In the first of our collaborative articles with Alexandre Ghotbi, Head of Watches, Continental Europe and Middle East at Phillips Watches, Revolution demystifies the rarefied world of Patek Philippe chronographs made before the 1980s.
Editor’s Note: Images from Patek Philippe Steel Watches reproduced by kind permission of John Goldberger
Whether you want to call it a miracle, or a genetic alignment of cosmic fortitude so inspiring that it provides irrefutable evidence of a greater Creator, there are certain women that are so beautiful that they transcend description. And it goes beyond their sheer physical beauty. It has to do with poise, elegance, an unexpected huskiness of voice, a forthright intellect and a barely self-contained passion.
To me, the most beautiful woman of all time is French actress Dominique Sanda, or “la Sanda” as she was called, winner of the 1976 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress, a Knight of France’s Legion of Honour, and Officer in its Order of Arts and Letters. Her 30-second biography goes like this.
After modelling for Vogue, she is hand-picked by French director Robert Bresson to appear in his film The Gentle Woman (Une femme douce), which leads Bernardo Bertolucci to cast her in The Conformist (Il conformista), which inspires Vittorio di Sica to cast her in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini), which compels her appearance as if through an act of cinematic destiny as Ada in Bertolucci’s 1900. If you’ve never seen her introduction in this film, where she performs the seemingly common act of towel-drying her hair while smoking a cigarette and elevates the banal into the theatre of the gods, gird your hearts, gentlemen and ladies, for you will never be the same.
Perchance to Dream
In the world of chronographs, there is similarly one watch that from the moment you see it to the moment you die, will leave your mind, body and soul irrefutably altered and transmuted — and that is the Patek Philippe reference 1463, otherwise known in Italian collector speak as the “Tasti Tondi” for its large, some would say, concupiscent, dome-shaped pushers.
A watch that is so hallucinatory in its beauty that if you were able to bring back the ghosts of Gérald Genta, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Phidias, and lock them in a room for one hundred years, they would not have been able to design a chronograph that could surpass the beauty of the 1463. But what I love most about the Tasti Tondi is that as Patek Philippe’s one and only water-resistant vintage chronograph, it was a symbol of modernity and adventure in the context of the 1940s and ’50s.
And before we get started on its history and perhaps just as importantly, its long-lasting impact on watch design, I would like to disclose that I do not own a Tasti Tondi. But the dream that I might one day, this constant longing for unrequited and unfulfilled love, is fuel to work harder and dream bigger. For me the 1463, in yellow gold but with the rare Breguet-numerals dial (no, I dare not dream of the steel model in the same configuration) on matching gold brick bracelet, is the green light shining across the water from Gatsby. Yes, like Gatsby, I too believe that if I run faster, stretch out my arms further… one day.
For the sake of this article, I have limited the range of chronographs to those preceding the use of the Lemania 2310-based Patek Philippe calibre CH 27, which was first introduced to us with Philippe Stern’s creation of the reference 3970 in 1986 in the form of a perpetual calendar chronograph, and later in 1998 in the reference 5070, which took the form of a traditional chronograph.
Interestingly, the 5070 was only the second-ever water-resistant chronograph in Patek Philippe’s history, which means that for the better part of the 20th century, the reference 1463’s decidedly sporty allure set it apart from the rest. Finally, as my friend Aurel Bacs of Phillips has explained to me, “The 1463 or Tasti Tondi has in some ways not ascended in price at the same pace as the rest of the vintage Patek market and to me, still represents a good value. A yellow-gold one in good condition can be easily found at prices just north of 100 thousand US dollars”, making it something of an interesting proposition from an investment perspective.
This article marks the first collaboration between myself and Alexandre (Alex) Ghotbi, who ably heads up the Continental Europe and Middle East markets for Phillips Watches. I have invited him to comment on each model, provide details of precise years of manufacturing and accurate details of numbers of examples and which metals they were made in — information which I find extremely important in these types of reference stories. So with no further ado, let’s dive down the rabbit hole. Sit back, light your Hoyo de Monterrey or take that first sip of your Negroni. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together for you.
History of Patek Phillipe Vintage Chronographs
What is a chronograph? It is that most magical of mechanical devices that is able to capture and freeze a moment of eternity. Invented by Louis Moinet, it was popularised for civil life by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, at the behest of King Louis XVIII of France, for the purpose of calculating elapsed times in the gentlemanly pursuit of horse racing. His chronographs were actually “time-writing” devices with small pens that traced elapsed time by writing it on two rotating dials.
The chronograph had its surge in popularity thanks to the seismic changes in the 20th century. Throughout both World Wars, it was used as a pilot’s watch, to calculate troop movement times and even artillery fire. It was also a ravishingly modern symbol of the new era ushered in by motorsport and commercial aviation.
