To the uninitiated, Patek Philippe might come across as a one-watch pony. Ask any Tom, Dick or Ed Sheeran to name a Patek and the first model they’ll reach for is the Nautilus.
After all, when the most ubiquitous man in pop wears one, you know the watch has gone mainstream.
At least in recognition, anyway. But certainly not in price or availability, as the model continues on its stratospheric trajectory merrily fuelled by its star appeal.
But what about Patek Before Nautilus (BN)? Obviously to those in the know, it’s one of the most storied watch brands in the world, with more auction records than any other.
So when it comes to investing in a Patek Philippe, what other models should you be looking at? We’ve rounded up five pre-Nautilus examples that deserve your attention.
They’re all up for sale at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XII from 6-7 November 2020.
Patek Philippe Ref. 96 (1937)
You’ll notice that every Patek Philippe watch has a Reference number – unique codes spoken among watch fanatics like they’re uttering a secret language.
This referencing system doesn’t actually date back to Patek’s 1839 origins, but rather to 1932 and the introduction of the very first Reference – the 96.
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, a new watch was needed to help buoy Patek’s bottom line. It needed to be understated yet elegant, simple yet made to the highest standards.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 96 was born: the godfather of the Calatrava – and the blueprint for a dress watch.
This Ref. 96 from 1937 embodies all the traits most sought-after from a vintage time-only Patek Philippe. It sports an incredibly well-preserved steel case (even retaining the original crown).
It features the very early, rare and sought-after indirect centre seconds caliber.
And it is blessed with an incredible black dial with white sectorial graphics, applied steel Arabic numerals and co-signed by Milan retailer Eberhard - all the graphic details fully confirmed by the Archives.
The aesthetics and rarity of this dial would be enough to pique the interest of even the most demanding collector, but the fact that there isn’t a scratch or sign of restoration makes it a remarkable piece. Indeed, it would be virtually impossible to find a better preserved dial from this era.
Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 (1977)
The combination of perpetual calendar, moonphase and chronograph is a holy trinity in the watch world. It’s one that Patek Philippe has mastered – not surprising, perhaps, given it was the first manufacturer to make one as a series production back in the 1940s with the Ref 1518.
The most iconic and collectible model incorporating this complication trio, though, is the Ref. 2499 – a grail watch that’s hunted by Patek collectors with fanatical vigour.
Part of the appeal is the limited nature: despite being in production for an eon – well, 1951 until 1985, anyway – only 349 examples were made.
This one, from 1977, is one of the finest. The earlier styles of Ref. 2499 were a little too restrained, understandable given 1940s sensibilities.
But in the more hopeful postwar climate of the 1950s, the Ref. 2499 had a morale boost – it was jacked up to a better proportioned 37.5mm – huge for the time.
And this size remained in place by 1977 when this example was produced. It remains in immaculate condition – both dial and movement are flawless.
Patek Philippe initially used famed case maker, Vichet, to manufacture the 2499’s case, but swiftly switched their production to the Wenger atelier.
The Wenger case featured a beautifully domed case back with more compact lugs, as found on this timepiece.
This example also stands apart: firstly, for the signature of famed Swiss retailer Beyer at 6 o’clock – and secondly, it comes with its original fitted box, Certificate of Identity and Guarantee of Origin – the only known 2499 to boast the latter.
Add to all this its untouched condition, and this Ref. 2499 is one heck of a trophy watch.
Patek Philippe Ref. 530 (1953)
The Reference 530 is part of Patek Philippe folklore: on the rarity scale, it sits somewhere between unicorns’ teeth and flying-pig tails.
So the appearance on the market of one is always a special event – especially when it’s a chronograph version. And especially when said chronograph comes in pink gold.
The pink gold version pictured is one of only 16 known examples of the Ref 530, out of an approximate total production of 30 pieces made from this metal.
Showcasing wide, thick lugs and a hallmark beneath the lug, this chronograph wristwatch has been preserved in excellent condition, particularly when one considers the age of the timepiece.
Furthermore, the beautiful dial is also preserved in excellent condition with barely any signs of aging. It displays a "short" signature which is correct.
One would expect a watch, fitted with a snap-on case back to be exposed to the elements, and thus tarnished and spotted heavily. However, this dial is crisp despite its age, and complete with raised hard enamel graphics. Furthermore, it was previously serviced at the Patek Philippe factory and still retains its factory servicing tag.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3448 (1975)
Patek Philippe has more than its fair share of world firsts. It created the world’s first keyless watch; the first double chronograph; the first split-seconds chronograph; the world’s first perpetual calendar for a wristwatch; the list goes on.
With the Ref. 3448, Patek created the world’s first automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch.
Under the hoof is the magnificent caliber 27-460 Q ("Q" for quantième), which built on Patek’s first automatic caliber 12-600 AT introduced in 1953.
But what really grabbed people’s imaginations was the 3448’s aesthetics: its clean, angular lines and the symmetrical and balanced dial.
So much so that it garnered not one, but two nicknames from Italian collectors: the Padellone (aka the Frying Pan) or rather more evocatively the Disco Volante (the Flying Saucer to you and me).
The way in which the wide bezel slopes dramatically outwards from the dial, with jutting angular lugs, gives the impression of a watch much larger than its actual case measurements.
This example in yellow gold is in excellent condition, and is accompanied by an official extract from Patrek’s Archives confirming production in 1975 and subsequent sale on 14 January, 1976, as well as a Patek Philippe Service tag.
Patek Philippe Ref. 130 (1937)
Patek Philippe’s reference 130 is without a doubt one of the brand’s landmark vintage models – and arguably the most classic of all its chronograph references.
It subtly merges the classic Calatrava case design – clean, simple, utilitarian – with the sporty elegance of a chronograph.
In production for close to 30 years, reference 130 was made in yellow, pink and white gold and – a minority – in steel with a diverse range of different dial variations.
One interesting observation to note is that the lugs of the stainless steel version are different from that of all other case materials. They are slightly thicker and shorter in design giving this classic timepiece a more compact, sportier look.
This Ref 130 from 1937 is a highly appealing variation featuring a superb two-tone silvered sector dial cased in stainless steel. It is considered one of the most desirable combinations for collectors.
Indeed, an identical dial layout (with enameled numerals) broke the world record for Ref. 130 in steel at Phillips Geneva back in May 2016.
Even counting all different variations, however, sector dials remain as unobtainable as they are attractive: only a few dozen such watches are known from the entire auction market.
The dial is preserved in overall honest and lovely condition, with the hard enamel long signature and scales without losses or signs of restoration.
Offered by the family of the original owner, the present watch was originally delivered to France, the country where it resided its entire life until it was consigned to Phillips for the present sale – finally returning back to Switzerland for the first time since it was first made.
All of these watches as well as many more – from both Patek Philippe and other brands – are up for sale at the Geneva Watch Auction: XII from 6-7 November 2020.