On 28 November 2020, Christie’s is holding its ‘Important Watches’ auction in Hong Kong. Among the more than 200 lots on offer is a Patek Philippe ref. 1518 fitted with a unique ruby dial commissioned by none other than Charles Stern.

Lot 2424 – Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 Featuring The Unique “Charles Stern” Dial
The Patek Philippe ref. 1518 featuring the unique “Charles Stern” dial offered at Christie’s Hong Kong (©Revolution)
The Patek Philippe ref. 1518 featuring the unique “Charles Stern” dial offered at Christie’s Hong Kong (©Revolution)

Part of “The Ruby Collection” section of Christie’s auction, the highlight of this selection of ruby-set timepieces is without a doubt the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 with Charles Stern’s unique dial. There are several key aspects of this historically important watch which we will go through below.

1/ Special Order

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.

The ref. 1527 from Patek Philippe is in itself a simple Calatrava-style wristwatch with time-only and small-seconds indications, so modifications were needed to accommodate a perpetual calendar chronograph function. The order for Mr. Stern’s oversized ref 1527 case was placed to Emile Vichet, the master case maker who was also producing at that time the cases for the legendary reference 1518. Charles Stern’s unique watch is in fact a special 1527 case with a 1518 movement. Concerning the dial, Mr. Stern requested special cabuchon ruby hour markers and a 3-minute telephone call timer scale which is engraved enamelled in the minutes scale at 3 o’clock. This means that the special scale was very much part of the design in the creation process of the dial. In true businessman fashion, and knowing how expensive international phone calls were in the 1940’s, Charles Stern must have wanted his business calls to remain short and straight to the point. The last special touch was the “XII” Roman numeral at 12 o’clock, something that Mr. Stern was particularly fond of.

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.

The unique Patek Philippe ref. 1527 commissioned by Charles Stern with a unique dial (Photo: Christie’s)
The unique Patek Philippe ref. 1527 commissioned by Charles Stern with a unique dial (Photo: Christie’s)
2/ Dial Removed And Sale Of Charles Stern’s Ref. 1527

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 — confirmed by Patek Philippe’s archive — Mr. Stern’s unique dial was removed and replaced with a standard ref. 1518 dial.

I currently do not have any information on how Charles Stern’s refreshed ref. 1527 was sold but 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.

Charles Stern’s ref. 1527 fitted with a standard ref. 1518 dial and sold at Christie’s in 2010 (Photo: Christie’s)
Charles Stern’s ref. 1527 fitted with a standard ref. 1518 dial and sold at Christie’s in 2010 (Photo: Christie’s)
3/ Charles Stern’s Unique Dial Rediscovered

The original and uniquely made dial with ruby hour markers was carefully preserved and remains today in the same original condition as when it left Mr. Stern’s ref. 1527.

Again, it is unclear here how the Charles Stern ruby dial made its way out of the manufacture but it somehow did and was first sold to someone who then sold it to the current owner. This collector (the second owner of the ruby dial; third if you count the Stern family) decided to fit Charles Stern’s unique ruby dial on an early second-series Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in yellow gold — a watch chosen appropriately to display this amazing unique dial to its full advantage.

Mr. Stern’s special dial with cabuchon ruby hour markers and a 3-minute telephone call timer scale (©Revolution)
Mr. Stern’s special dial with cabuchon ruby hour markers and a 3-minute telephone call timer scale (©Revolution)

The current owner is now consigning the watch to Christie’s and it would be interesting to see if Patek Philippe decides to purchase this watch to re-acquire the unique dial commissioned by Charles Stern. After a separation of over 70 years, the unique Charles Stern ref. 1527/1518 watch and its original unique dial could once again be reunited and placed next to each other in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

Funnily enough, I was told that the two collectors who were in possession of Charles Stern’s ref. 1527 watch and Charles Stern’s unique dial, knew of each other and the historically important items they were holding. They just never could get to a consensus on how to reunite the two together.

See the full lot description here.