It was even invaluable at letting you know when to put a coin in the pay telephone which was required every three minutes on overseas calls. With a fixed scale such a tachymeter, pulsometer or telemeter, it could aid in the calculation of average speed over a fixed distance, reveal a person’s heart rate and provide the distance from an event based on how sound travelled. Strapping on a chronograph provided a sense of roguish allure.
You were the epitome of elegant bad-assitude. You were a man that could jump into your Bentley Blower and race to the gentrifying South of France amid a whirlwind romance, timing not just the duration of your trip to best your personal record, but also the elevated heart rate of that demoiselle with green eyes upon seeing you step through the door.
The following day, it was the watch you would use to time your horse running at Royal Ascot while you were impeccably clad in a bespoke morning suit with yet another ravishing companion on your arm.
Patek Philippe produced its first chronograph pocket watches from 1856. With the additional space provided by the pocket watch’s larger case, Patek would often combine the chronograph function with additional complications, such as a minute repeater and a perpetual calendar.
The first Patek Philippe standard chronograph wristwatch dates back to 1924 and was an officer’s case watch with totalizers unconventionally arrayed at 12 and six o’clock.
However, prior to that, in 1923, Patek had already completed and sold a split-seconds chronograph, likely a prototype, with an independent seconds hand which can be stopped to provide an interval reading and then released to catch up with the continuously running chronograph seconds hand.
This yellow-gold watch, which was proudly on display in Patek Philippe’s exhibition on its historical chronographs, had a monopusher configuration with the chronograph function controlled via the button on the band for start, stop and reset to zero.
It used a 12-ligne ébauche by Victorin Piguet, which Patek has continued to utilise in its modern-day watches such as the reference 5959. However, a split-seconds chronograph is a very rare, expensive and relatively niche complication and it was clear that Patek wanted to introduce a watch that could be a more popular timepiece.
Reference 130 — The Icon (1936 – 1964)
Thoughts from Alex
Reference 130 is one of the most diverse chronograph models that Patek Philippe ever produced. In production from 1936 until 1964, its design evolved over time, first produced as a single pusher, and later incorporating two pushers. The model was cased in predominantly yellow gold. Fewer amounts were cased in pink gold, steel, with steel and gold combinations among the rarest case configurations. The dial variations were numerous and displayed a range of styles, from sector designs to pulsations scales.
I do not have the breakdown of production numbers by metal/dial combinations but it is safe to say that majority were made in yellow gold followed in equal numbers by steel and pink gold. White gold and steel/gold being the rarest. In fact, only 14 steel/pink gold models are known.
Interestingly the steel case models were slightly different to the gold examples, with slightly thicker but shorter lugs and a slightly larger diameter of 33.5mm giving the watch a decidedly modern appearance and substantially more presence on the wrist.
Among the rarest variations are certainly those with black dials including an uber rare variant in steel with black dial and Breguet numerals as well as two unique mono pusher examples: one in steel with large 35mm case and chronograph counters placed vertically on the dial.
The other in yellow gold with black dial.
Reference 130 is THE Patek Philippe chronograph par excellence, its design codes are the basis of the Calatrava style with long elongated lugs and thin bezel, it shares a case design with two Patek Philippe icons that were launched in the early 1940s, reference 1526 the world’s first perpetual calendar wrist watch made in series and reference 1518 the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph wrist watch made in series.
As always with vintage one should first and foremost look for quality, without looking at the unique pieces or those whose production numbers can be counted on one hand the most collectible versions in my opinion are the ones in steel and rose gold as well as the absolutely breathtaking steel examples with sector dials.
To be fair when those magical seven syllables “Pa-tek Phi-lippe chro-no-grah” are first uttered, the vintage watch that immediately comes to mind is not the more robust and sportier Tasti Tondi but its svelte, lithe predecessor, the reference 130. And if the 1463 has all the voluptuous allure of a raven-haired, sun-tanned and barefoot Claudia Cardinale, then the reference 130 is Catherine Deneuve, the epitome of slim, refined, aristocratic elegance.
By the 1930s, it was clear that there was a demand for a gentleman’s chronograph. What is important to understand is that the birth and popularity of this timepiece was the result of the inspired leadership of the Stern family, which had purchased Patek Philippe in 1932.
Imagine then that just a mere two years after taking the maison’s reins, a young Charles and Jean Stern decided to launch what would become one of the most famous wristwatches in modern horology, the reference 130, which was also the maison’s first serially produced chronograph.
The watch took its name from the Patek Philippe calibre 13-130, which renowned journalist and collector Auro Montanari (otherwise known by his publishing nom de plume, John Goldberger) explains in his book, Patek Philippe Steel Watches, “was built on a Valjoux ébauche but is heavily reworked and upgraded in compliances with the Patek Philippe philosophy, which was to refine the movement to a quality and beauty beyond anything else in existence”. That is still the philosophy of Patek today. Anyone familiar with Patek Philippe’s chronograph movement, the calibre CH 27, which is based on a 2310 ébauche, knows the extreme lengths that the manufacture goes to, not just in finishing and refinement, but even in bridge architecture and functionality, as attested to by the inclusion of a free-sprung balance wheel that utterly transforms the movement into a work of art.
