On 28 November 2020, Christie’s is holding its ‘Important Watches’ auction in Hong Kong. Among the more than 200 lots on offer, a set of eight extraordinary Patek Philippe watches caught our attention for their uniqueness and historical importance.
Dubbed “The Ruby Collection,” these eight timepieces prominently feature — as you might have guessed — rubies on their dial or watch case. Of all the coloured precious gemstones, no other stone attracts collectors quite like the ruby. The stone has entranced Kings and Princes, and today ruby can command the highest prices of any coloured gemstone.
Lot 2424 – Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 Featuring The Unique “Charles Stern” Dial
The highlight of this collection of ruby-set timepieces is without a doubt the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 with Charles Stern’s unique dial.
The story begins in 1943 when Charles Stern, the owner of Patek Philippe when the Stern family took over the company, ordered for himself a unique oversized reference 1527 with a perpetual calendar chronograph complication, and fitted with a special dial. Unfortunately, Charles Stern died in 1944 just before he could take delivery of his unique watch so his son Henri Stern used it as his personal watch, travelling and using it as a working tool.
In 1946, Charles Stern ref. 1527 — now Henri Stern’s ref. 1527 — is sent back to the factory to be refurbished and sold as a new watch. At this point, Mr. Stern’s unique dial was removed and replaced with a standard ref. 1518 dial. The watch ended up in the hands of a private collector who consigned the watch at Christie’s in 2010. Patek Philippe bought Charles Stern’s ref. 1527 watch for the price of CHF6,259,000, becoming the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at the time, and the timepiece now resides at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
The original dial with ruby hour markers somehow made its way out of the manufacture and was first sold to someone who then sold it to the current owner. This collector fitted Charles Stern’s unique ruby dial on an early second-series Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in yellow gold, and it is this current watch that is offered for bidding at Christie’s Hong Kong.
For more information on how this unique dial came about, make sure to read our in-depth story on Charles Stern’s unique ruby dial here.
Lot 2425 – The Only Known Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 With Plain Dial
The Patek Philippe ref. 2481 was introduced in 1950 and was immediately nicknamed the “King Size” due to the 37mm case size of the model — an exceptionally large diameter for the 1950’s. Luckily for collectors, 37mm makes this watch highly wearable by today’s standards.
What makes this example special is that it is cased in pink gold, much rarer among this reference, and is the only known example of a ref. 2481 with a plain undecorated cream enamel dial with ruby markers. All the other examples known with this dial type prominently feature the portrait of the King of Saudi Arabia, Saud Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, making this present watch most likely unique.
To complete the package, the watch retains the original detachable 18k pink gold Gay Frères bracelet.
Lot 2426 – Patek Philippe Ref. 600/1 Pocket Watch With Ruby-Set Enamel Dial
Following on the previous lot, we see here an example of these special Patek Philippe watches, coming from a small series of open face dress watches, specially ordered in memory of King Saud Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. All were fitted with ivory-coloured enamel dials with ruby-set numerals, round rubies for the hours and baguette rubies for the quarter hours, and given as gifts to dignitaries or friends of his majesty. The example here stands out for the pristine condition it is in.
Lot 2427 – Patek Philippe Ref. 3448/8 With Ruby-Set Dial
The highly sought after Patek Philippe ref. 3448 was made in only 586 examples throughout its production lifetime. Out of all these, only 3 are known to come with the matching yellow gold ‘sport’ bracelet design with symmetrical holes (named ref. 3448-008J, the -008 referring to the bracelet style). Out of these 3 known, only this present example is fitted with a ruby-set dial, thus making this piece unique and most likely a special order from one of Patek Philippe’s best clients.
The dial isn’t the one which was delivered with the watch. The unique ruby-set dial was created in 1990, 25 years after the watch was delivered, by special request of the then owner of the watch. It was then fitted onto the watch in 1991 during a service and Patek Philippe had to carry a modification on the case to accommodate the raised ruby hour markers, proving that the famed maison would spare no expense to realize the client’s vision.
