As the watch collector community has grown, so has interest in watch auctions. Despite the increased interest, increased amount of auctions, and so on, it seems increasingly rare that a watch comes up for auction that actually feels special. Generally, everything now feel a little diluted. I believe the first watch that I really remember there being significant talk around that felt special was the Bao Dai Rolex. The Bao Dai, a unique Ref. 6062, sold most recently in 2016 by auction house Phillips for a little over 5,000,000 USD. To demonstrate the drastic change in the watch collector community in recent years and the effect it’s had on market prices, the same watch was sold by Phillips in 2002 for only 235,000 USD, resulting in about a 21x price increase in only 14 years. Interest in watches has definitely skyrocketed in the last decade, and that comes with both good and bad consequences. That being said, for the first time in a while, Christie’s will be auctioning off a watch very soon that I think should stand out in what’s become a heavily saturated auction market.
The watch Christie’s will be auctioning is the Patek Philippe 3843/1G, a unique watch commissioned by a client of Patek’s that was eventually delivered in 1994. Before going into the rest of the watch, we need to stop at the most unique feature of this watch: its crystal. Instead of using a sapphire crystal, the entire crystal of this watch is made from natural diamond. The diamond was cut into what is known as either a lasque or portrait-cut diamond with a final carat weight of 13.43ct, resulting in what is likely the third largest portrait-cut diamond in the world. When this watch was originally commissioned in 1990, the client provided Patek Philippe with the large triangular diamond that would be used as the crystal. Unlike most watches, rather than the crystal being designed to fit the case, the 3843’s case was designed to fit the crystal, which explains why the watch has an unusual triangular shape. If you look at the picture below, you’ll notice that on the edges of the crystal there are two visible rows of facets, which are especially visible towards the corners of the dial where there were more cuts made on the diamond to give it its triangular shape.
When it comes to properties of the diamond crystal itself, aside from just adding a massive boost in terms of rarity and value to the watch, diamond ranks higher than sapphire on the Mohs hardness scale, so this crystal will be more scratch resistant than a sapphire one. I don’t expect anyone to be wearing this watch while doing anything active, but there’s still always the possibility of an accidental scratch and this watch would have the best chance of any watch to hold up against a potential crystal scratch. In addition to its hardness, using a diamond crystal is supposed to allow for enhanced dial visibility. I can’t say for sure what that exactly looks like without seeing it in person, but I’d assume the sunburst blue dial would be more vivid than that of something comparable, such as a modern-day blue dial Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse. The dial, made of gold and finished in a sunburst blue, was made special for this watch by Stern Frères to take full advantage of the optical properties of the diamond crystal.
Turning to the rest of the watch, the 18kt white gold case features a pronounced crown protruding out of its right side. I’m assuming the blue, domed portion of the crown is a sapphire cabochon, but that’s just a guess. It’s not the most visible from pictures here, but it looks similar to a blue sapphire cabochon that Cartier would use on one of their watches. The most interesting part of the case is apparent once the watch is opened and we can see inside the caseback. First, we see that the movement used is a circular Patek Cal. 177, a manual-wind movement. It would have been neat if there was some way for Patek to have created a triangular movement, but that would have been a much larger undertaking for what likely was thought to be a one-off case design. Turning to the inside of the caseback though we see a number of engravings. First off is the unique reference number for this watch, “3843 1”. Second, in the center we have two engravings: the first being the year it was commissioned, “1990”, and the second being “D. 13,43 CT”, a reference to the weight of the diamond crystal used for the watch. I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen an interior marking like that from Patek that references a specific stone. It’s a small detail, but small details make watch collecting fun, and this is definitely a rare, possibly unique, small detail. As no other bracelet would fit the custom case shape, a custom 11-piece integrated bracelet in white gold was created specifically for this watch by Atelier Réunis.
The digital copy of Patek Philippe’s Certificate of Origin accompanying this watch dates to January 18th, 1994. Although the watch was commissioned in 1990, it took in the range of three to four years for the watch to finally be completed and delivered to the client. The certificate also references the watch being a unique piece, and is signed by Philippe Stern, former head of Patek Philippe who handed the company over to his son and current president, Thierry Stern, in 2009.
As times have changed, auctions apparently have too, as the one this watch will be a part of is a digital auction done entirely online. The auction, called “Watches Online: The Dubai Edit”, goes live on October 5th at 8am GST and will run through October 19th at 12pm GST. Christie’s has estimated that the watch will fetch a final selling price of somewhere from 1-2 million USD. Please click here for more details on the watch and to see other lots in this upcoming auction.