A Questionable Patek Philippe 2481 At Christie’s Hong Kong, Hidden Case Numbers And The Bigler Picture

Hiding and/or obscuring the case numbers of watches at auction is unacceptable. Not only am I totally allergic to this practice, it is also the general consensus among reputable vintage watch experts it should not be done. Personally, I would go one step further and ask the same from private dealers who are still doing this to keep themselves out of all kinds of trouble. In late 2020, this ‘malpractice’ metastasized into Christie’s Hong Kong. Some say it all started to prevent watch brands from figuring out the identities of flippers, others believe the reason is a much darker one. Whatever the rationale, the story you are about to read will show you how a Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 was presented as something historically important and unique when in reality it is nothing but a watch with a later replacement dial of questionable provenance. Since the watch was sold in Christie’s transition phase from not writing down the serials (but still visible in certain pictures) to totally obscuring everything, it was possible to google the case number and learn the same watch had been auctioned five years earlier by Antiquorum for – brace yourself – TEN TIMES LESS the amount of money (USD 200,000 vs. CHF 17,500). Oh, and Patek Philippe themselves did their part too by issuing a highly controversial “Extract from the Archives’.

Patek Philippe Ref. 2481, case number 689392

Patek Philippe introduced Ref. 2481 in 1950. With a diameter of 37 mm, it was one of the largest wristwatches ever made by Patek Philippe. Accordingly, the watch was nicknamed “King Size’. Ref. 2481 was available with the standard silvered dial and a variety of cloisonné enamel dials, depicting portraits of famous personalities, landscapes or continents, often made to special order.

The story of the present watch begins with its production in 1955. With case number 389392, it sits right in the middle of a special batch made for King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia who ascended to the throne in November 1953. From a logical point of view, the watch in question should have the appearance of the example seen on the left-hand side of the following picture but instead, it is the one depicted on the right-hand side. As you can see, there is no portrait, just a ‘Patek Philippe Genève’ logo.

Ref. 2481 – 389417 ‘King Portrait’ vs. 389392 “Ruby Dial’


A total of 150 wristwatches were manufactured over a period of two/three years following a special order from watchmaker Abdul Rahman Serour of Red Sea Trading (Patek Philippe’s Saudi Arabian agent) on behalf of the King. In addition to wristwatches, Patek Philippe also produced 200 pocket watches (Ref. 600/1) with an almost identical dial.

A set consisting of wrist and pocket watch was presented to American president Dwight D. Eisenhower during an official visit of the Saudi King to the United States in 1957.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower standing with King Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and Vice President, Washington DC, 1957


That set resides now in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

2015 – ANTIQUORUM

In November 2015, the present watch made its first recorded public appearance at Antiquorum. The watch community knows how critical I am of Antiquorum but in this particular case, the auction house was incredibly open about the true nature of this watch.

Antiquorum Lot 293 – Patek Philippe Ref. 2481, 389392


According to the auction house, the dial is a later replacement and if you know how to read between the lines, they even suggested the dial is fake (not made by Patek Philippe):

“Born with an enamel dial with a portrait, the dial has obviously been exchanged at some point so an extract cannot be ordered for this watch.”


Fetching only CHF 17,500 including buyer’s premium, the watch was clearly not met with great interest from the watch collecting community.

Auction link: Lot 293 – Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 Ruby Indexes and Pink Gold (Antiquorum)

2020 – Christie’s Hong Kong

In November 2020, the very same watch materialized at Christie’s Hong Kong but this time it was glorified as one of the rarest and most exclusive examples of Ref. 2481:

“The present watch is not only an extraordinary and unique piece in the history and evolution of reference 2481…”

Lot 2425: Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 – 389392 ‘Ruby Dial” (Photo: Revolution)


Auction link: Lot2425 – Patek Philippe. The only known and very attractive… (Christie’s)

Nowhere in Christie’s description it was mentioned the dial could be a later replacement. Instead, the ruby hour markers were described as confirmed by the ‘Extract from the Archives’. As a result, the watch fetched slighty over USD 200,000 including buyer’s premium. Under normal circumstances and featuring the original portrait dial, this type of watch would be worth between USD 40,000 and USD 50,000 at auction.

I was able to get my hands on a copy of the extract and the ruby hour markers are indeed mentioned – but only those which is weird. According to Christie’s the dial is made of enamel but enamel is nowhere mentioned in Patek Philippe’s extract.

Patek Philippe ‘Extract from the Archives’ for Ref. 2481 – 689392 from September 14, 2020


Did Antiquorum perhaps wrongly assume the dial was a later replacement and lose a lot of money in process? Highly unlikely and here is why. Ref. 2481 watches with the Saudi King’s portrait were produced in three different batches. A larger first group and two smaller ones. A total of 150 pieces were made. In addition to wristwatches, Patek Philippe also produced Ref. 600/1 pocket watches with the king’s portrait. Two batches of 100 pieces each were made.

