Minute repeating wristwatches harken back to an era long gone, when a practical reason was at the root of every advance and innovation in watchmaking. The repeater, for example, was developed to answer the need of knowing time in the dark, a more than common occurrence in a time when electrical illumination was first nonexistent, and later only present in major cities. In more recent times this practical need has faded, but the technical complexity and undeniable poetry of this complication render it one of the most admired and sought-after. Its complexity is twofold: on the one hand, the actual mechanism is extremely intricate, on the other hand, enormous research efforts have to be made in order to find the best geometry for the resonating coils and the overall case design which yields the purest possible sound. This still today – and even more so in the past – means important research and development costs beyond the actual production complexity, and it is especially true for a company with historically extremely limited output and equally high quality standards such as Audemars Piguet.
As a matter of fact, between 1892 and 1992 the total output of Audemars Piguet minute repeating wristwatches has been astoundingly limited: 35 examples in total, the vast majority of them cased in gold. Furthermore, if one considers more recent times, the number drops down to an incredibly low amount. Since 1945 and until 1992, only 7 minute repeating timepieces left Audemars Piguet workshop: one in 1945, and 6 between 1951 and 1960. Only 2 of them were cased in platinum, ironically the first one, sold in 1945, and the last one, sold in 1960 – the present piece. Thus, this watch reunites a number of incommensurably rare traits under the same case: not only it is one of 7 post-war Audemars Piguet repeaters, but it also is one of only 2 post-war pieces made in platinum, the last minute repeater realized by the company before its modernization in the nineties, and the only chiming Audemars Piguet timepiece from the post-war era to feature a bracelet. Actually, a total of only three minute repeating wristwatches are documented to have left Audemars Piguet workshop with a bracelet: the present piece, a rectangular wristwatch made in 1924, and a lady’s bracelet watch from the early twentieth century. It is possible that a bracelet piece left the factory without the bracelet being documented in the archives, but quite unlikely.
All this considered, it is safe to say that a platinum vintage minute repeating Audemars Piguet timepiece with bracelet is among of the rarest combinations in the entire field of vintage watchmaking.
Until recently known only by its mention in Audemars Piguet archive, its very survival to this day was a matter of speculation until spring of 2016, when it was consigned for sale by the descendants of the original owner. A pièce unique made under special order, it was delivered in 1960. At the time, Audemars Piguet was not producing miniature chiming movements any longer, and they were lacking some necessary components. Vacheron Constantin was contacted and from them Audemars Piguet acquired a Lecoultre & Cie. ébauche dating back to half a century earlier. This ébauche has the particularity of having a “secret” number engraved on the mainplate and hidden by a bridge: 3185. It is extremely unusual for an ébauche to bear a serial number, furthermore hidden. Its presence is probably due to the “vintage” nature of the ébauche: a relic from the semi-industrial process watchmaking was at the beginning of the past century. The ébauche was finished at Audemars Piguet, and the final result is a technological masterpiece featuring straight bridges and hammers close together. It was numbered 64804 and cased in a platinum case, No 3207, with diamond-set bezel and bracelet. The unique reference number 5538 was used for this chef-d'oeuvre, and it was delivered in Spain to Union Relojera Suiza Madrid, for the famous retailer Grassy. However, the story does not end here. In 1983 the owner brought the watch back to the manufacture and demanded for it to be made more understated and masculine. The diamond-set bezel and bracelet were changed for the ones currently found on the piece: a very elegant polished sloped bezel which emphasizes the size of the watch, and a new platinum bracelet – reference 573 - realized by Jean-Pierre Ecoffey, one of the leading case and bracelet makers of the time. At the same time, the piece was serviced and restored by Francisco Pasadin, one of the historical and most skilled Audemars Piguet watchmakers. Today, Mr. Pasadin still works at Audemars Piguet and is in charge of the most important heritage timepieces sent to the manufacture for servicing.
Since then, the piece remained in the same family, and it has hardly ever been used. Indeed, its condition is absolutely stunning, practically new-old-stock.
The importance and rarity of this wristwatch cannot be overstated; in fact, when submitting the piece to Audemars Piguet in order to acquire the Extract from the Archives, the heritage department kindly requested to prominently include it in “Audemars Piguet Miniature Chiming Watches 1882-2002”, a book coming out this fall dedicated to the history of Audemars Piguet repeating watches. More than fittingly, a copy of it is offered together with this lot.
Christie’s is honored to have been chosen for the sale of this epochal wristwatch.
We thank Audemars Piguet Heritage Department for the assistance in researching this timepiece.