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    Sale 1348

    Important Pocket Watches and Wristwatches

    12 November 2007, Geneva

  • Lot 222

    Patek Philippe. An extremely important and one of only two known 18K gold double-dialled keyless lever watch with secular "true" perpetual calendar and year indication, made for Seth B. Atwood


    Price Realised  


    Patek Philippe. An extremely important and one of only two known 18K gold double-dialled keyless lever watch with secular "true" perpetual calendar and year indication, made for Seth B. Atwood
    Signed Patek Philippe, Geneve, Made for Seth G. Atwood, ref. 871, movement no. 932'195, case no. 330'849, manufactured in 1972
    Cal. 17-170 nickel-finished lever movement stamped twice with the Geneva seal, 18 jewels, micrometer regulator, the silvered gold main time dial with applied gold baton numerals, gold feuille hands, subsidiary seconds, the second silvered gold dial with three sunk subsidiary dials indicating month combined with leap year display, day, date and two windows for the two digit year indicator, in large circular case with stepped bezels, case, dial and movement signed
    54 mm. diam.

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    Accompanied by Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present double dial watch with secular perpetual calendar in 1972 and its subsequent sale on 16 November 1972 and wooden presentation box.

    This watch is one of only two references 871 watches made in 1972 by the master watchmakers of Patek Philippe in Geneva incorporating a secular perpetual calendar. It is, for esthetical reasons, fitted with two dials: the front for the time indication, the back displaying on three subsidiary dials the week day, date, month and leap year cycle. The aperture shows, in two separate windows, the year. This technical marvel was the first time Patek Philippe incorporated a secular perpetual calendar into one of their creations and was only used once more for the famous Calibre 89 - the ultra-complicated multi-million dollar Grande Complication watch designed to mark the firm's 150th anniversary.

    The present watch was made for Seth G. Atwood, the second example of this model for the Stern family, owners of Patek Philippe, is now permanently on exhibit at the prestigious Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. Never been offered at auction before, it is doubtlessly one of the rarest opportunities for the connoisseur to acquire one of Patek Philippe's most important, elegant and exclusive creations of the 20th century.

    Perpetually yours - the secular or "true" perpetual calendar
    Watches with date indication are much appreciated for their practical use, but remind ourselves constantly that our calendar, more precisely the Gregorian calendar, is of a rather complex nature. The dividing of a calendar year into 12 months with either 28, 29, 30 or 31 days did never render it any easier to watchmakers to design a mechanical device displaying, nota bene mechanically, the correct date. It is therefore by no surprise that the vast majority of mechanical watches ever produced require a manual adjustment at the end of all months which have less than 31 days.

    Watches fitted with a perpetual calendar mechanism are the most sophisticated solution to this problem. A true challenge to any master watchmaker to design and build such a calendar, perpetual calendar watches are fitted with an ingenious mechanism programmed to automatically and correctly, according to the current month, advance the date hand to the first day of the next month - no difference whether the actual month has 30 or 31 days. Furthermore and more impressively, a "quantième perpétuel" (the French designation for perpetual calendar) takes the leap year rule into consideration, resulting in an astonishing performance of the date hand at the end of February: For three consecutive years the date indication moves straight from February 28 to March 1, however during a leap year it will only move to the first of March after having shown February 29.

    The Gregorian calendar reform introduced leap years as a necessity to compensate for the approximately 6 hours which an average solar year measures more than 365 days. In fact, during four years this difference adds up to an entire day - resulting in leap years accounting for 366 days. It is however little known that this elegant solution is not completely compensating for the discrepancy between a solar and calendar year - precisely speaking of 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds. In order to "perpetually" match the calendar with the solar year it was imposed that leap year divisible by 100 shall not be leap years - but furthermore if such years are divisible by 400 they shall again be. Consequently, the years 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200 and 2300 are not leap years, but 1600, 2000 and 2400 are. This poses the ultimate challenge for watchmakers to construct a truly perpetual calendar - also known as the secular calendar - to always correctly display the date according to this rule. Few have ever dared to approach such a stupendous project - fewer have ever succeeded.


    Formerly the Property of Seth G. Atwood

    "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if someone asks me to explain, I know not" Seth G. Atwood, quoting 4th century theologian St. Augustine.

    Seth G. Atwood, industrialist, financier, public servant and collector, was born in 1917 in Rockford, Illinois, where the family had originally settled in 1839, today the popular Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve and Golf Course. The Atwood's had made their fortune with the Atwood Vacuum Machine Company, founded in 1909. By the 1920s, the firm had shifted from the manufacture of vacuum cleaners to door silencers for automobiles and later to a complete line of auto body hardware with 2,200 employees.

    Seth G. Atwood attended Carleton College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. from Stanford University in 1938. After a year at the University of Wisconsin, he obtained an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1940, followed by a service as an officer in the US Navy from 1942 to 1946, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander. After his return to Rockford he joined his father Seth B. Atwood and his uncle James T. Atwood in running Atwood Vacuum Machine Company. In 1953, Seth G. was made president of the firm when his father became chairman of the board. He also managed various family businesses involving banking, venture capital and real estate properties, amongst them a large motel on the edge of Rockford, the Clock Tower Inn, which was to become the home of the Time Museum.

    Already at a young age, Seth G. Atwood was fascinated by the concept of time and the continuous struggling with it and eventually started another career as a collector of fine timepieces. What was to become one of the world's most important Horological Collection begun around 1968 with his first acquisition, a quarter repeater made in the late 17th century by the celebrated Thomas Tompion.

    Seth G. Atwood's original idea was the creation of a small private collection of high quality time-telling instruments which should include the names of all the great masters in the field. "I decided to try to collect a few items, artefacts that showed the development of time-finding and timekeeping devices as we normally use them to order our lives. This is time's primary usage [...] I knew from the beginning, however, that if I was going to collect, I wanted to acquire pieces that were of quality." (Thomas H. Carver, The Engineer´s Art, Invention & Technology, Fall 1992, Volume 8, Issue 2).

    With the help of fellow collectors, specialists and curators, the collection gradually grew and became within a few years one of the world's most elaborate and complete watch collections ever assembled. More and more visitors requested a visit and increasingly more space than his home could provide was needed, resulting in the foundation of the Time Museum in Rockford's "Clock Tower Inn" in 1970: a horological paradise where watch aficionados from all over the world would meet and share their enthusiasm for the over 3'000 items collected, the most complete collection in the world displaying the history of humankind's efforts to measure time with pieces extraordinary in quality and mostly one of a kind.

    As time went by and with increasing age, Seth G. Atwood decided to part with his collection. Consequently the Time Museum closed its doors in 1999 and the timepieces were sold in the years to follow.

    Christie's feel privileged to offer this masterpiece, formerly in the collection of Seth G. Atwood and never before offered at auction. Made for him by special order by the master watchmakers of Patek Philippe in Geneva, this watch is the epitome for Seth G. Atwood's passion for the mysteries of time.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Prominently illustrated and described in Patek Philippe by Martin Huber & Alan Banbery, p. 208.