SeriesYearReferenceCase number RangeQuantity (est.)
1st wristwatch batch19552481689321 – 689417100
1st pocket watch batch1955600/1689419 – 689512100
2nd pocket watch batch1956600/1694629 – 694716100
2nd wristwatch batch19562481696389 – 69639325
3rd wristwatch batch195624812600008 – 260002125

As the following list shows, the watch in question with case number 689392 is deeply embedded in the first Saudi batch. Up and down the ladder are either examples featuring the portrait or watches that were originally born with the portrait dial (confirmed by the archives) but had the dials swapped.

Case numberMov. NumberReferenceDial
6892127441622484Silvered
––––––––––––
6893217045432481King Portrait
6893317046612481King Portrait
6893447048012481King Portrait
6893517045642481King Portrait
6893567048052481King Portrait
6893577048062481King Portrait
6893687048182481King Portrait
6893697048192481King Portrait
6893707048212481King Portrait
6893747048332481King Portrait
6893857048642481King Portrait
6893887048272481King Portrait
6893897049512481Cloisonné ‘Lighthouse’ (in 1996 same dial as 689399 in 1998)
6893907048692481Ruby hour-markers (orig. born with King Portrait)
6893927048922481Ruby hour-markers
6893997049542481Cloisonné ‘Lighthouse’ (orig. born with King Portrait)
689406n.a.2481Silvered dial (orig. born with King Portrait)
6894147049782481King Portrait
6894157049792481King Portrait
6894177049642481King Portrait
––––––––––––
689419931207600/1King Portrait

The known case number range of the first batch extends from 689321 to 689417 which suggests a total of 100 pieces. Right after the wristwatch batch, there is a corresponding Ref. 600/1 pocket watch batch featuring almost identical enamel dials with ruby hour markers and the king’s portrait. The first publicly known case number is 689419 (only two numbers away from 689417), the last is 689512. It can be assumed this batch consisted of 100 pieces as well. A second batch consisting of at least 87 pocket watches can be found in the case number range 694629 – 694716.

Let’s take a closer look at case number 689390 which is only two numbers away from our watch and was auctioned by Antiquorum Hong Kong on October 08, 2017. As you can see in the picture below, the dial of this watch is also a ruby-set dial without portrait. It is not the same dial as the watch in question but you get the idea. The portrait of a Saudi King is not everybody’s cup of tea and was often replaced. If you look at the extract in the picture below, it clearly states the original dial case number 689390 (movement 704869) was born with.

Antiquorum Lot 259 – Patek Philippe Ref. 2481, case number 689390


Auction link: Lot 259 – Patek Philippe Ref. 2481, 689390 (Antiquorum)

Coming back to the watch in question, if we compare the ‘Patek Philippe Genève’ logo with other enamel dials from the same period and in close case number proximity (first and second generation) we can easily see differences. The most obvious one being the awkwardly ‘wide’ K of Patek but also the higher crossbar on the H and the two Es of Genève.

Comparison ‘Patek Philippe Genève’ logo


Another important detail is that enamel dials always have at least one enamel layer on the back as well. This is known as ‘contre-émail’ (counter enameling) which balances the tension caused by the enamel layers applied on the front. Without ‘contre-émail’, the dial would bend and possibly break. Let’ s have a look at some Patek Philippe enamel dials from that era to give you an idea what the back looks like. The dial below belongs to a Ref. 2526 with case number 685318 from 1954. See how there is an enamel layer on the back?

First generation enamel dial of Ref. 2526 – 685318 from 1954


Next the dial of a Ref. 2526 with case number 698273 from 1957. Again, ‘contre-émail’ on the back.

First generation enamel dial of Ref. 2526 – 698273 from 1957


One more? Here is a Ref. 2526 with case number 2603321 from 1958. Same thing as above. The ‘contre-émail’ is clearly visible on the back of the dial.

Second generation enamel dial of Ref. 2526 – 2603321 from 1958


Now let’s have a closer look at the back of the dial in question provided by Christie’s. Not sure what we are exactly looking at here but it sure does not look like the ‘contre-émail’ seen on the back of other Patek Philippe enamel dials. It is interesting to note that all of the above dial pictures were found on the website of Christie’s. They should know better. The question is also, why did they only show a close-up of the numbers ’93 672′ and not the whole back as usual?

Back of the enamel dial of Ref. 2481 – 689392


Speaking of numbers, they are dial maker marks. All of these dials were manufactured by Stern Frères S.A. (Stern Brothers), a renowned dial maker from Geneva who historically had a very special relationship to Patek Philippe. During the ‘Great Depression’, Patek Philippe got into financial trouble and as a result, the Stern brothers Charles and Jean jumped in to save the brand from insolvency. The brothers acquired the brand in 1932. Today’s Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern is the great-grandson of Charles Stern.

A closer look at the numbers, more specifically the typeface, shows the figures were stamped with a different set of punches than the dials seen above. The following comparison tells the story. The stamp on the left, belonging to the present watch, features a completely different typeface than the stamps found on Stern Frères dial from the 1940/50s era. The difference can best be seen by comparing the numbers 9, 6 and 7.

