Accompanied by a Patek Philippe suede pouch and an Extract from the Archives recording the original date of manufacture of this watch as 1937 and its subsequent sale on February 18th of the following year. The extract further details that the original case was replaced by the case bearing the number 627201 during a servicing in 1942.
UNIQUE: Being the only of its kind; without an equal or equivalent; unparalleled.
In all its aspects, the Patek Philippe reference 1491 chronograph, seen here for the first time at auction, is unparalleled. This wristwatch stands alone as the only example of the complicated chronograph mechanism having been adapted to the case of this decorative and whimsical reference.
Patek Philippe commenced production of the reference 1491 in 1940, later offering the additional feature of center seconds from 1943. The normally thin case with articulated, scrolling lugs illustrates the exploration, occurring since the 1920's, of varying shapes and forms for wristwatch design, breaking away from the straight-forward circular shape with plain lugs. Inspiration from architecture, geometry and history combined to create a new graciousness of form with rounded corners, stepped and triple-stepped forms and other elements, like scrolls.
Throughout their history, Patek Philippe stands at the forefront of innovation in relation to both case design and complications. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century and continuing forward, the firm constantly pushed the boundaries and recreated their image and productions. This included collaborations with such innovators as Louis Cottier for his world time mechanism and Gilbert Albert for asymmetrical unusual case designs.
When such inspirations of design combine with the complex nature of the technological production and advancements of Patek Philippe, true genius is undeniable. Patek Philippe first produced a wrist chronograph developed by Victorin Piguet & Co. in 1926, which was later sold on January 20th of 1927 for 2,135 Swiss francs. Over the years chronograph wristwatches became valued symbols of success for the businessman, industrialist and sportsman. Most importantly during the 1940's, we find the combination of this complication with true inspired avant-garde design.
As the extract for the reference 1491 chronograph records, the watch, in its present incarnation, dates to 1942. According to our research, the original case would have been of the reference 130. It was in this same year that Patek Philippe also produced what is considered to be its rarest chronograph model. The reference 1554 possesses many similarities to the 1491 chronograph: function combined with inspirational and unusual case design. To date only two examples of the reference 1554 are known, one of which resides at the Patek Philippe museum. The 1554 is not only one of the rarest watches to be produced by the company but it also attests to the creativity and diversity of Patek Philippe's design from this period. In comparison, the reference 1491 chronograph, produced in only one example exceeds in rarity and collectability, setting a new standard.
For an example of the reference 1554 see Huber & Banbery, Patek Philippe Wristwatches, Volume 2, Second Edition, p. 203.
We will never know if the reference 1554 inspired the demand for the unique reference 1491 chronograph or if, in fact, it occurred the other way around. In any event, the reference 1491 chronograph stands alone but in step with the history of Patek Philippe's rarest and most sublime examples of ingenuity.
In addition to the combination of form and function, the uniqueness of the piece also lies in the layout of the dial. The constant seconds dial sits at nine o'clock in typical fashion, but at three o'clock sits the unusual 30 minute register. This enlarged subsidiary dial belongs to this case, playing on asymmetry and design in every aspect.
Without specific documentation on the dial and the reason for this specification, one must speculate on the reason for such an adaptation. Perhaps it resides with the original owner of the watch. This gentleman was a well-known sports editor at a major New York newspaper from the 1930's to 1950's. He also acted as a sports commentator on several sport-related television programs during the 1950's, specifically related to boxing. His primary passions and coverage centered on boxing, horse racing and baseball.
The original owner was obviously a man who knew what he wanted. This is evidenced here in his personal watch with the combination of his chronograph wristwatch, originally purchased in 1938, the reference 1491 case to the very specific detail of the configuration of the chronograph's dial. For one in his profession, it is not hard for us to imagine his need for an enlarged 30 minute register. Sitting at the track or ringside, recording and tracking the progress of the events he was documenting, what better aid would there be than a larger and more visible counter of the race's length or the rounds of the fight.
This adaptation of their wristwatch production attests to Patek Philippe's strategies in business and ideals of manufacture, such as creating a minute repeater for someone who can not see. Patek Philippe understood the necessity of function but also of beauty and originality of form. By increasing the register on the dial and placing this chronograph within the 1491 case, the company and the watch's original owner created a timepiece of unique interest and historical significance.