Christie’s Head of Watches John Reardon explains why this extremely rare Patek Philippe wristwatch inspired a thrilling battle between six would-be buyers in November
‘Awe’, is the word John Reardon chooses to describe what he felt on seeing this gold Patek Philippe reference 2499 wristwatch from 1952. ‘It was entirely fresh to market, and the beautiful untouched dial and case had not seen the light of day for decades.’
Christie’s International Head of Watches knew immediately that the Patek had all the ingredients to attract a good fight at auction — and it did. The drama played out in the Rare Watches sale in Geneva on 12 November, with six would-be buyers battling to make it their own.
‘You could hear a pin drop, everyone was part of the excitement,’ recalls Reardon. The hammer finally came down at CHF 3,252,500 — just over $3.25 million, more than double the low estimate — including buyer’s premium.
What makes this particular Patek Philippe so covetable is its Serpico y Laino signature. Founded in Caracas by the Italian émigrés Leopoldo Serpico and Vicente Laino, the watch retailer Serpico y Laino became one of the most prestigious in the world. ‘And,’ explains Reardon, ‘the name of the famed Venezuelan store has never before been seen on a 2499 dial.’
The timepiece was originally purchased from Serpico y Laino by an Italian immigrant who came to Venezuela in the early 1950s, just as the founders of Serpico y Laino had done three decades earlier. ‘The buyer became a successful businessman,’ says the specialist, ‘and the watch was passed down to his children.’
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The market for vintage Patek Philippe watches grew hugely in the 1980s as collectors began to look to the past for rare pieces, and they continue to fetch record prices at auction.
Yet, as Reardon points out, Patek Philippe’s desirability transcends rarity and heritage. ‘Each watch radiates traditional craftsmanship, with the design and final assembly being done by hand,’ he explains. ‘Patek Philippe has been a pioneer in almost all horological developments of the past two centuries — keyless winding, super complications, atomic timekeeping, solar clocks, annual calendars… The list is endless, and unmatched by the competition.’