Swiss watchmaking legend Jean-Claude Biver, who recently stepped back from full time running of LVMH Group’s Watch Division, has been on a world tour since retiring, evangelising about Swiss watches and giving people a chance to see his personal collection of favourite timepieces.
At every stop on the tour, he is asked whether any of his watches are for sale, and it appears he his resistance has finally weakened because four of his prized Patek Philippe pieces are going to auction with Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo at its Geneva Watch auction: XI in May.
If all four watches were to sell at the top end of the auctioneer’s pre-sale estimates, the collection would swell Mr Biver’s retirement fund by CHF 6.6 million ($6.8m).
The watch’s association with one of the Swiss watch industry’s most respected and charismatic advocates is likely to push prices even higher.
Mr Biver has collected watches throughout his 45 year career in the Swiss watch industry, and has a particular passion for Patek Philippe, despite never working for the company.
He once described how, when he was working at Audemars Piguet, he wanted to buy Patek Philippe, adding: “When I couldn’t, I started collected their watches.”
The four Patek Philippe timepieces, described by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, are:
Ref 96HU Worldtime from 1937
Each brand can bring forth at least one watch model which, either due to its stylistic language or to some specific and/or unusual complication, can be considered the embodiment of the philosophy of the company. When it comes to Patek Philippe, the worldtime complication is indisputably one of the “hallmarks” of the brand. This is not because Patek Philippe has some sort of monopoly on this complication; on the contrary, many contemporary and vintage timepieces sport the feature. However, no world time watch of any other brand has ever evoked such strong feelings in the collecting community. Patek Philippe presented its first world time wristwatch created in series in 1939 under reference 1415, but it had created a few pre series and prototype versions the years prior. The present reference 96 is in fact one of these ultra-rare pre-series prototypes of which only two are known, made in 1937 to most probably test the market, making it not only a historically significant timepiece but also one of the rarest world time models ever made by Patek Philippe. Unknown to the market, it first appeared in 2011 when it was purchased by Mr Biver. The other example is in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
Estimate CHF 300,000 – 600,000
Reference 1518 in pink gold with rare pink dial from 1948
A monumental model, reference 1518 was the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch ever produced in series when it was introduced in 1941. According to research, only 281 examples were manufactured until the reference ceased production with a majority made in yellow gold. Pink gold reference 1518s were most often fitted with a silvered dial. It was only on very rare occasions that they were fitted with pink dials. So rare is this variant that only 13 examples of reference 1518 are known with a pink dial, making it one of the most exclusive complicated Patek Philippe wristwatches for a collector to acquire. The present watch appears on the market only for the second time, Mr Biver being the second owner since new.
Estimate CHF 1,200,000 – 2,400,000
Rare and well preserved Reference 2499 second series from 1957
Launched in 1951, the reference 2499 was the direct successor of the reference 1518 and came with more sporty round pushers and a larger 37.5mm case. The second series like the present watch, was offered either with Arabic numerals or applied batons as well as with a tachymeter scale. The second series reference 2499 is so rare that very few examples have graced the international auction market, and in fact only 20 examples in yellow gold with applied batons, like the present example, are known.
Estimate CHF 1,000,000 – 2,000,000
One of only three known platinum Reference 1579 from 1946
This incredibly attractive and well-preserved reference 1579 is one of only three vintage Patek Philippe chronographs cased in platinum. It is unknown why Patek Philippe decided to use platinum for this reference and only for three watches, but it is interesting to note that the three watches have consecutive serial numbers and different dials, making each piece unique. The present watch is the last of the three made and differentiates itself from the other two with its scale and markets in blue, giving the watch an incredibly vivid modernist appeal.
Estimate CHF 800,000 – 1,600,000
Aurel Bacs, senior consultant Bacs & Russo and Alex Ghotbi, head of watches, Continental Europe and Middle East, jointly say: “We are delighted that Phillips Watches’ friend and member of the Advisory Board Jean-Claude Biver has entrusted us with these four amazing Patek Philippe watches to be sold in our upcoming Geneva Watch Auction XI. Their rarity, condition and relevance are a tribute to Jean-Claude Biver’s immaculate taste and scholarship. A collector at heart, his collection and tastes are always evolving thus his desire to pass on these watches after over a decade of ownership. Jean-Claude is more than an industry titan, he has changed the face of watchmaking as we know it today. His knowledge of classical watchmaking has allowed him to always be one step ahead and the four timepieces we have the honour of presenting in our Geneva auction are milestones in watchmaking history.”