Some Examples of the 130
The reference 130 was made in approximately 1,500 examples between 1936 to 1964, and was an absolute marvel of design architecture. Indeed, close your eyes and imagine the most pure and beautiful expression of a gentleman’s chronograph and you will have come pretty close to the reference 130.
The case, continuing with the Catherine Deneuve analogy, is patrician refinement bestowed with an achingly complex measure of passion. Its slender attenuated lugs are reminiscent of the great actress’s marvellously slim ankles. The bezel achingly lean and graceful but subtly complex thanks to its slightly stepped and concave form. Yet suddenly, a dynamic tension is generated by the appearance of two almost deliciously contradicting aggressive square pushers with subtly flared profiles. Every part of the case is there to complement the beauty of the dial, which like Deneuve’s visage simply takes your breath away with its beauty.
On the subject of the dials, there was a sumptuous variety of them created for the reference 130 which are today a treasure trove of horological inspiration. The reference in general was characterised by bold dauphine-styled hands (they could also be cathedral or baton or more), with a blued chronograph seconds hand mounted on the cannon pinion. On the right at three o’clock you would find the 30-minute chronograph counter, and on the left at nine o’clock you would find the continuous seconds counter. After that, the reference 130 was a canvas on which clients and dial designers could let their imaginations run free.
The dials of the ref. 130 came in four general varieties:
A combination of Arabic numerals (12 and 6) and baton markers (long or short and also pointed and flat tipped)
A combination of Roman numerals (XII and VI) and baton or dot markers
Full baton markers
Ravishing Breguet numerals (full scale with the exception of 3 and 9)
Truly amazing sector or scientific dials. These dials used a central chapter ring divided into sectors, with emphasised chemin de fer minutes and seconds tracks to enhance accurate timings. In addition, they featured enlarged scales such as tachymeters, which calculated the average speed of an object over a fixed distance (e.g. 1km) or pulsometers for calculating pulse rates within 30 beats or even a combination of both as shown here.
There were also a few watches made with different types of luminous dials.
The reference 130 was made in a variety of golds, with a small quantity in “Staybrite” steel and an even smaller quantity in a combination of steel and gold. Its size at 33mm in diameter was well in keeping with the prevailing fashion of the 1930s. While it is somewhat on the small side by today’s standards, its appeal still endures.
Thanks to our dear friend Auro Montanari, here are some of my favourite reference 130 watches, all in the incredibly rare steel and even rarer two-tone references.
Wei’s Favorite 130s
Take the above pictured, incredible reference 130 (Type 5) featuring a sector dial that incorporates two important scales, a tachymeter and a pulsometer. Both are laid out for maximum visibility and ease of reading. Compare this to a similar rare sector dial watch pictured below with just a tachymeter and you’ll see the design sensitivity with which the two scales are placed. This second watch is a double signature watch and bears the name of the retailer “Hausmann & Co.”
Possibly the coolest and wildest reference 130 (pictured below) we’ve ever seen. It features luminous syringe-shaped hands in blued steel with a black lacquered sector dial. The chapter ring, which incorporates a Roman XII and VI with baton markers, seems to be made in one piece and painted in luminous paint. It is interesting to imagine the rogue adventurer who might have commissioned this steel chronograph.
Often considered the most beautiful of the reference 130 dials is the Breguet-numerals configuration (pictured below).
Here we see a stunning steel reference 130 with Roman XII and VI applied indexes combined with dot markers. A tachymeter scale is present (pictured below).
Here we have a similar dial but with a pulsometer. At the time clients could order their watches with their preferred scales. Often, pulsometers were ordered by doctors (pictured below).
Here we have a reference 130 with Roman indexes combined with baton markers. Making this watch even more rare is its bi-metallic configuration consisting of a steel case and pushers and a gold bezel and crown.
A magnificent steel reference 130 with a salmon or pink dial using Arabic markers of 12 and 6 combined with baton markers (pictured below).
A reference 130 with full baton markers makes for a minimalistic and elegant watch. However, this watch is made even more intriguing because of its sword-shaped luminous hands and small luminous dots on the dial (pictured below).
Another unicorn: a two-tone reference with a gold dial. Note that this is a combination of Roman and baton markers but the batons here are much shorter (pictured below).
This interesting reference 130 has neither the reference’s square pushers or its Valjoux-based movement. This is a very early reference 130 but using a movement based on a Victorin Piguet ébauche and in a monopusher configuration with a steel case but still designated a reference 130. According to Auro Montanari, these movements were only used very early in the series.
Reference 530 (1937)
Thoughts from Alex
Imagine that the design of the reference 530 is so relevant that Patek Philippe decided to relaunch it as a modern reiteration as ref 5170.
