Christie’s Hong Kong watch specialist Nicholas Biebuyck takes a closer look at an incredibly rare special commission with a crystal made from the third-largest known portrait-cut diamond
The Christie’s watch department has never come across anything quite like this bespoke Patek Philippe diamond timepiece. It’s not simply that it has a highly unusual triangular face, or even that it was created especially by Patek for one of its clients. The watch’s transparent cover, or crystal, is actually a portrait-cut diamond — indeed, one of the largest such ‘flat’, or lasque, diamonds in the world, weighing in at 13.43 carats.
‘It is incredibly rare for Patek Philippe to do special commissions, even for its most important customers,’ explains Hong Kong watch specialist Nicholas Biebuyck, pictured with the watch above. ‘To have a unique piece created with a crystal made of the third-largest known portrait diamond is really quite amazing. Unlike other unique pieces, it stands out not simply because of a new dial colour or because it has a different set of hands. This watch has a whole new case design.’
In fact, the case design was created and inspired by the shape of the portrait diamond, which Patek’s client had introduced to the company in 1990. With a brief to showcase the flat stone’s scintillating optical properties, the watch’s asymmetrical shape was conceived and a unique, water-resistant case in 18k white gold with integral bracelet was specially manufactured.
‘It is a well-used cliché,’ says Biebuyck, ‘but pictures really do not do this piece justice. Handling it for the first time really impressed upon me the importance of the watch. The beautiful radiant blue sunburst dial seems to become even more iridescent when viewed through the diamond. The avant-garde triangular face also draws the eye to the facets. As you hold the watch, you naturally want to move it about to see it shimmer.’
Portrait-cut diamonds such as this one, which is probably an antique piece, were originally intended to function as glazing for precious portrait miniatures. Highly prized, they have tended to be the preserve of royalty.
This remarkable Patek timepiece is offered in our Important Watches sale on 28 November in Hong Kong. ‘For a serious collector it represents a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ says Biebuyck. ‘It is chance not only to add one of a handful of truly unique modern Patek Philippe watches to a collection, but also an opportunity to acquire an exceptionally large, rare and important portrait diamond.’ The only two portrait diamonds known to be larger than the one on this watch are both held in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.