4 Record-Setting Stainless Steel Patek Philippe Models Auctioned At Phillips. Is A Fifth Coming?
According to auction guru Aurel Bacs of Bacs & Russo, stainless steel was far and away the rarest case material that Patek Philippe utilized during the mid-twentieth century for its complicated watches.
Considering the extremely high value of Patek Philippe’s movements, it seems difficult from today’s standpoint to believe that stainless steel could be the rarity where cases were concerned, but thanks to the relative difficulty at the time in working steel compared with softer gold, this was indeed true.
This state of affairs now makes complicated Patek Philippe watches in stainless steel the hot thing among vintage collectibles – and the kudos for recognizing this trend goes to Phillips’s new watch auction division spearheaded by Bacs & Russo.
Phillips has been on an absolute roll in the auction world, culminating in the record-breaking spring 2016 auction season, where it achieved nearly $53 million in just two locations (Geneva and Hong Kong), including the innovative Start-Stop-Reset auction comprising 88 stainless steel chronographs (see Phillips’ Start-Stop-Reset Auction: 14 Epic Wristshots Of Stainless Steel Chronographs and Phillips Stages Thematic Auction Of Stainless Steel Chronographs: A Reaction To Market Conditions?).
In fact, over the past 18 months, Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo has managed to set several world records for stainless steel Patek Philippe models.
Here are the top four record-setters:
2. Patek Philippe Reference 1436 from 1945, a stainless steel split-seconds chronograph sold in November 2015 for $3,301,000. This is one of only two known examples of a Patek Philippe split-seconds chronograph reference 1436 in steel from the 1940s. It sold for $3,301,000 (its estimate was $1.5 to $3 million).
3. Patek Philippe Reference 1463, a stainless steel chronograph sold by Phillips in November 2015 for $1.21 million (pre-auction estimate $250,000 to $500,000). This is the only publicly known reference 1463 in steel featuring a possibly unique dial. See more about this double-signature timepiece co-featuring Montevideo-based retailer Freccero in Phillips Stages Thematic Auction Of Stainless Steel Chronographs: A Reaction To Market Conditions?
4. This “trend” can also be spotted in highly collectible contemporary Patek Philippe wristwatches as well: at the November 2015 edition of the Only Watch charity auction hosted by Phillips, Patek Philippe Reference 5016A, a unique stainless steel minute repeater with perpetual calendar and tourbillon, sold for 7.3 million Swiss francs (see The 3 Most Expensive Watches Of 2015 and You Are There: Attending The Only Watch Auction 2015 With Patek Phillipe).
Geneva Watch Auction: FOUR’s top lot
Now, as Phillips gears up for its next auctions to be held in November 2016, the top lot has already emerged: a stainless steel Patek Philippe Reference 1518 that has never before been offered at auction.
This stainless steel Patek Philippe reference is the stuff of myth among those immersed in vintage collecting. Produced in the 1940s and 1950s, Reference 1518 was the breakthrough model in terms of complication and calendars: it was the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch ever serially manufactured by any brand.
Only a total of 281 pieces were made, the vast majority of which was in yellow gold with a few pink gold examples.
As Phillips puts it, for the most experienced collectors a stainless steel 1518 is “the ultimate summit to achieve” as only four are known to exist. Of these four, three have already appeared at auction, the last one selling more than a decade ago.
The fourth example, which has never appeared at auction, is this one. Its estimate will be in excess of $3 million. But can it beat out the $4,987,000 record set by the Reference 130 mentioned above?
Time will tell.
Another steel rarity
The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 is also a rare wristwatch in stainless steel – but its rarity originates in a different place.
A. Lange & Söhne only produces wristwatches housed in gold and platinum. However, soon after the brand’s relaunch in 1994, it produced a few examples of its truly iconic Lange 1 in stainless steel as replacements during service intervals, a practice it soon discontinued.
As GaryG wrote in The Value Of Rarity: Christie’s Auctions A Black-Dialed A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 In Stainless Steel, there are perhaps only 25 Lange 1 examples in stainless steel in the world, and perhaps only three of those are outfitted with a black dial.
At the Christie’s auction on June 7, 2016 where it was recently sold, this timepiece achieved a hammer price of $233,000 – four to five times the price of a brand-new Lange 1 in platinum.
That Lange 1’s rarity factor is what makes it so valuable, but using that principle, it does remain a bit of mystery to me as to why this Rolex Reference 3347 Oyster Zerograph Monopusher Flyback Chronograph from 1937 in Phillips’s May 2016 Start-Stop-Reset auction “only” achieved a hammer price of 389,000 Swiss francs. This is the only example of this reference to have ever surfaced at auction.
Is it because steel Rolexes are much more common? Or because it looks too little like a modern Rolex? Or perhaps because of its relatively primitive mechanics?
Only the collector market knows these things for sure. But Aurel Bacs certainly seems to know how to please that market.
For more information on Phillips auctions, please visit www.phillips.com/calendar.