Launched in 1937, Patek Philippe’s reference 530 takes its designs cues from its older sister, ref 130 but substantially increased in size with a whopping 36.5mm diameter.
The reference 530 can be considered the ultimate in terms of rarity, desirability, and aesthetic beauty. 28 examples are known in yellow gold, 14 examples known in pink gold and 10 in steel, interestingly, the stainless steel version was made in case variants that differ most notably in terms of the distance between the lugs.
The first generation, predominantly made in the late 1930s and always seen with the sector dial design, features a 19mm strap, whereas the second version with the cases made by Georges Croisier boasted a substantial bracelet width of 21.5mm giving the watch an even more powerful look. Considering the extremely low numbers produced I would say any version of the 530 is collectible but I have a soft spot for the ones with Breguet numerals (which are unique).
For fans of vintage Patek Philippe chronographs, it would be a dream to take a time machine back to 1936 and sit in on a board meeting with Charles and Jean Stern, where they decided to create what would be the equivalent of a massive oversized chronograph by today’s standards.
Which gives pause for one to wonder if the brothers had recognised the need in the market perhaps for gentlemen drivers that were after enhanced visibility while in the heat of competition. But for whatever reason, a year after the launch of the reference 130, Patek Philippe created the reference 530 chronograph. This — in the context of the era — was a gargantuan sports watch which was a full 3.5mm larger in diameter, making it in the context of today an extremely modern 36.5mm.
The reference 530 was made in a far lesser quantity compared to the reference 130. There are, for example, just 14 known examples in rose gold and less than 10 known examples in stainless steel. Prices of the reference 530 are staggering which is appropriate to their rarity, a steel example sold for 821,000 Swiss francs at the Phillips Start-Stop-Reset Auction in 2016.
However, would I say that it surpasses the beauty of the reference 130? Probably not. There is something about the original watch that is simply perfect in proportion at its 33mm case size. This is something important to understand regarding vintage Pateks. Oftentimes, value is equated with rarity. In comparison, with 1,500 examples, the reference 130 is a much more “common” watch, if you can use that term, and as such prices are considerably lower than that for a 530. However, I find the reference 130 more beautiful.
Available dials for the reference 530 followed those offered for the reference 130, though there is one particularly cool luminous sword-hand example in existence.
Some Examples of the 530
My personal favourite reference 530 is this amazing steel watch with a combination of Arabic numerals 12 and 6, pointed baton markers and sword-shaped luminous hands. This watch was delivered to Bologna, Italy, and one wonders who the owner might have been (pictured below).
The reference 530, which was a full 3.5mm larger in diameter than the reference 130, was made in a far smaller quantity. While the added expanse of the dial aids in legibility, I still prefer the classic proportions of the reference 130. Dials followed the configurations available for the reference 130. A lovely sector dial model is shown here (pictured below).
A beautiful reference 530 with Roman XII and VI, baton markers and a tachymeter, in a steel case with a steel “grains of rice” bracelet by Gay Frères was sold Serpico y Laino in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1941. One theory is that these oversized watches were created to meet a demand that existed in South America (pictured below).
A lovely Arabic 12 and 6 and short, pointed baton marker dial with tachymeter graces this reference 530 (pictured below).
Reference 533 (1937 – 1957)
Thoughts from Alex
While reference 130 is arguable the best known vintage Patek Philippe chronograph, one of its closest relatives is the reference 533. Differing from reference 130 only for the flat bezel, the rest of the Vichet-made case is identical to its brethren. This subtle change dramatically modifies the overall look of the piece, most notably making it appear larger and more angular.
Reference 533 was in production from 1937 to 1957, and was made in very restricted numbers. It is estimated that the total production was about 350 pieces with a majority in yellow gold and a small number cased in pink gold. Interestingly the models was never cased in steel.
Slightly under the radar, reference 533 offers collectors a rare watch fully integrating Patek Phillipe’s design codes at relatively affordable prices.
The “pink on pink” (pink gold case and pink dial) are amongst the rarest and most coveted examples. However, there are two unique reference 533 with very interesting backgrounds
A probably unique example in white gold with Breguet numerals.
A most probably unique yellow gold example with “cornes de vache” lugs, most probably made on special request and appeared on the market for the first time in 1989 in Antiquorum’s The Art of Patek Philippe auction.
The amusing thing about Patek Philippe is once you dive down the rabbit hole, you realise it keeps going and going. And there are many smaller and more obscure passageways. The reference 533 was launched in 1937.
It was made in just approximately 150 examples. It is characterised by a Calatrava-style case, flat bezel and square pushers with very slim elongated lugs. Its case measures 33mm in diameter. As the dials are essentially the same as those offered on the reference 130, it is really the case with its thin flat bezel and its long lean lugs that make the difference here.
The reference 533 was made from 1937 to 1957. However, even though it is rarer than a reference 130, it is not necessarily more collectable. Indeed, prices seem to be generally lower than that of a ref. 130 in the same configuration.
