Patek Philippe is no stranger to the chronograph complication but rather focused on modulating, refining, designing, and finishing some of the most exquisite chronograph watches of the last Century. Of course Patek wouldn't be Patek if they would have simply relied on ebauches. On the shoulders of the 31mm giant - the Ref. 96 - followed the first serially produced Patek Philippe chronograph in 1936 - the ref. 130 - based on the Valjoux 23 caliber. And what followed were over 30 years of production relying on the Reynold brothers famous ebauche.

May 08, 2024

Reference Guide to Patek Philippe Chronographs (1936-71)

  


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


  

Reference Guide & Database:

Patek Philippe Sub-Second - Center-Second - Shaped Watches - Chronographs - Cal. 12-600AT - Cal. 27-460

 

 

[Highlights] Why something so rare is so important
- Patek Philippe launched 10 chronograph-only references between 1936-1971 -
- Six of those 10 references were produced in quantities over 100 pieces -
- In total, only about 3,500 pieces left the Genevan manufacture -
- Those granted the innovative foundation for the split-second and multi-complication references we adore PP for -

 

The chronograph is a complication embedded in the history of a few established power-houses... The brands that come to mind are for example Breitling, Heuer, Universal Geneve or Movado. Nevertheless, many other manufacturers built on the accomplishments of these few bringing in movement ebauches to make this complication their own.

 

Handling the patek Philippe ref. 1579 chronograph with "Spider Lugs"Handling one of the more unusual Patek Philippe vintage chronograph pieces: A ref. 1579 with so-called "Spider Lugs". Photo Courtesy of Phillips.

 

Patek Philippe is no stranger to this strategy and focused on designing, modulating, refining and finishing some of the most exquisite chronograph watches of the last Century. Of course Patek wouldn't be Patek if they would have simply relied on ebauches...

 

1) Historical Patek Philippe Chronograph Innovations

Based on a commission Patek Philippe introduced the world's first Split-Second chronograph wristwatch in 1922 (a modulated Victorin Piguet movement). This original prototype that sold at Sotheby's New York in 2014 was the start for their first serially produced Split-Second chronograph from 1924 onwards[1-2].

 

Patek Philippe Split-Second Chronograph prototype from 1922Patek Philippe Split-Second Chronograph prototype from 1922. Photo Courtesy of Sotheby's NY 2014.

 

In 1941 followed the ref. 1518 - the world's first Perpetual Calendar Chronograph that was in production until the early 1950s and succeeded by one of the most collectible and well-known Patek Philippe references in all time, the 2499 (1950-85)[3].

 

2) Introducing the Chronograph-Only

However, here we don't want to focus on the chronograph-only wrist worn examples and not the double complications or even Grand Complications. Historically, the first classic Patek Philippe chronograph watch was born into tumultuous times. The Stern brothers took over the company in 1932 right after the Great Depression hit the market for complicated watches hard.

At the time Patek Philippe relied heavily on commision and complicated pieces but didn't reach the "mass market" with their products. To simplify their product line the Genevan watch manufacturer introduced their famous ref. 96 - The original Calatrava - in 1932[4], a manifesto to simplicity. And on the shoulders of this 31mm giant followed the first serially produced Patek Philippe chronograph in 1936 - the ref. 130 - based on the Valjoux 23 caliber. And what followed were over 30 years of production relying on the Reynold brothers famous ebauche[5].

 

wrist shot of a vintage Patek Philippe ref. 130 chronograph in goldProbably The prototypical elegant chronograph wristwatch from the last Century - Patek Philippe's ref. 130. Photo 1946 ref. 130 in yellow gold Courtesy of WindVintage.

 

3) Patek Philippe Chronograph Wristwatches - A Guide (1936-69)

Frankly, there aren't that many Patek Philippe chronograph references introduced during the middle of the last Century. And basically only 8 models, an additional 3 split-second lines and another 2 unique references are known to us.

 

Ref. 130

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1936-54
    Production: 1500 (270 steel)
    Movement: 13-130 (Valjoux 23 base)
    Specifics: 33mm (33.5 steel), Vichet case
    Source: Revolution, Phillips NY '23 

 

Ref. 130 Monopusher

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1924-30*
    Production: 30
    Movement: 13''' (Victorin Piguet)
    Specifics: 33mm, *commissioned
    Source: Phillips Gen '23

 

Ref. 530

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1937-62
    Production: 140 (85YG, 30RG, 10 steel)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 36.5mm (Vichet), Tonneau (21.5mm) & Calatrava (19mm) lug width
    Source: Phillips HK '24

Ref. 533

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1937-57
    Production: 350 (215 RG, 125 YG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 33mm (Vichet), flat bezel
    Source: Phillips HK '21

 

Ref. 591 'Fagiolino'

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1938-47
    Production: 100 (60 RG, 40 YG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 34mm, bean lugs
    Source: Sotheby's Gen '24

