Primer on Collecting Vintage Patek Philippe’s Wristwatches.
Collecting, buying and selling vintage Patek Philippe has been a passion of mine for a long time.
When I retired in 2002 I got more active in going to shows and auctions and before I knew it, I started a new career buying and selling watches. First and foremost, my primary interest are the vintage Patek Philippe. Reading is another passion of mine so I began reading everything I could get my hands on that had to do with Patek especially the history of the company, the clients and of course the watches themselves.
A unique feature that became obvious right from the beginning was how Patek stood out from the other major watch companies. They did not seem content by just making a great time only wrist watches (although they have made some classics). Patek seemed to be pushing the window with technology and complications while keeping to a classic style. While most of their counter parts were making triple date calendars PP were making perpetuals, perpetual chronographs and split second chronographs. They were first in making them in series not just “one off” watches as some of their competitors. PP also made many “unique” watches for special clients and these watches in today’s market are highly sought after by many collectors and sell for millions of dollars. You will see some examples in future articles.
I plan to write about are the perpetuals, the chrono-perpetual, the classic time only watches and form cased watches. There are many books out on the market on Patek and I highly recommend you get as many as you can. The primer is to keep this simple for the beginner/intermediate collector. By identifying the references and a follow up with more detail for each reference, discussing the case /dial/movement. Also if available the total made in that reference, original list price, and some notable unique/highly collectible watches that were auctioned off.
Many collectors of the modern Patek shy away from the vintage and my hope is that just maybe I can get one to venture into the vintage world. Many of the collectors I talk with tell me that finally getting the watch they dreamed of is just part of the fun of collecting, but the thrill of the hunt is just as much fun if not more to most collectors. It’s the journey and along the way where you learn so much and meet some of the most interesting people that make it so rewarding.
Before getting into the actual references I would like to give a basic outline of what to look for in a vintage PP. The most important item is the “Original Certificate” or if that is missing, which it usually is on the older watches, then the archival papers from Patek. This will tell you the serial numbers for the movement and case; these should be the first thing to check. Most times (not always) it will describe the dial. It will also give you the reference number and date of manufacture. If the numbers do not match then walk away, it’s a “married” watch and as such not collectible. But let me add I have owned several “married” watches for their complication or just they looked great.
- Check for excessive polishing, this can take the original shape such as stepped lugs and completely change the look.
- Check that the inside of the case back have the correct hallmarks, reference and serial number. Some early models did not have the reference number stamped so do not be alarmed but just ask an expert and he should be able to assist you. Some cases did not have any hallmarks, though this is rare.
- Look for any major dings or dents.
- Look for correct period crown.
- The dial is the most difficult to inspect. You are looking for originality. The dial can be
a) Redone: completely stripped and refinished. This has a major negative impact on pricing
b) Refreshed: it was washed and possible re-lacquered. This will have minimal negative impact on pricing
c) Original: untouched and as it came from the factory. Pricing impact depends on condition.
- On enamel dials you want to look for chips and cracks. Some of which are hairline and only visible under a 5x-10x loop.
- Some dials are more desirable than others. Some examples are: Enamel, applied Breguet or Arabic numerals, 2 tone, and unusual colors.
- 1. Look to see it has the correct serial number that’s on the PP certificate/archive paper.
- 2. Visually inspect the movement for missing screws, rust, and major scratches.
- 3. Check that the watch is working correctly under power (wind it 5-10 turns).
- 4. Most problems with the movement can be repaired at Patek. Unlike an over polished case or a dial with a major problem. They are almost impossible to repair.
- 5. If it’s a chronograph, perpetual, repeater check the functions work correctly
- 1. The most important piece of paper with Patek watches is the “Original Certificate”, if that is missing, which it usually is on the older watches, then the archival papers from Patek. The paperwork will tell you the serial numbers for the movement and case, this should be the first thing to check. Most times, but not always it will also describe the dial. It will also give you the reference number and date of manufacture. If the numbers do not match then the watch is not original as it left the factory. It would be highly recommended not to purchase the watch for many reasons value being one of the top reasons.
The above are the basic guidelines of what to look for when buying a vintage Patek, but as in all collecting there are common rules to follow.
- Knowledge is power, learn as much as you can by talking with other collectors and reading any and all books on the subject. There are many out there on Patek and if you would like some advice please contact me.
- Condition is critical. Buy the best condition you can afford. Sometimes it’s better to buy a less complicated/desirable watch in mint condition than a more complicated/desirable watch in rough condition.
- Deal with someone you can trust. The adage of “you buy the dealer not the watch” can save you a lot of problems, disappointment, and money.
- If you have questions do not hesitate to contact someone you think could help. Most collectors and dealers that I know would be more than happy to assist.
I am always constantly learning something new about vintage Patek, and as one highly respected collector/dealer told me “never say never when looking at a Patek”. They are not as predictable as many people believe, and many of us do not know as much as we think.
Don’t get frustrated when you cannot find that perfect watch. It’s a matter of hard work tracking it down and patience. Trading is a big part of building up a collection. You may start off collecting time only, or shaped watches and migrate up into more complicated watches such as chronographs, perpetuals, chrono-perpetuals, etc. Many collectors trade their less complicated watches for the more complicated watches. Condition now becomes a major factor on the value and desirability and maximize what you can get on trade. The most important part is to get enjoyment out of your collection. There’s as much enjoyment for a simple time only as there is a super complicated watch.