The 533 is to me a very beautiful watch, but I prefer the more latent sexiness of the 130’s bezel, to that of the thicker and flatter 533’s bezel. But as the saying goes, “Vive la différence.”
Some Examples of the 533
Reference 591 (~1930s – ~1950s)
Thoughts from Alex
Patek Philippe first launched reference 591 in 1938. At the time of production, the model was entirely different from anything that the manufacture had ever produced. The case, produced by Wenger, featured “bean” shaped lugs, lovingly dubbed “Fagiolino”, or “little bean” by Italian collectors. The angular, and relatively sharp lines starkly contrasted with the smooth Calatrava design of reference 130 and 533. Reference 591 was also larger than its chronograph siblings, boasting a 34 millimeter case diameter, giving the watch a modern aesthetic today.
Reference 591 was produced in exceedingly small numbers. In fact, it is one the rarest chronograph models that the firm produced throughout the 1930s and 1950s. 19 examples in yellow gold are known and 27 in pink gold. None in steel.
On the subject of the Patek Philippe rabbit hole is the appearance of the “Fagiolino”, or “little bean”, chronograph. This sobriquet bestowed upon the reference 591 refers to its decidedly stylised bean-shaped lugs soldered to a sharp angular case, with a concave bezel that provided a strong contrast to the prevailing smoothness of the references 130 and 533’s Calatrava-style cases. It is a moderate performer at auction but a very beautiful watch, nonetheless.
Some Examples of the 591
Reference 1579 (1943 – 1964)
Thoughts from Alex
Introduced in 1943, Patek Philippe’s reference 1579 seductively lures the aesthete with its unusual lugs, thick bezel and large opening to the dial, making it elegantly unconventional and idiosyncratic.
Other than the reference 591 (and the unique ref 533 – see above) reference 1579 is the only Patek Philippe chronograph that featured stylized lugs. With the ref 1579 its fanciful lugs in the shape of briolette diamonds gave the watch its nickname of “Spider Lugs” chronograph. This unusual feature propelled this watch to one of the most impressive case designs of the 1950s.
Maybe due to the eccentric lugs Patek Philippe did not offer the same dial variety as with its other references and over the course of its production, Stern Frères produced two series of dials for the reference 1579 that can be differentiated by the shape of the indexes.
The first series dials (1943-1949) with Arabic numerals and baton indexes and the seconds series dials (1950-1964) with Arabic numerals and square indexes. 82 known in pink gold, 7 in steel, 3 in platinum and 2 in steel/gold. I do not have exact production numbers in yellow gold. Interestingly the ref 1579 is the only chronograph model Patek made in platinum.
Some Examples of the 1579
In 1943, Patek Philippe introduced an interesting and incredibly daring new large-sized chronograph in the form of the highly stylised reference 1579 “spider lugs” chronograph. The context in which the Stern family launched this extraordinary timepiece would not be lost on us today. The world was going through tremendous social and artistic upheaval. It was at the end of the Art Deco era and the beginning of the modernist movement. The Second World War was still ongoing. And amidst this maelstrom of confusion, Patek Philippe, at the behest of Charles and Jean Stern, unveiled a watch that suddenly silenced all the chatter, the sensory overload and the peripheral voices.
Because the 1579 was so unique and so boldly different, collectors had no choice but to stop and take notice. I’ve used the following quote twice now in recent stories, such is my belief in it. In the words of Toni Morrison, “This is the precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.” And I love the 1579 because I feel that this was an attempt by the Stern brothers to help the world around them heal, through the creation of beauty.
This 36mm watch was manufactured in an estimated total of approximately 450 examples, primarily in yellow-gold cases, with just 82 known examples in rose gold and seven known examples in stainless steel.
A mythical platinum version was also made in three known examples, each with different dials and bearing consecutive case numbers. One of these platinum Patek 1579s was sold at Christie’s in November 2012 for the hammer price of 1,539,000 Swiss francs.
There are three known steel examples which are all shown below.
There was far less variety available in the dials of the reference 1579. Dials could be enamel with a combination of printed baton markers and applied Arabic numerals 12 and 6. Or they could be silvered matte dials with applied Arabic 12 and 6 as well as square faceted shaped indexes. Note that this comprises the only two variations in dial design that we are aware of.
Note that this watch features a bold Gay Frères bamboo bracelet (pictured above).
But perhaps the most intriguing of the references 1579 are these two gold and steel two-tone versions of the watch. Both of these cases were made by A & E Wenger in Geneva and both watches were sold in 1944. One watch is on an incredible steel and gold Gay Frères “grains of rice” bracelet (pictured above).
Reference 1506 (Early-1940s)
Thoughts from Alex
The most elusive of Patek Philippe chronographs, few have heard of this reference and even fewer have ever held one in their hands. Made in the early 1940s with only 3 known examples in yellow gold and 3 examples in pink gold this reference stands out with its large 36mm diameter and large multi-facetted lugs. Few have graced the auction market and those that have been sold have reached impressive prices, one can easily understand why: ref 1506 is not only extremely rare but it is achingly beautiful.
