Rationalising the value of a watch: Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in Stainless Steel

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Last week, we see history being made with the world’s most expensive wristwatch sold at an auction.

The bidding for the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in Stainless Steel started out at CHF 3,000,000 which eventually concluded at CHF 9,600,000 at the Geneva Watch Auction: Four. Ann the buyer’s premium, and th price tag is just a tad over a cool CHF 11,002,000. The timepiece was expected to fetch a high price given its history and rarity but the final price was still a surprise to many.

To quote Paul Boutros, the head of watches for the Americas for Phillips Bacs & Russo, “I have waited a lifetime to see a 1518 in stainless steel. It is number one of only four known to exist.” This particular piece was special as firstly, the reference was known to be the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph and the most important factor is that there are only four stainless steel pieces in existence.

We agree that this auctioned piece is indeed a rare wristwatch and some collectors sees it as one of the “holy grails” of wristwatch collecting. The question is whether its history and limited quantity justifies its price of CHF 11,002,000 which is an absolutely huge sum of money. Vintage watches are just like any antique or artworks, the prices are driven by demand and supply forces in the market, there is no reasoning sometimes and in this case, who could imagine a stainless steel watch costing so much.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and we do think that works like the Ref. 1518 is a true work of art and hard to put a price tag to. It is indeed hard to ascertain the value of such a watch given the long and substantial history it has, making it subjective and thus, it goes down to the buyer’s discretion to appraise its value. Regardless of the history, we feel that paying CHF 11,002,000 for any wristwatch is simply too much.

When you consider the alternatives possible with that crazy sum of money, you simply cannot help but to figure how it could have been possible. Let us see what else one could have bought with that amount or even a fraction of it. Just for grins.


Patek Philippe 5370 Split Seconds Chronograph

Classified as a Grand Complication by Patek Philippe, the ref. 5370 which we reviewed previously, is considered to be a purist watch given its outstanding split seconds complication. The black enamel dial makes the watch is simply beautiful and elegant that coupled with a well-finished movement in the CHR 29-535 PS makes this a very well desired watch in the market. The retailing price stands at US$249,200 which is leaning on the heavy side but compared to the above, it’s just a mere fraction of it. You can find out more about this brilliant piece right here.


The Patek Philippe 5370 with its well-finished black enamel dial.

The Patek Philippe 5370 with its well-finished black enamel dial.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie

Having recently won the Mechanical Exception Watch Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie which we previously reviewed here, has continued to impress many alike. Since being presented as a concept in 2015, the timepiece has attracted attention to it mainly because of its impressive technical features. These include its very own silent regulator to overcome commonly faced problems by a traditional minute repeater as well as the use of a sound board to transmit sounds like a guitar does.

Most importantly, the end result is mesmerising, the sound from the supersonnerie can be simply described as being loud, clear and clean. Priced at approximately USD$ 550,000, the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie is a gem and certainly worth the buy if one could afford it and at less than a fraction of the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518, I would say no issue.


AP Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie.

AP Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie.


Patek Philippe Star Caliber 2000

Even after purchasing the above, one would still have ample spare change to acquire one of the most complicated watch Patek Philippe has ever made. The Star Caliber 2000 has a total of 21 complications and it was noted for its complexity and user friendliness. It features an extremely rare 18k golf double dialed clock watch that can produce the Westminster chimes. It also features a perpetual calendar that syncs well with the equation of sunrise, sunset and time. At the 2012 Christie’s auction in Hong Kong, this piece had a realized value of close to USD$ 3.2 million which was highly expected given its rarity.


Patek Philippe Star Calibre 2000 incorporated many of the unfulfilled wishes for the predecessor Calibre 89 like the Westminster Chime. Image: Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe Star Calibre 2000 incorporated many of the unfulfilled wishes for the predecessor Calibre 89 like the Westminster Chime. Image: Patek Philippe


Concluding Thoughts

The list above is certainly not exhaustive and if you sum it up, it is a small amount of money that one has to shelve out than if you compare to the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in Stainless Steel. The latter is in a league of its own, be it history or workmanship but if you compare it to the other pieces mentioned in the article, they hardly fall short in any area. We can safely say that some of the features like those of the Supersonnerie or the extremely well-finished Ref. 5370 have their own merits and certainly outshine the Ref. 1518 in their own ways.

Essentially, we feel that attaching a high extrinsic value to a watch as in the case of the Ref. 1518 does not necessarily mean that it is the best watch in the market. At the end, the value of a watch can only be ascribed to it by the owner or potential owner based on their own judgement against perhaps their own set of criteria or expectations they have of an ideal watch.

Or,just a thought…a friend suggested that if the buyer had split the money equally and send each part to 100 of his friends to spend the entire windfall on a watch, each would still have CHF 110,000. Would that be more fun to spread the love? Would still have made headlines. Though a different kind. Perhaps food for thought and amusement.


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