One of the first Patek Philippe perpetual chronograph watches ever made, commissioned in 1945 by King Farouk of Egypt (1920-1965) and assembled in 18-carat gold, will be offered at Christie's in Dubai on 23 March. The watch, the first '1518' edition of the iconic three-dial style still produced today, is one of only 281 examples ever crafted.
‘When this 1518 was last seen on the market four years ago it realised CHF 425,000 [about $433,000] at Christie’s in Geneva,’ Christie’s watch specialist Remy Julia explains. ‘This time around we are offering the watch to a new generation of collectors in Dubai, where for the past four years the vintage watch auction market, in terms of revenue, has doubled every 12 months.’
In Dubai, watches are a way of expressing personal style within a conservative dress code. Invite-only clubs have sprung up in the emirate, at which collectors get together to discuss vintage watches. ‘The market for vintage has overtaken the trend for bling,’ says Julia. ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw someone with diamonds on their watch.’
But what sparked this new interest in vintage watches? ‘It is about the quest for rarity,’ explains John Reardon, Christie’s International Head of Watches. ‘The forces of supply and demand are bringing vintage watches to previously unimaginable heights.’
Patek Philippe’s 1518 was unveiled at the 1941 Basel Show, and was the first perpetual chronograph model to be made in a series by any watchmaker
Unveiled to the world at the 1941 Basel Show, the Patek Philippe 1518 was the first perpetual chronograph model to be made in a series by any watchmaker. The watch has a triple-complication movement, which micro-mechanically counts seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years, and features a moon-face calendar in between two chronograph registers.
'The same design concept still exists on new Patek Philippe watches, but it has gone through five iterations in as many decades, which is why the original 1518 is known today as the great-great-grandfather of the series,' explains Reardon. 'In 1954 the 1518 was replaced by the 2499, and the son of the family, the 5270, is the perpetual chronograph model that Patek Philippe produces today.'
‘This watch ticks all the boxes necessary to be labelled a "superwatch" — it’s a Patek, it’s vintage and it’s incredibly rare’
‘We’re talking about almost 70 years of iconic dial design in this watch,’ says Julia, ‘and the dial is where a huge proportion of a watch’s value lies.’ Fortunately, the raised enamel tachymeter face on this 1518 is in near-pristine condition.
The watch also comes complete with archival excerpts from Patek Philippe’s Swiss headquarters, confirming production of the watch with gold indexes in 1944 and its subsequent sale on 7 November 1945.
King Farouk of Egypt, who ascended to the throne when he was just 16 years old
In 2016 a stainless-steel edition of the 1518 Patek Philippe (one of only a handful made) sold for more than $11 million, becoming, at that time, the most expensive watch ever to appear at auction. Famous 1518 owners have included the King of Jordan, King Michael of Romania, Henry Graves Jr. (arguably the greatest watch collector of the 20th century) and King Farouk of Egypt, who commissioned this example.
Farouk, who was the tenth ruler of the Muhammed Ali dynasty and Egypt’s penultimate king, succeeded to the throne aged 16 amid a blaze of popularity. This watch was purchased when the debonair monarch was just 25 years old and was known for his lavish collection of Mercedes and Rolls-Royce cars, which were painted red to avoid being stopped by law enforcement authorities.
King Farouk had this watch engraved with a crowned ‘F’ on the reverse because he believed the letter brought good fortune
King Farouk had this watch engraved with a crowned ‘F’ on the reverse. His father had believed the letter brought good fortune, and gave all of his six children names beginning with F — a legacy Farouk continued. The F’s crown is topped by a star and half-moon, which featured on the Egyptian flag of the era. 'The incredible provenance from the region adds another 25 per cent to the value,' advises Julia.
‘This watch ticks all the boxes necessary to be labelled a “superwatch”,’ continues the specialist. ‘It’s a Patek, it’s vintage and it’s incredibly rare. It has also been seen before at auction so everyone knows it exists, and therefore wants it. For the die-hard collector, owning a Patek 1518 is like owning an original Porsche 911. It’s a marvel.’
‘Collectors in Dubai aren’t afraid to chase the most desirable watches with a bit of aggression,’ adds Reardon. ‘With its new estimate, this superlative watch, with its historic connection, is going to spark global competition.’