Some Examples of the 1506
The 1506 is one those watches that is whispered about in collectors’ circles, such is its mythical rarity. The watch is characterised by its 36mm-diameter case and in particular, by its long multi-faceted chronograph lugs that sit 20mm apart.
The 1506 watch that was made in only six examples in the 1940s, three in rose gold and three in yellow gold. At Phillips’s Geneva Watch Auction in 2015, a rose-gold version of this watch reached the impressive hammer price of 725,000 Swiss francs.
The collectability of the 1506 stems from both its extreme rarity and its wearability. At 36mm, a diameter made to seem even larger by the very long and beautifully faceted lugs, it is perfectly in keeping with modern tastes.
Reference 1463 ‘Tasti Tondi’ — The Most Beautiful Chronograph Ever Made (1940 – ~1965)
Thoughts from Alex
It is safe to say that Patek Philippe’s reference 1463 chronograph is considered by collectors as one of the most attractive and utterly bombastic vintage chronographs of our times. The model is even more favored than it was at the time of production, due to its robust case proportions and oversized chronograph pushers. Along with the elusive reference 1563, it was the only vintage chronograph model manufactured by Patek Philippe that was fitted with a water-resistant case and round chronograph pushers. The model was a “sportier” alternative to the less robust reference 130.
First launched in 1940, its production continued for approximately 25 years and despite low production numbers, there were many variations. While each featured a ten-sided screw back case and playful rounded chronograph-pushers, known as “Tasti Tondi” in Italian, there were many dial variations one of the rarest being the sublime versions in pink gold with pink dial.
67 known in steel, 65 known in pink gold I do not have the numbers in yellow gold. The ref 1463 thanks to its screwed caseback and pump pushers blocking humidity and dust is often the chronograph reference that can be found that is maintained in the best condition.
The 1940s were an interesting time in the world. The second half of the decade, in particular, was characterised by a post-war ebullience where America, and specifically New York City, would soon become the cultural, artistic and financial epicenter of the world. Returning from the war, men were filled with hope, promise and also a sense of adventure. At the turn of the decade, machines in the form of sports cars, trains and the burgeoning form of commercial air travel were offering never-seen-before levels of inter-connectivity and internationalism.
In the wealthiest strata of society, this begets what is called the “international set” with names like Gianni Agnelli, Porfirio Rubirosa and Aly Khan becoming the byword for style and rakish élan. This nomadic elite tribe summers in the South of France or Capri and winters in St. Moritz and Gstaad. And the thing uniting them was passion for leisure and sport. Whether sailing, water skiing, playing tennis or polo, or racing their cars, the ’40s was the era of the gentleman playboy and it was with absolute logic that Patek Philippe introduced a watch for this new breed of gentlemen.
In the context of the time, it must have been mind-boggling that Patek created a stunning gentlemen’s dress watch that was also water-resistant. Take a look at the Tasti Tondi and it feels fast just standing still. Its bezel is steeply raked and stepped to create a sense of velocity as it meets the case. And then there are those pushers, the first round units to find their way onto a serially produced Patek chronograph. But they were hardly the thin anaemic pushers found on most chronographs. No, these were massive and even ridged on their caps, as if they were to be operated wearing pilot’s gloves. There is no doubt that Duke Ellington, who owned a rare split-seconds version of the 1463 — the ref. 1563 — took the same delight in operating these pushers as he did those of his saxophone. The 1463 was all-modern, all-powerful, and vitality-focused into a 35mm round case.
When examining the differences that set the muscular and sporty reference 1463 apart from its refined brethren, let’s begin at the back of the watch. Here you will see the all-important screw-down caseback which makes the watch water resistant. It is of note that the 1463 is the only vintage chronograph created by Patek Philippe with this highly pragmatic feature.
Let’s examine what water-resistant means in the context of the era. Does this mean you could submerge to depth with your watch on? Absolutely not. But could you take a casual dip in the pool or sea with your watch on your wrist? Yes, and that’s the point. A man of means could pay equal disregard to spontaneously jumping into a body of water as he would leaping into a willing temptress’s bed. One of Gianni Agnelli’s favourite ways of arriving at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc was to have his helicopter hover by the ocean, so that he could jump in and swim to shore. How would you feel if you were invited to accompany him, as many of his friends had been, but you had to decline by saying, “You see, my watch is not water resistant.”
Up until this point, complicated watches had snap-on casebacks. However, a snap-on caseback watch could allow water to enter the watch even when one was performing a task as banal as washing hands thoroughly or when caught in a torrential downpour. Indeed, I’ve always thought the Tasti Tondi to share a philosophical alignment with what is my all-time favourite Patek Philippe watch, the steel pièce unique 1591 water-resistant perpetual calendar with luminous dial and hands made for an Indian maharaja in the 1940s.
