Watches are the kind of humble, everyday item that rarely make news headlines. In November 2011, that changed when a vintage timepiece from Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer, Patek Phillippe, sold at auction at Antiquorum in Geneva for a jaw-dropping $2.29 million. The sale of the Patek Philippe Pink Gold Pocket Watch 1894 was, and still is, one of the highest prices ever paid for a watch at auction. So, what exactly makes it special enough to justify such a price tag? Let’s find out.
Watchmakers come, and watchmakers go. Occasionally, they stick around long enough to become legendary. Swiss watchmaker Patek Phillippe undoubtedly falls into the latter category: established over 180 years ago, the luxury watchmaker ranks as one of the oldest and most renowned watch manufacturers in the world. The company’s history can be traced back to 1839, when Czech-born Franciszek Czapek and the Polish watchmaker Antoni Patek teamed up to create Patek, Czapek & Cie. After some internal disagreements, the pair dissolved their partnership, leaving Czapek free to set up Czapek & Cie with new partner, Juliusz Gruzewski, and Patek to establish Patek & Cie alongside French watchmaker Adrien Philippe.
In 1851, Patek & Cie became Patek, Philippe & Cie. In that same year, the company achieved international attention when one of their timepieces was acquired by Queen Victoria at the Great Exhibition in London. After Patek’s death in 1877, Joseph Antoine Bénassy-Philippe, Adrien Philippe’s son- in- law, joined the company in his place. In 1932, Charles Stern and Jean Stern acquired controlling interests in the business, and it has remained in the Stern family ever since.
Since its inception, Patek Phillippe has become one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers in the world. Think of a notable figure in history (from Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Pius IX, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein to John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Pablo Picasso, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Leo Tolstoy), and at some time or another, they’ll have had a Patek Phillippe creation dangling from their wrist.
“Patek is often seen by collectors as a sort of holy grail,” Bassel Choughari, an analyst at Berenberg in London has claimed. Judging from the type of prices Patek timepieces fetch, he’s not wrong. The watchmaker is renowned for producing small runs of limited- edition, highly exclusive, exquisitely crafted timepieces that as Patek’s motto (“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”) suggests, are designed to stand the test of time, in more ways than one.
In recent years, Patek Philippe creations have earned a deserved reputation for fetching some of the highest prices at auction of any watch manufacture. Of the top ten most expensive watches ever sold at auction, an impressive seven have come from Patek Philippe. Currently, the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication holds the top spot on the list, fetching $24 million US dollars in Geneva on November 11, 2014. Also ranking highly is the Patek Philippe Pink Gold Repeater – it may not have sold at quite the same value as the Henry Graves Supercomplication, but at $2.29 million, it would still be far beyond the means of your average auction goer.
The Pink Gold Repeater
The first owner of the Pink Gold Repeater in question was Monsieur E. Hoesch. What Hoesh did with the timepiece, who he passed it on to, and how many pairs of hands it’s passed through since its sale for 3750 Swiss Francs in 1894, we don’t know. What we do know is whoever’s been looking after it all these years has clearly been careful; when it turned up for auction at Antiquorum’s “Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces” Auction in 2011, it was still in mint condition.
As noted by Haute Living, the auctioned timepiece consisted of a 18K pink gold, keyless watch with perpetual calendar, chronograph, moon phases and lunar calendar. Unusually, the watch came with a 24-hour train dial, making it one of the few Patek Phillipe creations to keep 24-hour GMT time, rather than the standard 12-hour time. Despite over a century having passed since its original sale, the watch was accompanied with the original certificate of origin and Patek Philippe sales receipt.
The Repeater was originally expected to fetch between 200,000 to 300,000 Swiss Francs at auction (USD $202,000 to $302,153). In the end, it far exceeded expectations, despite being up against some stiff competition from the other 603 modern and vintage timepieces on sale that day. Other notable finds on the auction block included an extremely rare (and valuable) Patek Philippe ref. 1518 1st Series from 1948. Made from precious 18k yellow gold, the men’s wristwatch featured a perpetual calendar, moon phases, square button chronograph, register and tachometer. As with the Pink Gold Repeater, auctioneers set the bidding at between 200,000 and 300,000 CHF.
Also on offer was a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, COMEX, 660ft=200m, Submariner from 1972. The stainless-steel diver’s wristwatch featured water-resistance, center seconds, a self-winding action, and first generation helium escape valve- for those interested in its history, it also came with a copy of the original owner Patrick Raude’s passport, a Rolex Geneva service invoice (albeit void), a 2002 sale invoice from Raude to its new owner, and an original Rolex advertisement from around 1985. Despite the extra additions, auctioneers placed a lower estimated price on the Rolex than the Pateks: 50,000 to 70,000 Swiss Francs (USD $53,332 to $70464) on the Rolex compared to 200,000- 300,000 on the Patek’s.
The Final Price
Despite the conservative estimate placed on the Pink Gold Repeater by Geneva’s auctioneers, a bidding war on the day pushed the final sale price way above the expected. The final bid exceeded even the most generous estimates to fetch a total price of $2.29 billion, representing a giant leap of 2,271, 021 CHF (USD $2,286,075) in value since its original sale 117 years before to Monsieur E. Hoesch. Unfortunately, Hoesch wasn’t still around to see the return on his wise investment, but we’re pretty sure the current owner was happy enough on his behalf.