What makes one watch exceptional while another is just a clock on your wrist? There are so many things that can go into a great watch, gems, advanced technology, unique inclusions like moon rocks, or hundreds of years of company history and prowess at horology to name a few. However, some of the very most elegant watches have something else, something you cannot buy. Stories. The age makes a watch antique, but personal history is what makes it into the realm of memorabilia. An antique is valuable, but the tale behind its journey of years is almost always worth more than the same piece sitting under glass in plain view could ever be. A watch with a story is like a sword with a name, unique and precious.
The Patek Philippe Museum located in Plainpalais Geneva is one of the foremost collections of horological wonders in the world. They collect and display incredibly beautiful and valuable watches and timepieces. If you want to learn the history of the Patek Philippe timepieces, or go further back and view the antiques that came before, then a visit to this stunning art-deco building is the best place to start.
Patek Philippe Museum is separated into two different collections. The first is a collection of pre-Patek Philippe timepieces that begins around the year 1600 with the first watch ever made and ends around 1800. The early, stunningly brilliant watches, and other portable mechanical timepieces. Both collections also include various automata and enamel miniatures that Geneva is famous for worldwide. The second collection begins in 1839 and visually chronicles over a hundred seventy-five years of Patek Philippe’s innovations and horological genius. Between the two collections, there are over 2000 individual exhibits. They also house a massive library with more than 8000 books on time and timepiece making. If you love watches, then this is a wonderland of chronography that’s not to be missed, a perfect vacation destination. They offer curious tourists public tours in French and English on Saturday afternoons, and private tours by request. Children who are lucky enough to live in Geneva can take several educational tours with their school groups to discover the wonders of timepieces and automata.
Lost in Time
The Patek Philippe 1944 Wristwatch in question is a beautiful example of that elusive intersection where quality and history meet to create something singular and valuable. It was sold by Favre-Leuba, Patek Philippe’s India agency. Honestly, the history of this watch might have been lost along with the watch itself. For many years it was unknown. Only twelve of these watches were ever made, and of those, only two are known to still exist. When this watch surfaced in 1996 at Christies Auction House, it caused a sensation among collectors as the sole example of a stainless steel reference 1591. At the time it was sold it took the highest auction price in history for a stainless steel wristwatch.
All Patek Philippe’s are highly valued, but this one is special. Even now, this watch is the only stainless steel Patek Philippe perpetual calendar wristwatch in a waterproof case. Very few have ever sold for more by any brand, and most of those have hundreds of diamonds. While this watch does have 20 jewels, watch lovers understand that this does not mean it has diamonds on the face or anything like that. The purpose of gems in a watch (for anyone who might not know this) is to reduce the friction, especially in spots that see the heaviest wear.
If the story is correct, this watch was once the property of a Maharaja. He was a fan of Polo and played the sport himself. This watch was one of his prized pieces, and he wore it to play. That speaks to the durability of the watch beyond a doubt. Stainless steel is one of the materials that stand the test of time, much like diamonds or pyramids; it is exceptionally sturdy and robust. After wearing this watch occasionally for years, the Maharaja gifted it. The man he chose to give this watch was a wedding planner. Specifically, he gave the watch to the man who planned his wedding. Indian weddings are extensive affairs even when they are not royal, so the wedding planner certainly had his work cut out for him, and must have given exceptional service to earn such a boon.
Exquisitely Ahead of its Time
If you are not a connoisseur of stainless steel watches like the 1944 Patek Philippe 1591, then you may not know how incredibly rare it is to find one with a perpetual calendar. In fact, there are less than a dozen. Should you be so lucky as to own such a gem, you might want to bequeath it to a place like the Patek Museum. This one-of-a-kind watch has luminous numerals and dials along with indirect sweep center seconds. It keeps the phases of the moon as well as the calendar days with windows for the day and month at the top of the face. The movements are one of only two sets made in that exact manner and style, or so it is believed. Unfortunately, due to imperfect record keeping, we cannot know every detail, but a lot can be extrapolated from what is known. For example, the location of the original sale collaborates the idea that it belonged to a Maharaja since it’s unlikely that a random passerby would happen in and purchase such an elegant and costly watch.
You can catch a glimpse of this exquisite timepiece on permanent display at the Patek Philippe museum. They purchased it to preserve a missing link in the Patek heritage. Much like the Maharaja, the museum gives this amazing watch a special place in their collection. Unlike the original owner, however, they won’t be knocking it around on a sports field or bouncing it on a horse regularly, so future generations of watch aficionados will be able to appreciate it’s unusual elements and historical handsomeness for generations.