This first series reference 2499 is a sensational and most significant discovery to the world of wristwatch collecting. Purchased by the late father of the present owners in the early 1960s in Caracas, Venezuela, and entirely fresh to the market, it is distinguished by its superb original overall condition and the signature SERPICO Y LAINO, CARACAS, to the combined date and moon phases dial. As to be expected, the outside of the case back displays the stamps “S.&L.” and “18K”, the calendar discs for day and month are in Spanish. To date, no other ref. 2499, all four series combined, retailed by Patek Philippe’s celebrated representative in Venezuela is known to exist. The rarity is furthermore enhanced by the fact that this is the earliest ref. 2499 case made by Wenger identified so far.
The reference 2499 offered here for sale embodies the result of our present owners’ late father’s persistence in achieving a goal through hard work, honoured by the text composed by his children published in this catalogue.
He had left his home country Italy as a young man in the early 1950s to immigrate to Venezuela, just as the founders of Serpico y Laino some three decades earlier. After difficult early years he prospered in retail business and his dream came true in the form of the present watch. It is unknown if it was purchased directly from his compatriots Serpico y Laino or from a possible first owner but it undoubtedly was his treasure, carefully kept and cherished for nearly 60 years.
Preserved in generally excellent original overall condition, the case has never been subject to careless polishing, underlined by the full proportions, the crisp "S.&L. 18K" stamps to the case back and the well-defined fluting to the lugs. The outline of the hallmark to the upper left side of the band is clearly visible, the hallmark to the outside of the lower right lug is incredibly sharp, rarely seen on an over half a century old wristwatch.
The inside of the bezel and the inside of the upper left lug are stamped with the last three digits of the case number, 757. It is believed that this was a method used at the time in the workshops of Patek Philippe to facilitate assembly of the correct case with the correct case back and bezel during the encasing of the movement, just before the final quality test. The crown and chronograph pushers appear to be original.
The case furthermore impresses with its, particularly for the period, large diameter of 37.6 mm. It was made by Wenger, one of Geneva’s best case makers at the time, indicated by the key symbol numbered 1 to the inside of the snap on back. The cases of the very first references 2499 were supplied by Vichet (hallmark key 9), featuring a smaller diameter of 36.2 mm., a concave case back and more elongated lugs.
The dial is free from any cosmetic enhancement, highlighted by the hard enamel signature and scales, perfectly well-defined without any loss and in wonderfully raised "indélébile". Over time, an ivory-coloured patina and small spotting has formed in places, underlining that it is in absolutely untouched condition. The back is engraved with the movement number, 868341, the “short” signature “Patek Philippe” is the correct version, the eye-catching “Serpico y Laino Caracas”, unique to any ref. 2499, will further delight the collector’s heart.
It is a privilege for Christie’s to present this exceptional timepiece. It is both for an auction house as for the demanding collector a once in a lifetime opportunity to discover, handle and possess (either temporarily or permanently) such a rare trophy.
Widely acknowledged as one of the world's greatest watch models ever created, reference 2499 has strongly influenced the designs of many of the most renowned watchmakers. Introduced to the market in 1950 it replaced the legendary reference 1518, the world's first perpetual calendar wristwatch with moon phase and chronograph made in series.
Over a period of 35 years, reference 2499 was made in four series in a total production of only 349 pieces, the majority cased in yellow gold. The rarity of the model becomes evident when considering that an annual average of only 9 watches left Patek Philippe's workshops.
Reference 2499 is generally divided into the following four series:
- first series, the present watch: square chronograph buttons, applied Arabic numerals and tachymeter scale
- second series: round chronograph buttons, either applied baton or applied Arabic numerals and tachymeter scale
- third series: round chronograph buttons, applied baton numerals and outer seconds divisions
- fourth series: round chronograph buttons, applied baton numerals, outer seconds divisions and sapphire crystal (see lot 112 in this auction)
Reference 2499 is illustrated in Patek Philippe Wristwatches by Martin Huber & Alan Banbery, second edition, pp. 302 & 304, and in Patek Philippe Museum - Patek Philippe Watches, Volume II, pp. 306-307.
Serpico y Laino
Serpico y Laino was founded in the late 1920s by two Italian immigrants, Leopoldo Serpico and Vicente Laino, a young goldsmith. Initially focusing on jewellery, they soon expanded into watches and became the exclusive distribution agent for Rolex in Venezuela following a meeting with Hans Wilsdorf in Geneva in the early 1930s. Shortly after other brands were added and the firm was appointed the sole authorized retailer for another famous watch manufacturer: Patek Philippe. In 1966, after forty years of flourishing business, the leading watch retailer in Caracas closed.
André and Edouard Wenger
The brothers André and Edouard Wenger, originally from Le Locle, founded their workshop in Geneva in 1912. Right from the start the firm became renowned for the extraordinary quality and contemporary design of the cases, supplied to the most important watch companies of the time.
In the 1930s, the Wenger's launched a truly revolutionary project, the production of shaped stainless steel cases and developed, amongst other items, the first reversible wristwatch.
Their designs strongly influenced the creation of wristwatch and pocket watch cases particularly during the Art Deco period and are still today considered true collector's pieces.