Advertisements from the period describe the world-time complication as indispensable for the man with international interests - remaining entirely relevant to this day. There are special watches and then there are extra-special watches, this being firmly of the extra-special category. Enamelled Patek Philippe world-time watches have generally been reserved for regular customers of the brand, due to the specialised nature of enamelling and the complexities it presents. This has lead to them becoming highly sought-after by collectors, so much so, that the premium for such pieces on the grey market are often considerably above retail. The reference 1415 is where the long-standing relationship with the complication began, and while Patek didn’t have a monopoly over the invention, it has become so tightly affiliated with the brand, that it may as well have.
The world-time complication was born, like most useful things, out of necessity. The early part of the twentieth century saw a boom of invention, catering for a rapidly-developing world, following WWI. With civil aviation and global travel slowly becoming the norm, the need to have simple access to the world’s 24 timezones became a challenge for horologists to address. The basic principle for the world-time watch would be invented by watchmaker Louis Cottier; the son of a family of watchmakers working primarily with automata. The ingeniously simple solution would use an adjustable disc, or in the case of this example an adjustable bezel, with the cities around the globe dispersed appropriately. The 24-hour disc on the dial then rotates anti-clockwise over 24-hours, allowing the user to track every time-zone simultaneously with their current zone at the twelve o’clock position. This patented design became the standard for world-time watches, and would ultimately be licensed to a number of brands including Rolex, Vacheron & Constantin and Agassiz; now known as Longines today. Production of the reference 1415 was kept to a minimum, available with a ‘standard’ or cloisonné enamel dial; the latter being produced considerably less than the former. The overall production of the reference 1415, totals 115 pieces with a fraction of those featuring either a cloisonné enamel map of the world, or much less commonly, the map of Eurasia - as seen on this example.
The complication captured the attention of collectors in a major way by the 1940s, and has remained a mainstay of the Patek Philippe collection ever since. Following WWII, a group of prominent Swiss businessmen commissioned a special series of pocket-watches to be gifted to Winston Spencer Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Joseph Stalin and Harry S. Truman to commemorate victory in Europe over the Third Reich. The pocket-watch features a cloisonné enamel depiction of St. George slaying the dragon; symbolising victory of good over evil. Cloisonné enamelling is an incredibly intricate process which uses gold wires to segment sections of enamel from one another, allowing for more definitively coloured artworks. This particular example of the reference 1415 is incredibly well preserved for its age, with all its vital engravings remaining clear and sharp. Prices for the reference vary quite significantly according to rarity and condition, with a ‘standard’ dialled example reaching just north of £140,000 last year - though it’s worth noting that this was thought to be the second-ever example of the reference made, shortly after its launch in 1939. This will be the second time that this piece has featured at auction, having appeared in 2016 through Sotheby’s as a fresh-to-market, from a private collection, where it hammered for $730,000.
This beautifully preserved Patek Philippe reference 1415 with a cloisonné enamel dial will be offered through Phillips in their Geneva Watch Auction: Seven this coming May with an estimate of CHF 700,000 - 1.4M.