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Once in a lifetime: Christie’s vintage Patek Philippe selling exhibition

Exceptionally rare Patek Philippe watches, including many fresh-to-market pieces, will be available for purchase between 13 and 23 July at Christie’s in New York — with prices ranging from $5,000 to well over $5 million

Christie’s Patek Philippe selling exhibition in New York — which runs from 13 July to 23 July and features more than 300 vintage watches — includes many exceptionally rare and fresh-to-market pieces available for immediate purchase. It will run concurrently with Patek Philippe’s official The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition  at Cipriani in New York over the same period. We asked John Reardon, International Head of Watches at Christie’s, to tell us more.

Christie’s International Head of Watches John Reardon examines a rare Patek Philippe

Christie’s International Head of Watches John Reardon examines a rare Patek Philippe

What was the inspiration for the exhibition?

John Reardon: ‘The concept is quite simple. With thousands of Patek Philippe collectors and enthusiasts converging on New York in July, this is the perfect time to celebrate all things Patek Philippe, while also offering collectors the chance to see and acquire exceptional museum-quality watches. The demand for vintage watches has never been greater, and this exhibition offers buyers the opportunity to own a piece of Patek Philippe’s history.

‘Imagine visiting the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, being allowed to try on some of its pieces — and then to leave with a few treasured acquisitions. Of course this is pure fantasy, but Christie’s New York galleries offer the next best thing: the chance to assess a large selection of vetted and authenticated Patek Philippe vintage watches from the mid-19th century through to the late 20th century, and to potentially take something home.

‘The goal of this exhibition is to educate new collectors on how to assess the condition of vintage watches, how to understand the market and how to collect vintage watches. A series of tours, lectures and watchmaking classes will complement the official Patek Philippe exhibition at Cipriani.’

‘This is possibly the largest curated assembly of vintage Patek Philippe watches for sale in history — it’s an experience not to be missed’

What excites you most about the event?

JR: ‘I have always wanted to see complete verticals of Patek Philippe watches presented in a way that allows one to compare the development of key complications. The ability to see first-hand the ‘family tree’ of Patek Philippe complicated watches is something that many collectors only dream of — our exhibition makes it possible.

‘In the field of chronographs, visitors are able to trace the development in the 20th century from the 130 to the 530, 533, 591, 1579, 1463 and the split-seconds 1436. Regarding perpetual chronographs, we have four 1518s and a wide selection of 2499s, with examples in each series.

Patek Philippe. 18k gold ref. 1463J, manufactured in 1946 and sold in 1947
Patek Philippe. 18k gold ref. 1463J, manufactured in 1946 and sold in 1947
Patek Philippe. 18k rose gold ref. 533R, manufactured in 1942 and sold in 1943

Patek Philippe. 18k rose gold ref. 533R, manufactured in 1942 and sold in 1943

Patek Philippe. 18k rose gold ref. 5020R, manufactured in 1995
Patek Philippe. 18k rose gold ref. 5020R, manufactured in 1995
Patek Philippe. 18k white gold ref. 5270G
Patek Philippe. 18k white gold ref. 5270G

‘We also show the development of calendars, starting with two examples of early triple calendar 96s, moving on to superlative examples of the 1526, 2497, 2438, 3448 and 3450. The icing on the cake is the total production run of the minute repeaters, including seven early minute-repeating wristwatches, and nearly the entire run of modern discontinued minute repeaters, many with unique variants.

Patek Philippe. Nautilus 39001A
Patek Philippe. Nautilus 3900/1A
Patek Philippe. White gold ref. 3428G, manufactured and sold in 1962
Patek Philippe. White gold ref. 3428G, manufactured and sold in 1962

‘Combined with special sections of Patek Lemania chronograph verticals, Advanced Research watches, Nautilus, Ellipse, Calatrava and clocks, this exhibition has something for all collectors — we even have a Patek Philippe singing bird box!

‘Before coming to see us, however, I would urge visitors to attend Patek Philippe’s The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition New York, which opens up the world of Patek Philippe’s historic and modern production.’

What can you tell us about the watches available for private sale?

JR: ‘All but around two dozen of the watches in our exhibition will be available for private sale. Some collectors and families will not part with their watches and heirlooms at any price, and I am extremely grateful that we have been able to take some of these rarely seen pieces on loan.

James Ward Packard Patek Philippe ring watch
James Ward Packard Patek Philippe ring watch
The ring watch has a movement and case bearing James Ward Packard’s name
The ring watch has a movement and case bearing James Ward Packard’s name
Patek Philippe Walking Stick
Patek Philippe Walking Stick
The walking stick features a Patek Philippe watch embedded in the silver knob
The walking stick features a Patek Philippe watch embedded in the silver knob

‘Most notably, we have James Ward Packard’s Patek Philippe Walking Stick and Patek Philippe ring watches, on public view for the first time. The walking stick features a Patek Philippe watch embedded in the silver knob, with a movement engraved with Packard’s name. The ring, too, has a movement and case bearing James Ward Packard's name.

‘Other “unicorn watches” — which are not for sale — include a Patek Philippe two-tone Reverso cased wristwatch; a 3448 Senza Luna in white gold with a confirmed extract from Patek Philippe; and an exceptional collection of early Patek Philippe minute repeaters.

‘The 300 watches available for private sale, many of which were purchased from Christie’s decades ago, are sourced from around the world. Many are also from their original owners or families. In a world in which collectors dream of owning a fresh-to-market watch in as-found condition, the pieces in this sale will not disappoint.’

What are the highlights of the concurrent online auction?

JR: ‘Alongside the exhibition, Christie’s online Patek Philippe auction features 85 lots. Highlights include an impressive assembly of pocket watches, enamels, time-only watches, and a fresh-to-market 2438 perpetual calendar (below) at an estimated $150,000-250,000.’

If money were no object, which piece would you buy?

JR: ‘What a tough question! I was only recently debating it with a collector friend. For the same price, I would have a tough time deciding between a complete vertical of Patek Philippe perpetual calendars (1518, then one of each of the four series of 2499s) or the Stephen Palmer Grand Complication from 1898 on offer in our sale. If pushed, I would probably choose the Palmer.’

The Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication No. 97912
The Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication No. 97912
The Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication No. 97912
The Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication No. 97912
Certificate of Origin and Warranty for the Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication No. 97912
Certificate of Origin and Warranty for the Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication No. 97912

Many pieces in the exhibition are priced under $20,000 — which watches in that range have caught your eye?

JR: ‘We have more than 100 basic time-only watches on offer, starting at $5,000. I would suggest a basic Patek Philippe Calatrava model from the 1940s or 1950s, or even an original Gondolo pocket watch that can be bought for less than $10,000.’

Are any related events open to the public?

JR: ‘Certainly. Our lecture series and watchmaking classes will all be open to the public. I will also be giving a gallery tour at 2pm every day during the exhibition. We hope to see you there, and to welcome you to Christie’s.’