engineering abilities served to protect manufacturing standards, and to ensure that the company’s components, watch servicing and repairs were of an unfailingly high calibre. It also supported a “new breed” of much sought after Patek Philippe watches.
It was during the 1970s that Philippe Stern – a keen sportsman – became determined to create a watch that met the needs of his generation of discerning buyers. From this came the classic “Nautilus Ref 3700/1A” in 1976, sold with the branding “One of the world’s most expensive watches is made of steel”.
The 1970s also saw the launch of the globally renowned ultra-thin Patek Philippe Caliber 240, which included a patented automatic winder.
The innovations continued. In 1989, the 150th anniversary of Patek Philippe was marked by the launch of the Calibre 89, which at the time was the most complex and intricate watch in existence (a record held for 26 years). These watches rarely come up for auction, but a yellow-gold Calibre 89 watch sold for over $5 million in 2009.
This was not a record, however, as a Patek Philippe Ref.1518 fetched $11 million in 2016.
What is the value of a Patek Philippe watch?
The above examples illustrate an irrefutable fact. Both new and vintage Patek Philippe watches command prices that outstrip other iconic companies in this sector.
This is particularly true of items that stand out for additional reasons, in terms of rarity or commemorative appeal.
According to Christie’s, re-sale of Patek Philippe’s 175th-anniversary collection reached “extraordinary prices” the instant it became available. The iconic company’s 5131 Cloisonné Enamel doubled its retail value at auction within days of its original sale.
This is a watch brand that grows in value very quickly, and substantially. For example, in November 2018, Christie’s illustrated this phenomenon, saying: “An original Nautilus from the 1970s, which originally retailed for less than $3,000, now trades for more than $50,000.”
The high investment potential of a Patek Philippe’s watch is clearly another reason why owners are generally extremely reluctant to sell a timepiece crafted by this prestigious company.
Authenticity and archives
To protect the brand and to enable owners or potential owners to research each individual timepiece, Patek Philippe has an unrivalled system for authentication.
Every watch made by the company has a distinctive feature – almost like a unique fingerprint – that enables it to be individually listed in the company archives. These archive entries are date stamped and ‘searchable’.
If you wish to explore the value of your Patek Philippe watch and potentially secure loan funding from your timeless timepiece, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at Pawnbrokers of Rodeo Drive.
If you are looking to sell your watch in the LA or Beverly Hills area, then we will buy your watch from you today! For more specific information on each of over 43 brands of fine watches we buy or loan against please visit some of the pages of the individual brands: Harry Winston, Hublot, IWC, Jaeger Le Coultre, Omega, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Nardin, A Lange & Sohne, Preziuso, AudemarsPiguet, Bamford, Blancpain, Breguet, Breitling, Bvlgari, Cartier, Franck Muller, Panerai, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, Rolex, or Vacheron Constantin to name just a few of the many brands we buy or loan against.