I imagine the owner to be a man of supreme elegance who wanted the added pragmatism of being able to take a swim or keep his watch on during key cultural building activities, such as leaping into fountains whilst clad in bespoke evening wear and drinking an exceptional champagne. Accordingly, the case of the Tasti Tondi was made by Geneva’s Taubert Frères, who paid particular attention to tolerances in order to assure the water resistance of the watch.
This must have been the revelation at Patek in the early ’40s as the Stern family identified a new breed of gentlemen adventurers who might at a moment’s notice set off to explore the ruins of Machu Picchu or hurtle onto a transcontinental sojourn in their own plane like a young Howard Hughes or Charles Lindbergh. For these men, the chronograph was their defining timepiece, simultaneously a jewel of adornment and an invaluable tool. “We must create a young, modern, robust, water-resistant chronograph that is a symbol of this new world of adventure” — you could almost imagine Charles Stern declaring to his son Henri. When I look at a Patek 1463, I see a watch that is redolent and shimmering with the promise of living life to its very fullest measure.
So yes, in simple terms, the 1463 is a chronograph with a large 35mm case, with a screw-down caseback. The crown is oversized and bevelled. The legendary mythical pushers are massive, boasting thick stems with distinct domed caps which are rivalled only by the architectural masterpiece of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia in terms of their capacity to evoke transcendence. These caps are decorated with a modern and aggressive sunray engraving that radiates outward from points in their centres. The bezel is thicker than that of the reference 130 and far more aggressively stepped. But as a symbol of the shift towards the future for an entire culture, the watch means far more. The word I associate with the Tasti Tondi is virility, for it is a timepiece that is synonymous with the time of the playboys and adventurers, where men saw no limits to the lives they could lead. Owners of 1463s were invariably sportsmen, sailors, divers, skiers and athletes that enjoyed life to the very fullest measure and, for me, that is what makes the Tasti Tondi so damnably cool.
OK, let’s first identify the general categories in the dials of the reference 1463.
The dials came in four general varieties:
A combination of Arabic (12 and 6) and baton markers (long or short and also pointed and flat-tipped).
A combination of Roman (XII and VI) and baton or dot markers.
Full baton markers.
Ravishing Breguet numerals (full scale with the exception of 3 and 9).
Truly amazing sector or scientific dials.
These dials used a central chapter ring divided into sectors, and emphasised chemin de fer minutes and seconds tracks to enhance accurate timings. In addition, they featured enlarged scales such as tachymeters which calculated the average speed of an object over a fixed distance (e.g. 1km or 1 mile), or pulsometers for calculating pulse rate within 30 or 15 pulsations, or even a combination of both as shown below.
There were also a few watches made with different types of luminous dials.
Some Examples of the 1463 “Tasti Tondi”
A steel Tasti Tondi from 1941 with a stunning three-tone sector dial and tachymeter fitted on a Gay Frères “beads of rice” bracelet (pictured above).
A steel Tasti Tondi from 1941 with a two-tone dial and Roman XII and VI indexes and an interesting combination of applied baton and printed baton markers with a tachymeter (pictured above).
A steel Tasti Tondi with Arabic 12 and 6 and short sharp-tipped baton markers and tachymeter (pictured above).
Another steel watch that has been incredibly preserved. It also features the Arabic 12 and 6, and the short, sharp baton markers, but has a pulsometer instead of a tachymeter (pictured above).
An incredible steel Tasti Tondi with luminous Arabic 12 and 6 and luminous round plots and syringe-shaped hands. Interestingly, this watch has no scale. It is possible that the discolouration on the dial results from the effects of the luminous material used (pictured above).
An incredible Tasti Tondi with a pink or salmon dial featuring pink-gold indexes, Roman XII and VI and long baton markers with a tachymeter. Note the second signature of Hausmann & Co. According to Auro Montanari, the bezel is slightly higher on this watch than in other steel 1463s (pictured above).
One of the most beautiful Tasti Tondis is this steel watch with salmon dial, Roman XII and VI and a pulsometer (pictured above).
Holy Grail combination of a steel case, a full Breguet-numerals dial with also a second signature of Tiffany & Co stamped on top of the Patek Philippe signature. This watch dates from 1949 (pictured above).
A magnificent and flawless example of a steel Tasti Tondi with Breguet-numerals dial considered to be the most beautiful and most desirable of the 1463s (pictured above).
An intriguing scientific Tasti Tondi consisting of a tachymeter, telemeter and a snail-shaped counter at the centre of the dial. The watch dates to 1950 (pictured above).
Two steel Tasti Tondis on Gay Frères bracelets: the first is on a link-model bracelet and the second is on a brick-style bracelet. The second watch bears the signature of Freccero of Uruguay (pictured above).
