October 2021 5 Min Read

The Curious Case of the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse Lighter

By Felix Scholz

Every so often, collecting Patek Philippe throws up some interesting items: desk clocks, chrono quartz timing devices, even Limoges ceramics. There’s a thriving ecosystem of ephemera that has built up around this legendary brand – and one of the most unusual and uncommon objects within this world is the Golden Ellipse lighter.


Produced in the late 1970s into the early 1980s and in very limited numbers – estimates range between 200 and 400 – the Golden Ellipse lighter was a product of a different era. Not only were norms around smoking vastly different, but it was a turbulent time for luxury in general and the watch industry specifically. The Swiss were in the midst of the quartz revolution, and the broader landscape and demographic of the luxury consumer was diversifying, in step with wider social change and the emergence of new wealthy elites.

The iconic, ovoid-shaped Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse, upon which the Golden Ellipse lighters are based.

For Patek Philippe, it was also a time where they broke out of the circle. The Nautilus was a few years old, and the ovoid Golden Ellipse – its shape informed by the Golden Ratio – had been around since 1968. It was a distinctive enough form that Patek Philippe billed it as more than just a watch, offering signet rings, key fobs and, of course, lighters.


John Reardon, one of the leading experts on Patek Philippe, has this to say on the significance and scope of the line: “The Ellipse design was the first time Patek Philippe created a product line of accessories around a shape. This ‘family’ included more than 100 Patek wristwatch reference design variations from the 1960s through to today, as well as a wide range of accessories.

“The brand actively extended its product line in the late 1970s and early 1980s into non-watch items. For men, cufflinks, tie-clips, rings, keychains, and lighters were the Patek Philippe objects of choice. In the midst of the quartz revolution, Patek Philippe brought in-house some of the greatest craftspeople of the era, and there were only so many watches that the company could produce, but the jewellery offered a diverse canvas for these engravers, jewellers and enamellers to showcase their craft and artistry.


According to Reardon, the lighter, with its large form factor and relatively blank canvas, was the perfect object for artistic expression. Patek Philippe ran with these attributes, creating a wide range of styles. The Golden Ellipse lighters, which were literally solid gold ovals, were offered in a yellow and white gold, with hand-finished decorations – chevrons, stripes, or a pattern the brand called ‘Ocean’. In addition, they offered enamelled versions as well, with a barleycorn motif visible behind red, blue, or green enamel. And, of course, Patek Philippe being who they are, monograms or motifs were customisation offerings. It’s because of this we have several known examples of Ellipse lighters bearing the Omani flag in enamel, such as this example on offer from Christie’s.

An example of an Ellipse lighter bearing the Khanjar sign, courtesy of Christie's.

While Patek Philippe used their finishing skills on the exterior of the lighter and even checked and hand-finished the mechanism in house, they did not build an entirely new lighter from the ground up. They worked with a specialist maker – Colibri. Alan Bedwell, the antiques and vintage accessories expert behind Foundwell, explains why this may not have been a pairing that was up to Patek Philippe’s famously high standards. “To be honest, I have heard negative stories about the Golden Ellipse from a functioning perspective,” he says. “Colibri supplied the lighter element. They were a very average maker. The brand has been around for years, but they were a lot more ‘mass market’ than the higher-quality, blue-chip makers such as S.T. Dupont, Dunhill, and Caran D’Ache.

'For men, cufflinks, tie-clips, rings, keychains, and lighters were the Patek Philippe objects of choice. In the midst of the quartz revolution, Patek Philippe brought in-house some of the greatest craftspeople of the era, and there were only so many watches that the company could produce, but the jewellery offered a diverse canvas for these engravers, jewellers and enamellers to showcase their craft and artistry.'

John Reardon

“[Colibri] have always been popular and produced a wide selection of models, as well as making elements for a number of luxury companies at this time. I believe their elements have been supplied to brands such as Gucci and Hermès for their gas table lighters. They also supplied the gun for the Bond movie Man With The Golden Gun.”

The eponymous golden gun from the Bond movie, courtesy of Retrozap.

For Bedwell, the Colibri-made mechanism limits the market appeal of these lighters, but the quality of the case and the power of the Patek Philippe brand makes up for it. “I’ve handled one, and the quality of the make is as you would come to expect from Patek – it has a thick gauge and it’s beautifully finished,” he adds. “But I usually stick to brands known for their expertise in certain fields. They do not really appeal to lighter collectors. They are certainly very handsome in their design, and the outer cases are very well executed. But people who want to use them may become frustrated, therefore they may be considered to be more art objects.”


Regardless of the merits of form over function, the reality is that the Golden Ellipse lighters are as desirable as any other vintage Patek Philippe. Reardon notes a jump in popularity. “Over the past three years, we have seen impressive demand publicly at auction for these lighters,” he says. “Supply is low and demand is growing. To date, fewer than 60 Patek lighters have surfaced publicly.”

A white-gold Golden Ellipse lighter, surrounded by vintage advertisements for the Golden Ellipse wristwatch and other lighters.

Scarcity, beauty, and curiosity make for a powerful combination and, for Reardon, it’s compelling. “Now more than 40 years old, these lighters are considered the ultimate Patek Philippe vintage accessory,” he adds.


Alexandre Ghotbi, Head of Watches, Continental Europe and Middle East for Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, agrees that demand is strong. “These lighters were considered as curiosities and something fun to have, but their appearance on the market is rare,” he says. “Prices have risen quite a lot in the past and vary depending on the decorative elements on the lighter. The most coveted is the enamelled versions made for Sultan Qaboos of Oman, bearing the Khanjar symbol. We sold one in November 2020 for close to £42,000, which is quite a hefty sum.”

Ellipse lighters from the collection of Jasem al Zeraei, courtesy of Hodinkee.

The times have changed since the era of the Golden Ellipse lighter – not least in the fact that smoking is far less prevalent, making a solid-gold lighter even more of a luxury than it would have been in 1978. What hasn’t changed, though, is the strength of the Golden Ellipse design, inspired by the perfectly mathematical proportions of the Golden Ratio. This deceptively simple and objectively pleasing shape is as appealing as ever. The tactility of the form of a heavy gold lighter, finely finished and inherently valuable, makes the charms of this object apparent to anyone. Add to this the name of Patek Philippe, and the fact that these objects are far rarer than many of their watches, and these lighters are a sure fire hit.

We would like to thank John Reardon, Alan Bedwell, and Alexandre Ghotbi for sharing their insight on the history of these curiosities.

Further Reading

Why the Patek Philippe Ellipse Matters
May 2021 13 min read
The Rise of Neo-Vintage Watches
July 2021 19 min read
Why Patek Philippe Has Always Cared About Quartz
March 2021 7 min read