Understated but ‘never easy’: Why collectors covet Patek Philippe

New York (CNN)The world record holder for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction isn’t a lavishly appointed timepiece encrusted in diamonds or encased in 24-karat gold. Instead, the title belongs to a relatively understated, stainless steel watch made by Patek Philippe in 1943. In November 2016, the watch went for a staggering $11 million to an unnamed private collector, courtesy of the Geneva branch of the Phillips auction house.

But don’t let its simple appearance fool you. Open the watch case, and you will find nearly 200 individual hand-made components working in harmony in pristine condition in a space a mere fraction of the size of the average smart phone. The inner workings are, to riff on watchmaking parlance, very complicated, a trait that has become a company signature.

“Patek Philippe is never easy,” says Sandrine Stern, the brand’s head of creative and wife of Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern. “Never.”

Fostering an understanding of the detailed craftsmanship that goes into every Patek watch is one of the reasons the company has organized “The Art of replica Watches,” an interactive, 10-room, 13,200-square-foot retrospective at Cipriani 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan open now through July 23, that aims to, as Stern puts it, “show what is Patek Philippe, in terms of movement and innovation.”

At Cipriani, visitors can learn about a watch’s movement (the technical term for its inner mechanics) and its appropriately named complications — the word for any function a watch performs other than telling time.

Patek Philippe has contributed to advancements of both. The company helped pioneer the chronograph movement, annual calendar and perpetual calendar that accounts for leap years. Guests to the exhibition can observe the craftsmanship that goes into each high-end timepiece, via a handful of artisans working on-site and a virtual reality tour that takes viewers inside a Patek Philippe watch.

The absolute premier brand’

The record setting, $11-million wristwatch — known by its reference number, 1518 — is not on display, but pieces once owned by John F. Kennedy Jr., Duke Ellington and Joe DiMaggio have been assembled for the event. They’re among the serious collectors and seriously wealthy clients who have found Patek timepieces irresistible since the company was founded in 1839, often ahead of its competitors with equal or greater brand recognition.

“Within the world of collectible replica rolex watches, Patek Philippe has always been the most desirable,” says Benjamin Clymer, a high-end watch expert and founder of Hodinkee, a website devoted to the finest in watchmaking. “It’s always been the absolute premier brand.”

By way of comparison, Paul Boutros, head of fake watches at the Americas division of Phillips auction house, notes that the most expensive replica Rolex ever sold at auction — the Bao Dai, a yellow gold, automatic style — bought for $5 million at Phillips in May.

Faberge hopes to rival Patek Phillipe, Rolex in watches

Fabergé is best known for its historic jewelled Easter eggs but its modern iteration is also as one of handful of craft watch-makers taking advantage of a retro trend towards traditional timepieces.

Precision watch making became a rarity in the 1970s with the advent of cheap, accurate quartz crystal models. Digital only hastened the process, but in recent years old-style mechanical replica watches are making a comeback.

The draw now, though, is not the famed accuracy of the Swiss craftsmen who still dominate the industry today, but the artwork of the pieces themselves. If anything, timekeeping itself is the least important factor in selecting such a watch.

“It is a staple joke amongst watch enthusiasts that ‘the better the watch, the worse it tells the time,'” says Dean Divaris, the managing director of World’s Finest cheap Watches in Johannesburg. Instead, collectors are drawn to the inner magic of tiny wheels and cogs hand-carved out of surgical steel by craftsmen hunched over a bench in an Alpine valley. Less romantically, they also provide a store of value, much as gold coins do.

These artworks do not come cheap. Fabergé’s Visionnaire Chronograph is priced at US$34,500 in ceramic, and $39,500 in rose gold.

Patek Philippe,replica Rolex, Cartier, TAG Heuer, Omega and Longines are also among the brands most desirable to collectors and most likely to gain in value. With these cheap watches, while aesthetically beautiful, it is what is inside that counts.

“Almost all luxury wristwatches are assembled by hand, with most ranging from 1,000 parts or more that need to be assembled,” says Sharne Edelson MALE OR FEMALE?, Silver and Jewellery Specialist at art auctioneers Stephan Welz & Co in Johannesburg. “Some replica watches take up to a year to produce.”

Not all cheap watches carry the same weight. “I think it is important to note that some watch models are more collectable than others and this will affect whether it is a pure investment or not,” Edelson notes. “When buying a luxury watch it is always important to do your research.”

Their very mechanical complexity is what gives them appeal, which is broad, ranging from the boardroom to the street.

Men are especially drawn to replica watches. “It’s one of the few pieces a man can buy for himself, as a reward for being a success,” says the Cape Town watch specialist Philip Zetler. “Women have far more options for accessories but a man’s wrist becomes the place to strap on a piece of art that the world can see.”