Lot 2428 – Patek Philippe Ref. 3974R With Ruby-Set Dial
When the Patek Philippe ref. 3974 was launched in 1989 to celebrate Patek Philippe’s 150th anniversary, it was the world’s most complicated wristwatch. The reference is also one of the rarest watches from the maison as only 160 examples were produced during its lifetime. Among this already small number of watches produced, it is believed that only 15 examples were cased in pink gold and on top of that, only the early examples had their cases supplied by master casemaker Jean-Pierre Hagmann of Geneva, with his hallmark JPH stamped underneath the lower left lug.
With all these attributes, the present ref. 3974R would already be considered a grail for many collectors, but this example is brought to all new heights with the addition of its unique dial. The watch was delivered with a standard 3974 dial but the then owner commissioned directly from Patek Philippe a special dial with ruby-set hour indexes in order to match his fabulous collection of complicated Patek Philippe watches.
Lot 2429 – Unique Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5063 With Ruby-Set Dial
If you think that this reference number for a Patek Philippe Aquanaut is a typo, I assure you that it is not, so you can already start to imagine how special the present watch is and how incredible it is that the watch remained unknown until now.
The first Aquanaut was launched in 1996, firstly with the reference 5060, made in stainless steel or yellow gold with a solid caseback. It was quickly superseded by the reference 5066 in 1997 which was essentially the same as the 5060 but with a transparent display back. Apart from a limited edition of the 5060 in pink gold with a white dial made for the Asian market in 1998, no early Aquanaut models were made in white gold. This present watch is, and was produced in 1997 at the start of the Aquanaut’s life. It is the only example of the Aquanaut known to have been made with a white gold case in 20 years of production until the launch of the 20th anniversary ref. 5168G in 2017, billed as “The first white gold Aquanaut.”
The dial is, of course, the star as it features a grid of 12 perfectly matched invisibly set baguette rubies at the centre. What is more impressive is that these are full sized rubies, meaning that the rubis are raised on the dial side but also protrude at the back of the dial.
The last aspect which makes this watch even more unique is the movement as the present example is fitted with the in-house ultra-thin caliber 335-SC as opposed to the caliber 330-194 used in other Aquanauts. With all these attributes, it is no wonder that this watch also received a unique reference number.
Lot 2430 – Patek Philippe Ref. 3939 With Ruby Numerals
The present pink gold example of Patek Philippe’s landmark minute repeating tourbillon ref. 3939 is the only known example with ruby hour markers. No other ref. 3939 of this configuration has ever been seen or recorded publicly until 2013 when the present watch first appeared.
Launched in 1993 and in production until 2009, the Patek Philippe ref. 3939 is one of the most elegant and understated of Patek Philippe’s Grand Complication timepieces of recent times. It unites the exquisitely sonorous charms of a two-gong minute repeater with the gravity-defying precision of a tourbillon escapement.
Only 200 pieces were ever made and each watch of the series was tested for precision timekeeping before being awarded a C.O.S.C. certificate for superlative accuracy.
The present watch has an even further layer of rarity to the dial, in addition to the ruby hour indexes, in having a silvered ‘Opaline’ dial instead of the standard enamel dial made for the reference.
Lot 2431 – Patek Philippe Ref. 5271P With Ruby-Set Case
Fresh to the market, the present watch is the extremely rare and highly coveted ruby-set variation of the Patek Philippe ref. 5971P.
This highly complicated platinum perpetual calendar chronograph with leap-year and day and night indication is set with 89 shaped and carefully matched baguette-cut rubies of approximate 5.3 carats and a single baguette ruby as the 12 o’clock marker on the dial.
Only 10 pieces of this watch are believed to have been made and so far only one other example is known publicly. The timepiece also comes with a matching ruby-set deployant clasp.