Comparison Stern Frères S.A. dial stamps 1940s – 1950s


Stern Frères S.A. manufactured dials for a variety of Swiss watch brands. For organizational purposes, the dials were marked with special codes which identified the client (watch brand) and the dial type/reference/consecutive number. 93 was Stern’s client number for Patek Philippe. Stern made also dials for Rolex. Their client number was 103. The picture below shows the back of the famous ‘Chimera’ cloisonné enamel dial of a Rolex Ref. 8651 from 1952. As you can see, the typeface used for the stamps is exactly the same as on Patek Philippe dials from that era. What is also perfectly visible is the ‘contre-émail’ layer which is necessary to keep the dial from bending.

Rolex Ref. 8651 ‘Chimera’ cloisonné enamel dial made by Stern Frères S.A.


So here we have a dial that looks nothing like the known enamel examples from the era, neither in style nor in the way it was produced. I suspect it is not even real enamel. As mentioned earlier, Antiquorum implied the dial is fake. It can be assumed that back in 2015 the auction house brought the watch to Patek Philippe in Geneva to obtain an ‘Extract from the Archives’ but the Genevean watchmaker refused due to the questionable dial.

Everybody knows how utterly critical I am of Antiquorum, especially of the current management which took over the reins in 2017, but in this case the auction house was quite honest. The only better solution would have been to reject the watch altogether. I am of the opinion that watches featuring fake parts have no place in the auction world. But that is me.

Christie’s Hong Kong was able to sell this watch thanks to the extract confirming the ruby hour markers – and only the ruby hour markers. And this is the point where a lot of questions arise. If Antiquorum could not get an extract in 2015, how did Christie’s manage to get one in 2020? Having been issued so close to the auction, which took place on November 28, 2020, the watch must have already been with Christie’s for quite some time. It is almost certain the extract was solicited by Christie’s. We know the watch belongs to the Saudi batch, so how is it possible that the extract does not state the original dial but only parts of it? Normally it would say:

Type of dial: Enamel, painted portrait of the King of Saudi Arabia, ruby hour-markers

Instead it says:

Type of dial: Ruby hour-markers

The Patek Philippe logo with the wide K is similar to Ref. 3428 enamel dials from the 1960s, although way too perfect and lacking the usual imperfections. If the dial was a later replacement made by Patek Philippe, for instance on special request of an important customer, the extract would state so in the remarks. But there is no remark. The whole situation is extremely awkward to say the least, and it sure looks like Lucy… I mean Patek Philippe “got some splaining to do”.


Rumour has it that in the early days of modern watch collecting (1980/90s) certain people within Patek Philippe could be bribed to accommodate special requests from dealers as to what kind of dial, etc. was to be stated in the extracts. This situation created apparently so much chaos in the archives, thenceforth Patek Philippe is forced to perpetuate those lies in order to keep the whole thing under the rug. I found a Ref. 2481 from the Saudi batch where the dial was swapped for an amazing Cloisonné dial (see table above). In 1996, the watch was sold at Antiquorum with its original king portrait dial but in 1998 – always at Aniquorum and this time of course without disclosing the case number – the same piece had suddenly a Cloisonné dial which according to the description was confirmed by the ‘Extract from the Archives’. Interestinlgy, in 1996 the very same Cloisonné dial was in a different Ref. 2481 from the Saudi batch only ten numbers away, always confirmed by the Patel Philippe archives. Wait, what? It certainly seems there could be some truth to the aforementioned rumours.

Thoughts

Situations like this show why it is so important for auction houses to always publish the case numbers of their lots instead of hiding/obscuring them like Christie’s Hong Kong is doing since 2021 (see picture below).

Obscuring case and serial numbers by Christie’s Hong Kong since 2021


Some watches may have been tinkered around with to increase their value as the recent Rolex Daytona Ref. 6263 ‘Oyster Sotto’ scandal from Christie’s Hong Kong has beautifully illustrated. Other watches may be stolen goods or even outright fakes. Forget about auction house specialists being the experts they pretend to be. With few exceptions, they are just sales personnel, plain and simple. Instead of withdrawing the ‘Oyster Sotto’ after it became crystal clear the watch was made-up, Christie’s Hong Kong lowered the starting price in what seemed to be an attempt to lure some gullible outsider into buying that thing. What Christie’s Hong Kong has started is a total disservice to the international watch community that should not be accepted. After years of steadily growing transparency, it is a major step backwards and created a very bad precedent. We can only hope other auction houses do not follow suit.

Thank you for your interest.

stories About Christie’s

Read more: Franken/Fake ‘Oyster Sotto’ Daytona (ROC) at Christie’s Hong Kong (Perezcope)

Read more: The Realities of the Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 1 at Christie’s Geneva (Perezcope)

5 comments

  • Just as crazy as all this behaviour, is the fact that if it had been a daft modern patek sports watch, it would have gone up by that much anyway without all the naughtiness!

    Like

  • always a pleasure reading an awaited new article from your outstanding site. reminds me so much of the beloved pioneers years of the french Timezone sub-forum and Rolex one, at very early 2000’s 🙂 thank you

    Like

  • Deep dives like these are fascinating. I am not one that enjoys mud-slinging and this is certainly not that in any way. Facts are facts and that is very uncomfortable for some. Thank you again for your diligence, it is a breath of fresh air into this thing of ours.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Lavrentivs Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s