One of the all-time coolest Tasti Tondi watches is this black dial model featuring luminous syringe hands and Arabic markers. The original owner was Cincinnati financier Briggs Swift Cunningham. Note the additional markers in the minute counter at 5 and 10 minutes. This was used for regattas as Cunningham was a well-known sailor who successfully defended the America’s Cup in 1958. This Tasti Tondi truly epitomizes the spirit of adventure that marked the new generation of gentlemen athletes who naturally gravitated to the 1463 (pictured above).
Elegant minimalism at its finest is this Tasti Tondi featuring the lovely understatement of a full baton marker dial (pictured above).
References 1436 and 1563 — The Split-Seconds Chronographs
Thoughts from Alex – 1436
Whereas Patek Philippe’s perpetual calendar chronographs such as references 1518 and 2499 are models that participated in placing Patek Philippe within the top echelons of the horological Parthenon, the split seconds reference 1436 remained for decades the most complicated wristwatch made by the famed Geneva brand.
What may seem like a regular chronograph is placed within the exclusive category of split seconds thanks to its extra hand. Watchmakers and connoisseurs agree on the fact that this type of chronograph is one of the most complex mechanisms to master due to the very tight tolerances.
Reference 1436 is the first split seconds chronograph wristwatch that Patek Philippe ever produced in a series, launched in 1938 it shares the same case/dial design as the ref 130. Even though this reference was made for a surprising 33 years, production ceasing in 1971, only 140 examples are known to this day, predominantly cased in yellow gold, there are 9 known in pink gold and two in stainless steel made and completed in the 1940s. A third steel example was made and completed in 1941 and sold to an Italian retailer in September of 1942 where it remained unsold for 8 years, when it was subsequently re-cased in yellow gold, meeting the taste of a once again blossoming post-war society.
In the first generation models, the split seconds is triggered and reset by pushing the crown in. Later models feature a co-axial pusher in the crown.
A split second is a grail for collectors and any version of the 1436 would have its place in a vintage collection but my favorite would be the models with Breguet numerals or pink case with pink dials.
Some Examples of the 1436
The 1436 split-seconds chronograph, which is the rattrapante version of the reference 130, particularly in steel, is probably one of the Holy Grails in vintage watch collecting, with a Roman-numerals and baton-marker version achieving a staggering hammer price of 3,301,00 Swiss francs at a Phillips auction in 2015.
Steel complications are the most sought-after Patek wristwatches due to their rarity. As previously mentioned, there was just one steel 1591 perpetual calendar made, there is just one known steel 1526 perpetual calendar, and four steel 1518 perpetual calendar chronographs. Incredibly, my dear friend Auro Montanari (aka John Goldberger) features all of these in his book, Patek Philippe Steel Watches. He also features both of the only two known versions of the 1436 in steel and as such, it is my immense pleasure to show them both here with his permission.
This is the watch that achieved the price of 3.3 million Swiss francs in 2015 (pictured above).
The only other known steel 1436 features an all-baton-marker dial and a pulsometer (pictured above).
Note that the movement for the 1436 does not use the famous Victorin Piguet ébauche. Instead, this watch uses the Valjoux ébauche of the calibre 13-130 as its base (pictured above).
Thoughts from Alex – 1563
In terms of rarity and desirability it doesn’t get any better than the 1563, based on the design of the reference 1436 with its large case, sporty look and oversized chronograph pushers it also features a split seconds mechanism and to top it all it was made in just three yellow gold examples! Interestingly whereas Breguet numerals were reserved only for the steel 1436s one example of the 1563 features Breguet numerals.
Is there a watch that I would prefer to a Tasti Tondi? Well, yes, but no, we are rapidly moving reality into fantasy as the reference 1563, the split-seconds version of the 1463, was made in only three known examples. The rattrapante or split-seconds chronograph is my favourite complication.
It is a chronograph that features a second chrono seconds hand which can be stopped to read a lap time or “split time” and then restarted so it catches up with the continuously moving chronograph seconds hand.
The split-seconds complication is considered second only to the minute repeater in the complexity of the movement and difficulty of setting it up. The challenge relates to the pressure placed on a second heart cam by a return lever, which features a roller jewel and a return spring. Too much pressure and you get rattrapante drag, too little and the split-seconds hand does not catch up in a sharp, clean and instantaneous way.
By most research, the movement used in the 1563 is the same movement used in the 1436.
The single most beautiful 1563 ever created is a transcendent yellow-gold model with luminous Breguet numerals and hands. Just imagine the incredible individual who ordered this watch. He wanted a yellow-gold chronograph but with a split-seconds function as well as luminous indications. How cool is that? This particular watch came up for auction at Christie’s in 2013 and achieved the hammer price of 1,455,000 Swiss francs.
Another famous 1563 was the watch worn by Duke Ellington, which now resides at the Patek Philippe Museum. You can immediately tell the 1563 from a “normal” 1463 by its massive crown, which is considerably larger than that of the 1463’s. This is because the crown is also the pusher used to activate the split-seconds function.