Mr Zetler adds that men also buy watches to get one up on other men. Unlike other trophy accessories such as cars, a timepiece can be carried about and is always visible: in the boardroom; on the golf course; or at business lunch.

Fully cognisant of this, watch makers toss vast amounts of money at top sportsmen to have them endorse their products. In 2006 the tennis ace Roger Federer, the current Wimbledon champion, signed a 10-year, $15 million deal with replica Rolex – a sponsorship record at the time. replica Rolex, though, probably figures this is money well spent. Federer has remained at the top of his game and therefore a high-profile brand ambassador.

Even his wife Mirka wears replica Rolex. At this year’s Australia Open she was spotted wearing a platinum Day-Date 40 while cheering her husband on from the stands, much to the excitement of horologists. The model she wore is said to be worth around $490,000 according to guesstimates by enthusiasts.

Given the value and prestige of high-end watches, it is inevitable that young pretenders are also being drawn to the field. Apple, the US tech company that gave the world the iPhone, iPad and other famous gadgets also now produces a line of watches. Launched in 2015, the range is a success with consumers, according to Apple. However, timepiece collectors are not all as enthusiastic.

The US singer and songwriter John Mayer, a noted watch collector, summed it up best when approached for his opinion on the Apple product by The New York Times: “We’re all going to end up with the Apple Watch. But there’s got to be another place to put it. I can’t give up precious wrist space for an Apple Watch.”

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy: Replica Rolex Air-King

Keeping with the aviation theme from last week’s article on the Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Baumuster B, we come to this week’s featured timepiece: the replica Rolex Air-King. This series is one of the longest-running production models within Rolex’s modern lineup, with only the iconic Datejust and the original Oyster Perpetual rivaling it for longevity.

The Air-King, like the Datejust, was first released in 1945 as part of a larger collection of “Air” models meant to honor the British Royal Air Force for their service during the 1930s and ‘40s — a collection that also included an Air-Lion, Air-Tiger, and Air-Giant. While the Air-King (pictured above) outlasted its three fellow “Air” watches, it was not until 1953, with the “transitional” Ref. 6552 model, and then in 1957, with the appearance of the Air-King Ref. 5500, that the model acquired its familiar modern aesthetic. Since then, the Air-King has been positioned as one of the more affordable options within the fake Rolex watches portfolio, and— after being briefly discontinued in 2014— was resurrected in 2016 as the Ref. 116900 (below).

Today’s model features a 40-mm steel Oyster case, with a screw-down crown and an accompanying oyster bracelet. On the black dial are applied white-gold numerals, with traditional 3, 6, and 9 Arabic numerals for the quarter-hour marks, and the remaining numerals increasing by increments of five in a look reminiscent of the navigational tools of airplanes; at the 12 o’clock position is an applied triangular hour marker commonly found on many pilots’ watches. Below it you’ll notice the printed replica Rolex watches logo, with accents in gold and replica Rolex wtches green, and a printed, vintage Air-King logo toward the bottom of the dial. Indicating the time is Rolex’s signature “Mercedes” hour hand and a sword-style minute hand, with another Rolex replica watches green-accented lollipop hand displaying the running seconds. The Air-King uses the automatic replica Rolex Caliber 3131, the same movement currently used for the Rolex Milgauss, which stores a 48-hour power reserve. The watch is available at retailers worldwide, with the brand currently pricing it at $6,200.

Comparing the modern watch to its vintage counterparts, there are a few noticeable similarities. These include the general shape of the of the Oyster case — a style seen on almost all replica Rolex watches since the middle of the 20th century — and, similarly along these lines, also the Oyster bracelet. Specific to both the vintage and contemporary Air-King models are two primary details: the vintage Air-King logo established in the early iterations of the piece, and the quarter-hour numeral markers for the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. While these numerals are not exactly in the same style as those on early Air-Kings — firstly, because most vintage models of the piece predominantly featured tick marks, diamonds, or some other stylized non-numerical hour markers; secondly, because the font and sizing are a bit more rounded and proportionally enlarged to the modern dial — the heritage of the watch is still recognizable.

Among the differences between the historical and modern watches, many are easily noticeable. These include the enlarged, 40-mm case, as compared to the vintage model’s 34-or-so-mm; the addition of the non-quarter-hour numerals and the triangle at the 12 o’clock mark; and other details such as the choice of hands and the green colored highlights. There’s no mistaking the contemporary Air-King as a modern replica Rolex creation rather than a direct historical homage. In my view, the modern Air-King seems more a desendant of the replica Rolex Explorer (vintage model pictured below), especially with its dial layout and choice of hands (which may partially be a result of replica Rolex sharing manufacturing between the two models, but that is, of course, a subject however this is for another article).

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