In 2013, Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Phillipe added to its status as one of the world’s most expensive brands when one of its creations, a 5004T wristwatch, fetched a staggering 2,950,000 Euros (or USD $3.9 million) at auction. The wristwatch was just one of 30 other lots up for auction but, none-the-less managed to pull in nearly half of the event’s total yield of 5,066,000 Euros. How a simple wristwatch fetched such a premium price owes much to the history and reputation of its maker, Patek Phillipe.
The History of Patek Phillipe
Patek Phillipe has been making some of the most desirable watches and timepieces in the world for over 180 years. The brand started out as a partnership between Antoni Patek and Franciszek Czapek; after Czapek departed the company in 1851, Patek continued the business with a new partner, Adrien Philippe. The pair quickly became renowned for their high- quality, exclusive offerings, and developed a reputation for serving the timekeeping needs of some of Europe’s most eminent nobility. After being passed down the line of several generations of Phillippe’s, the business changed hands in 1932 when the Stern family acquired control. The business remains in their capable hands to this day. While Patek has kept abreast of new technologies and innovations, it’s never lost its focus on producing classic, premium quality watches with a timeless appeal few of its competitors can match.
The 5004T isn’t the first Patek to fetch a high price at auction. Over the last few decades, the brand has become synonymous with million-dollar bids. To date, its most expensive watch to sell at auction is the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication, which managed to fetch an incredible (and record-breaking) $24 million on November 11, 2014. Other notable inclusions to its list of auction successes include the 1943 Stainless Steel Ref. 1518, which pulled in $11.137 at auction in 2016, the Stainless-Steel Ref. 5016A-010, which drew $7.259 in 2015, and the Titanium Ref. 5208T-010, which sold for $6.226 in November 2017.
The Patek Philippe 5004T
So, we’ve established – Patek Philippe timepieces aren’t cheap and for good reason. But what exactly was it about this particular version of the 5004T wristwatch that managed to convince someone that nearly $4 million was a reasonable price to pay for a watch? To understand, we’ll need to take a closer look at its genesis. At the time of the auction, the 5004T had been discontinued (not necessarily because of low interest, but Patek is known to occasionally pull lines as a way of maintaining and generating interest in its new creations). The 5004T up for grabs had been commissioned as a one- of- a kind model especially for the auction. Exclusivity is always a big draw, but when we’re taking exclusive to the point of being the only one of its kind in the entire world, you can maybe start to see why bidders were prepared to hand over their life-savings quite so readily.
As Forbes has noted, the reason for the special commission was down to the nature of the auction itself. Unlike most standard auctions where proceeds go directly into the hands and pockets of the seller, the bi-annual Antiquorum’s Only Watch auction donates 100% of its proceeds to charity. While we’re sure most sellers would be happy to contribute a portion of their sales to good causes, we doubt many would be happy to hand over the full caboodle (especially if we’re talking several millions of dollars). Mindful of this fact, Antiquorum has learned to cut out the middleman and go straight to the source. Premium brands are asked to contribute directly to the auction, on the caveat their contributions are either the very first piece from a limited edition run, or complete “one-offs”. The trade works both ways: Antiquorum gets to add to the coffers of its charity of choice, while the watchmakers get the benefit of extensive press coverage (and a healthy dose of good karma, no doubt).
The Technical Details
Before we get into the technicalities of the 5004T, the first thing to mention is its design. At 36.7mm wide, the 5004T is relatively small in comparison to most modern-day men’s wristwatches and bears a much sportier overall appearance than most Patek creations. In terms of its dial, we’re looking at a monochrome, checkered- board motif that’s been hand produced and engraved from solid gold. 18k white gold Arabic numeral hour markers complete the elegant finishing. As A Blog to Watch comments, the sporty appearance is carried through on the watch-strap. Made from butter-soft calf leather with a weaved fiber top and contrast red stitching (which just so happens to complement the red second's hand marker), the strap’s sporty aesthetic marks something of a departure from Patek’s traditionally elegant, classic designs. Whether or not this was intended to emphasize the novel nature behind its creation, who can say. Completing the list of features is a moon phase indicator, a 12-hour split-second chronograph, a perpetual calendar, a solid titanium case back (which, in itself, is an incredibly rare feature for any Patek timepiece to have, regardless of whether it’s a one of a kind or not).
The Final Price
Even the best of auctioneers occasionally gets it wrong. The experts at Antiquorum are undoubtedly among the best and most knowledgeable in the business, but even they didn’t manage to come anywhere close to predicting just how desirable a one-of-a-kind Patek Philippe would turn out to be. Original estimates placed the watch at between 400,000 – 600,000 Euros. High enough, you’d think, to deter most average Joe’s from even turning up. On the day, the bidding reached the estimated value… and then just kept going, and going, and going. By the time bidding closed, the watch had exceeded even the highest of the original estimates by 235,000,000 Euros, leaving the lucky winner to walk away plus one watch and minus $3.9 million. In the eyes of most watch collectors, it was probably worth it.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson