For the first time, Collectability will be presenting an in-depth series on Patek Philippe commemorative timepieces. There are many important and iconic limited editions in Patek’s catalog of exceptional timepieces and we want to give each collection the attention it deserves. In some ways, the term ‘limited edition’ is misleading and at Collectability, we prefer to call these special timepieces ‘commemorative editions’. The reason is that most celebrate a specific event in either the history of Patek Philippe, or the history of a retail partner. Each collection captures a time, place and specific date in a positive and precious way, making each timepiece a special commemoration.
We will commence this series with the first Patek Philippe limited edition, a collection that many may not have heard of, but it started a trend that is now part of most watchmaker’s production schedules. Interestingly, the first limited edition was not to commemorate an important time in Patek Philippe’s history, but to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Federal Shooting Competition held in Lucerne in 1979. The timepieces were commissioned by the Gübelin firm of Lucerne and consisted of 100 hunter case dress watches and 50 hunter case pendant watches. One dress watch was given to the winner of the men’s competition, and one of the pendant watches was given to the winner of the lady’s competition. Two other timepieces were given to the Patek Philippe Museum and the rest were sold through Gübelin.
Shooting competitions in Switzerland, also known as Schützenfests (“marksmen’s festival”), once played an important part in the Old Swiss Confederacy and were pivotal in maintaining democracy within the new Swiss Federal State. The first Swiss Federal Shooting Festival was held in 1824 and numerous competitions have continued to this day. Traditionally, commemorative silver coins are made for these competitions and for the 50th anniversary in Lucerne, a coin depicting legendary folk hero William Tell was minted. One side of the coin features Tell crouching barefooted with his crossbow as he prepares for the assassination of his nemesis Albrecht Gessler; the other side depicts the famous “Apple Shot” from Tell’s bow through an apple on the top of his son’s head as ordered by Gessler. The dramatic, relief images for the coin were designed by Hans Erni (1909 – 2015) a Swiss graphic designer, painter, illustrator, engraver and sculptor born in Lucerne. His prolific output includes designs for 90 postage stamps, 25 medals, lithographs for the Swiss Red Cross, plus he illustrated over 200 books to name but a few.
Both the 18K yellow gold commemorative ref. 898 men’s dress watch and the ref. 897 ladies’ pendant watch feature the same engraving of William Tell on the case cover that Hans Erni designed for the commemoration coin. The front of the men’s watch cover is stamped “William Tell with his Crossbow” after Hans Erni, and the back is stamped: “The Apple Pierced by the Arrow” after Eric and Jean-Pierre Monnier. The front of the ladies pendant case is stamped “William Tell with his Crossbow” after Hans Erni, the back is not engraved. The men’s 47.9 mm dress watch features a caliber 17-170 movement, and the ladies 33 mm pendant watch features a caliber 215. The dials of both references are painted white lacquer with black Roman numerals and Louis XV hands. Included with both the men’s and the ladies’ timepiece is an exquisite, hand-finished solid 18K gold chain. Each timepiece is individually numbered and accompanied by a special, limited edition certificate produced by Patek Philippe for Gübelin. It is this certificate that differentiates the series and categorizes it as the first official limited edition timepiece from Patek Philippe.
Very few pieces of the 100 men’s dress watches have appeared at auction, most recently watch number 81 fetched a total 18,579 USD at Christie’s Geneva, 2017. Rarer still is the appearance of the ladies pendant watch with only one ref. 897 appearing at auction in 2004 in Hong Kong. It is particularly unusual for a dress and pendant watch to be produced with a chain and if they come together on the open market are certainly worth considering as an addition to any collection.
In our next article in this limited edition series, we will look at the 150th Anniversary collection by Patek Philippe from 1989, arguably the commemoration timepieces that changed the collecting world of watchmaking forever.
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