At the last sale in 2002, an ultra-rare Patek Philippe World Time wristwatch sold for the auction price of more than $4 million. It’s estimated that since this time the example has risen to an even higher value due to the fact that it is the only one of its kind which was ever built. There have been other models made in its likeness in new generations, some even recently, but none can compare with the original 1939 edition which started the lineage. It bears a much closer look to fully appreciate its magnificence and to understand its significance not only within the Patek Phillippe brand but also within the greater sphere of horology. We came across a short inclusion of this example in a listing of the most expensive watches in the world. Although the description claimed that there is little known about this watch, we beg to differ. Our research into this remarkable rare and important model has turned up ample evidence to confirm its authenticity and to provide an overview of is history.
The history behind the watch
The Patek Philippe watchmaking company was established by Antoine Norbet de Patek and his partner Francois Czapek in 1939. In 1945 Czapek left the company and Jean Adrien Philippe joined Patek in 1851 officially founding Patek-Philippe & Co. They began manufacturing wristwatches in the year 1868 and the pair claimed manufacture of the first perpetual calendar wristwatch. Establishing a solid reputation for innovation in watchmaking design, technology, and quality, Patek Philippe became a premier brand in luxury watches. The Patek Philippe Platinum World Time was inspired by the inventor of the World Time complication, Mr. Louis Cottier, who had achieved this great feat just four years earlier.
The creation of the world time complication predated the establishment of Greenwich, England as the world’s 24 major time zones’ prime meridian. Cottier’s invention showed each of the 24 time zones on one single watch dial. This was a significant period in watchmaking history. We must credit Vacheron Constantin with the creation of the first pocket watch to feature World Time, but Patek-Philippe created the first World Time Wristwatch which was based on the World Time complication with due credit rendered to Cottier. When historians claim that little is known about the first example made, they have a point from a certain perspective, We may not have the detailed paper trail that documents the artisans who dedicated hours of intricate labor tasks in its creation, but we know its origins and the historical people and events which spawned the birth of this extremely rare and valuable timepiece.
The origin of the species
We may easily compare the 1939 Patek Philippe World Time wristwatch with the origin of the breed, or at least one in the early parentage lines. The powerful DNA of this timepiece with its revolutionary mode of tracking the time in 24 major cities throughout the world, would give birth to a new generation of highly functional and versatile precision watches that would prove themselves to be of great worth to pilots and those who navigate through the cities of the world. The $4 Million World Time was not the first to be created by the brand, but it was the only one that was crafted of platinum materials and it is believed that just one example was ever made.
The first World Time for the brand was released in 1937 with a rectangle shaped case with a fixed dial featuring 28 cities with a single crown for setting the 24 hours ring and the time.
Reference 542 HU
This example was produced in 1938 featuring 30 cities around the ring, unlike the previous version, the bezel revolved when turned manually for setting the selected city at noon. Just four of these are known to exist in the world presently.
Reference 1415 HU
This is the reference which has delivered the birth of the 1939 Patek Philippe Platinum World Timer wristwatch. Prior to its creation, there were also a few pocket watches with the World Time complication manufactured by Patek Philippe. There were several versions of 1415 produced in a yellow gold material from 1939 through 1950, but there is only one known to ever exist in the Platinum version and this is the high selling example that surpassed $4 million at auction.
The evolution of the 1939 Patek Philippe Platinum World Timer
As time moved forward, Patek was able to secure a patent upon the world timer mechanism. The Huere Universelles was one of the models featuring a cloisonne enamel for the central dials along with continental maps which now fetch handsome prices at auction. The evolution continued forward with notable references being produced with the 2016 version of the World Time’s reference 5230 which sported a central dial in a hand guilloche engravement with a modernization of the city disc. The 5231J reference 38.5 mm edition was made in an 18k yellow gold with an engraving of the North Pole view of the Earth, outlining the Americans with an outline of thin wire gold and embedded yellow gold spangles at the 12 clock designation and remaining quadrants.
There is no question of the pedigree of the 1939 Platinum World Time which sold for more than $4 million. It would be nice to have a detailed history of each owner and a bit more of the back story. Still, we know enough about the origins of the example, along with its importance in an era when watchmaking opened up into a new chapter of advances in technology and versatile timekeeping systems