• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1357

    Important Watches

    17 November 2008, Geneva

  • Lot 342

    Patek Philippe. A very fine and early 18K gold hunter case minute repeating keyless lever watch, sold to the Count Lichnowsky


    Price Realised  


    Patek Philippe. A very fine and early 18K gold hunter case minute repeating keyless lever watch, sold to the Count Lichnowsky
    Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Geneve, no. 47'130, manufactured in 1871
    Cal. 19''' nickel-finished lever movement, 15 jewels, bimetallic compensation balance, wolf's tooth winding, repeating on two hammers onto two gongs, gold cuvette, white enamel dial, Roman numerals, circular case, engraved Lichnowsky family coat-of-arms to both sides, repeating slide in the band case stamped and numbered, cuvette signed and numbered, movement numbered underneath the dial
    52 mm. diam.

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    With Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present watch in 1871 and its subsequent sale on 3 August 1872.
    Consigned by a private collector and never been offered in public before, this watch is one of the earliest hunter case minute repeating watches by Patek Philippe known to exist to date.

    The watch is furthermore delivered with several copies of a letter exchange between its former owner Walter L. Slezak in New York and Patek Philippe in Geneva, dating from 1963 to 1984. In the letters, Patek Philippe confirm that "the watch was sold to Count Lichnowskij/Comte Lichnowsky, possibly an Austrian or Polish nobleman, on 3 August 1872 for the amount of SFr. 1,500", as well as their interest in purchasing it for their Museum.

    The cover of the watch is engraved with the princely coat of arms of the Lichnowsky family, a noble family from Bohemia. The history of the Lichnowskys begins with Johann von Woschütz, highest judge of the principality of Jägerndorf (Silesia), who named himself Lichnowsky after his Lichen (Lichnow) estate in 1491. The family was made Bohemian counts in 1727, Prussian counts in 1773 and Austrian princes in 1846.

    Members of the family included Prince Carl Lichnowsky (1761-1814), patron of Ludwig van Beethoven; Prince Eduard Lichnowsky (1789-1845), author of "History of the Habsburg Dynasty", Prince Felix Lichnowsky (1814-1848), the patron of Franz Liszt, and Count Robert Lichnowsky (1822-1879), the Canon of Olmütz (Olomouc in the Czech Republic).

    The Lichnowskys obviously being enthusiasts and patrons of classical music, it can safely be assumed that the present watch was given by its owner as a gift to his compatriot Leo Slezak who handed it down to his son Walter Slezak, author of the letters to Patek Philippe dated 1963 and 1983.

    Leo Slezak (1873-1946), born in the Olomouc region, was a Czech singer and actor/comedian and one of the most popular tenors at the beginning of the 20th century. He was famous for his robust voice and physique and had a flamboyant sense of humour. After an education as a gardener and locksmith he took singing lessons and made his debut as Lohengrin in 1896. Leo Slezak sang in Vienna and Berlin and from 1901 onward, he was a permanent member of the Vienna Opera ensemble. In 1909 he signed a three-year contract at the New York Metropolitan Opera where he had great success as a singer of Wagner and Verdi. He was the most famous Othello of his time and performed the role at the Metropolitan Opera with Arturo Toscanini conducting.

    Many anecdotes reveal his sense of humour, the best-known example occurring during a performance of Lohengrin: Slezak was supposed to finish his aria by stepping into a swan boat and then being pulled offstage. When a technician removed the boat too early, Slezak, seeing his feathered transportation disappear behind the scenes, supposedly ad-libbed to the audience "What Time's the Next Swan?".

    His son Walter Slezak (1902-1983) was a famous actor, often portraying villains, notably the German U-boat commander in Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 "Lifeboat". His first American movie was 1942s "Once Upon a Honeymoon", opposite Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant. Walter Slezak appeared in over 100 films and played the lead in Broadway musicals, including "Fanny", for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. His autobiography What Time's the Next Swan? was published in 1962, the book's title obviously referring to the incident in the career of his father Leo Slezak.