Occasionally, a watch will come onto the market that sets collectors drooling at the mere mention of its name. A case in point is the Patek Philippe 1928 Single Button Chronograph. In May 2011, the timepiece fetched a staggering $3.6 million at auction. What makes the price even more astounding is that it’s not the largest amount anyone’s ever paid for a timepiece, not by a long shot. According to Wiki’s rundown of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction, that particular honor sits with the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication, which sold for a record $24 million in a Geneva auction house on November 11, 2014. But still, $3.6 million is no small amount, and certainly puts the timepiece outside the realms of possibility for us Average Joe’s. So, what exactly makes the watch special enough to justify such an exuberantly high price? Let’s take a closer look.
Patek Philippe- A Mark of Quality
The number one reason behind the Single Button Chronograph’s high price is down to who its maker is. If you want a watch made by Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Patek Philippe, it’s going to cost you. A lot. Of the 50 most expensive watches ever sold at auction, 39 were made by Patek. 7 of those 39 are in the top 10. So, Patek timepieces are expensive, that much we’ve established. Finding out why involves a brief look back through their history.
The History of Patek Philippe
The history of Patek Philippe can be traced all the way back to 1839. That was the year Franciszek Czapek joined forces with Antoni Patek to found Patek, Czapek & Cie. The company would later go on to form the springboard for two of the greatest premium watch and timepiece brands in the world. After the dissolution of Czapek & Cie, the Czech-born Franciszek Czapek founded Czapek & Cie with his business partner, Juliusz Gruzewski. After its inception in 1845, Czapek & Cie become renowned for creating timepieces for European Nobility (including Emperor Napoleon III) throughout the 19th century. Antoni Patek, meanwhile, would enjoy even greater things through his partnership with Adrien Philippe. Originally working under the name Patek & Cie (later to be changed to Patek, Philippe & Cie), Patek and Philipe became renowned for their premium, exquisite offerings, and quickly became the darlings of European royalty. As well as making timepieces for Queen Victoria, they also created the first ever Swiss wristwatch for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. Since those early days, the brand has lost known of its exclusive appeal and remains as popular as ever among the world’s elite. Paul McCartney, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Walt Disney, Charlotte Bronte, Leo Tolstoy, John F Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, Albert Einstein… name any celebrity, royal, scientist or politician of note from the last 2 centuries, and you can guarantee that at some time or another, they’ll have had a Patek Philippe creation in their collection.
The Patek Philippe 1928 Single Button Chronograph
Know we know a little of its heritage, we can understand more about why the Patek Philippe 1928 Single Button Chronograph fetched such a high price at auction. That said, there are thousands of Patek timepieces out there, and not all of them can pull in such a significant price. So why, then, did this one? The origins of the piece are shrouded in history. Unlike some Patek’s which still have their original sales invoice bearing the name of their first owner (even in cases of watches made over 100 ago), this one had no such thing. What is known, and as Just Luxe helpfully points out, is that whoever that first owner was, they are likely to have commissioned the piece as a custom- made offering.
The watch itself was created in 1928, just one year before the Great Depression struck. While the period was notable in Patek’s history for its creativity and implementation of new styles and technologies, actual production started to drop at the first rumblings of the economic downturn. Despite this, there was still enough of an appetite for exclusive, premium creations from those rich enough to survive the Depression to allow for Patek’s continued prosperity and production. The cushion-shaped watch features vertically positioned registers and white gold Breguet numerals. In terms of its technical details, the watch features (among other things) a circular nickel-finished lever movement, 28 precisely positioned jewels, a silvered matte dial, an enlarged polished bezel, a crown operated chronograph mechanism, and white gold buckle, case, dial, and movement.
What makes it truly unique, however, is that it is the last surviving white gold version of the cushion-shaped single button to exist. Given that nothing pulls in a bidding war quite like rarity does, the justification for the $3.6 million is evident.
The piece was put up for auction at Christie’s (one of the major players in watch and timepiece antiquities) in Geneva in May 2011. The Patek wasn’t the only timepiece on offer that day. Competing for the attention of hungry bidders were a total of 420 lots, all significant enough in their own right to justify inclusion in an auction entitled “Christie’s Important Watches”. The total combined value of all the watches on offer was estimated in the region of $14 – $19 million. The Patek itself was conservatively estimated to fetch around $2.7 million. In the event, it managed this, plus some. After a protracted bidding war, the watch eventually sold to an anonymous bidder for almost 1 million over its original valuation at $3.6 million. The Patek wasn’t the only watch to pull in a record price that day: as Luxurious Magazine has noted, a total of five world records were set for highest buying price, 4 of which were Patek’s and one of which was a Rolex. Other award winners from Patek included an 18 carat pink gold chronograph wristwatch, a stainless steel and 18K chronograph, and an extremely rare 18K pink gold perpetual calendar wristwatch.