Accompanied by Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming manufacture of the present watch with applied white gold hour markers in 1949 and its subsequent sale on April 17th, 1951.
Extensive research indicates that the original owner of the present watch was Briggs Cunningham II. Cunningham, who appears to have had a strong passion for exclusive watches, also owned a probably unique stainless steel chronograph reference 1463 by Patek Philippe with black military-style dial. This watch, movement number 867'602 and engraved with Cunningham's name on the case back, was auctioned by Christie's New York on 26 June 1996 (lot 122).
Vintage wristwatches with perpetual calendar cased in stainless steel are amongst the world's scarcest specialties in the field of watch collecting. In fact, no other manufacturer other than Patek Philippe is known to have ever made steel wristwatches with this complex calendar mechanism prior to the 1980s. Further underlining the rarity of this exclusive combination is the fact that to date only 6 wristwatches by Patek Philippe cased in steel with perpetual calendar are known to scholars and connoisseurs: four examples of the landmark reference 1518, all proudly cherished trophies in the world's most important private collections, one example of reference 1591, now on permanent exhibit at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, and one only example of reference 1526, this watch.
The present reference 1526, last seen in auction in 1994, is one of the most spectacular gems of Patek Philippe's production of wristwatches. It is nearly unjust that it is listed as a reference 1526 as it couldn't be more different from a regular gold example of this model: the only common element is the distinguished calibre 12'''120 QP movement, all the other components, in particular the case and dial, were made to measure expressively for this watch.
Close inspection of the case reveals that both in size and proportions it could not differ more: the diameter of the current watch is larger than the gold version of reference 1526, now exceeding 34 mm. Even more impressive is the thickness and full-bodied look of the lugs, much more resembling in style and proportions to steel chronographs, most notably references 130 and 530. In fact, the bracelet width being now 18 mm. renders the watch a more muscular appearance compared with the elegant style of the examples cased in gold. The highlight of the present case however is the bezel, not known in terms of shape and size to have been used with any other stainless steel Patek Philippe wristwatch: not of concave shape as commonly found on the gold version, but very angular, steep and wide. Its designers could not have been more successful when sculpting the case for this watch.
Another astonishing uniqueness of the present watch is the dial. Whereas the gold reference 1526 always features a combination of applied Arabic and dot numerals, this dial is exclusively fitted with Arabic numerals. Furthermore, probably to enhance the watch's readability, the numerals and hands were covered with black lacquer, further reinforcing its architectural look.
It is understood that this watch was hardly ever worn and has consequently had the minimum number of services and polishes necessary during the last six decades. This lack of exposure results today in an incredibly crisp case, hardly ever seen on any watch. The satin finish of the surface, also of the crown, is close to immaculate and most impressively, all the original angled case proportions survived to their best extent.
Few watches ever achieve in so many disciplines the very best scores. The present stainless steel one-off reference 1526 achieves top scores in all subjects, be it rarity, beauty, condition, mechanical complexity and provenance. It is, doubtlessly, one of the most important wristwatches to have remained in private hands.