 

Ref. 1463 'Tasti Tondi'

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1940-69
    Production: 740 (145 RG, 67 steel)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 35.5mm (Borgel/Taubert), fluted pushers
    Source: Hairspring

 

Ref. 1491

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1942
    Production: 1 (commission piece)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 35mm (Markowski), Lyre lugs
    Source: Christie's Dubai '19

 

Ref. 1506

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1941-42
    Production: 7* (4* YG, 3* RG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 36mm, multi-facetted lugs
    Source: Christie's Gen '04, Phillips Gen '15

  

Ref. 1554

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1942
    Production: 3 (3 RG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 36mm, hinged hooded lugs
    Source: Antiquorum Gen '05

  

Ref. 1579

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1943-64
    Production: 470 (250 YG, 185 RG, 3* PT)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 36mm (Wenger), Spider lugs, 2 dial series (1st 1943-49; 2nd 1950-64)
    Source: Christie's HK '23

J.P. Ecoffey's Unique Piece

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1963
    Production: 1 (1 WG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 40mm (JPE), ref. 1463 dial
    Source: Christie's Gen '23

 

 

4) Split-Second Chronographs 

Ref. 1436

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1938-71
    Production: 140 (120 YG, 8* RG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 33mm (Vichet), ref. 130 case
    Source: Sotheby's Gen '24

 

Ref. 1563 'Tasti Tondi'

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1938-71
    Production: 3 (3 YG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 35.5mm(Borgel/Taubert), fluted pushers
    Source: Christie's Gen '13

 

Ref. 2512

Unique 1950s Patek Philippe ref. 2512 Split-Second Chronograph

    Period: 1950
    Production: 1 (1 YG)
    Movement: 13-130 (VZ23)
    Specifics: 46mm, ref. 5070 origin
    Source: Antiquorum Gen '96

 

 

5) Conclusion

So the question remains: How important have chronograph watches been for 20th Century Patek Philippe? Because ultimately, we're speaking of only ~3,500 pieces that left the holy halls in Geneva over that 30+ year period (1936-71). That is around only 100 chronograph watches produced annually. In comparison over a similar period Patek Philippe manufactured about 1,500 complicated calendar watches and multi-complication pieces.

Given the exponentially more intricate construction of these calendar watches just a little over 2x the amount in "pure" chronographs seems a little low. We can further add that only 6 references were made in 3-digit quantities (1 split-second) out of the 13 documented here.

 

Wrist shot of a vintage 1960s Patek Philippe ref. 1463 Tasti Tondi chronograph watch with ebony dialThe pinnacle of chronograph design - the Patek Philippe ref. 1463 in yellow gold. Photo Courtesy of Herschmann Ascona & Hairspring Watches.

 

So what is it about Patek Philippe that makes their chronographs so special? They've never been them most common, the best-selling chronographs. It's naturally not the first brand to fathom in the the realm of stopwatches, yet their contribution can't be neglected.

People might think of the ref. 1463 as the most beautiful chronograph watch ever conceived - I hold the Movado M90/95 with in-house caliber and compatible case construction (all the way to the pusher, compare [here]) against this argument. This isn't enough (imho).

 

flatlay of a Movado M95 chronograph in yellow gold with Borgel caseThe cases were more angled - giving off a sportier vibe - but were still made by Borgel/Taubert as well. And these wear just so darn well, too. Photo Courtesy of Hairspring Watches.

 

Yet, what makes Patek Philippe chronographs so special are not the watches or the name by themselves. The Patek chronograph transcends the single complication and it's importance can only be understood as the foundation for some of the most complicated, most striking and most collectible watches out there. You might say that a ref. 130 is "just a beefed up Valjoux 23 in a Calatrava case"... But without the 130 there wouldn't be any ref. 1518 - the very first Perpetual Calendar Chronograph - launched in 1941. Look beyond the single watch and the historical relevance of these "mere" 3,500 pieces becomes evident!

 

wrist shot of a vintage 1940s Patek Philippe ref. 1518 Perpetual Calendar ChronographOne of the most important Haute Horlogerie watch launches of the last 100 years - the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Photo Courtesy of Phillips.

 

 

References

[1] In-Depth: A Detailed Survey of the Split-Seconds Chronograph and Its Cousins; PH Zhou, Hodinkee [Link]

[2] The Complete Guide to Vintage Patek Philippe Chronographs; Wei Koh & Alexandre Ghotbi, Revolution Watches [Link]

[3] Patek Philippe Ref. 1518: The Complete Guide; Lorenzo Rabbiosi, Italian Watch Spotter [Link]

[4] Less Is More - The Patek Philippe Ref. 96; Tania Edwards, Collectability [Link]

[5] The Reymond Brothers and Their Chronographs - A Guide to the Valjoux 23/72Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage [Link]

 

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