Exploring a fresh-to-market diamond and platinum Haute Joaillerie timepiece

At Collectability, we are on a constant quest to find something truly unique in the world of Patek Philippe. Occasionally, something of great beauty will find its way to us and this exquisite diamond bracelet watch, known as ‘The Star of Caracas’ is no exception. Made and sold in 1957 and retailed by the famed Caracas retailer Serpico y Laino we can assume it was commissioned for a high-profile Venezuelan society lady at the time. Patek Philippe ladies cocktail watches from the 1950s capture a spirit of elegance and opulence of a bygone era. Venezuela and especially its capital Caracas was enjoying a period of great wealth and economic strength during the 1950s. By 1950, when much of the world was recovering from World War II, Venezuela had the fourth richest GDP per capita on earth. Until the early 1980s, the economy was strengthened by high oil prices and was one of the most prosperous countries in South America. Serpico y Laino was well-placed to provide its privileged clientele with the very best watches and jewelry the world could provide. The ‘Star of Caracas’ represents the pinnacle of the watchmaker and the jeweler’s art, and it was obviously a treasured piece belonging to the fortunate owner and her family as it has only just come onto the market.

A star opens: the star-shaped case cover of the watch opens to reveal the delicate dial by Stern Frères. Image credit: Collectability

Such a wealthy society in Venezuela is one of the reasons why we see so many important Patek Philippe vintage timepieces appear at auction with the much sort after signature Serpico y Laino. In 1957, a highly jeweled Patek Philippe timepiece such as the ‘Star of Caracas’ would have retailed for more than a man’s complicated watch. The price reflected the amount of workmanship and resources necessary for such a timepiece. Each one of the baguette, round or marquise cut diamonds would have been hand selected for their cut, clarity, and carat.


A star is born: the magnificent watch case cover is constructed as a star with a large rose cut diamond at the center, surrounded with marquise cut diamonds and the six pointed diamond base constructed with baguette cut diamonds. Image credit: Collectability

Only the finest, Top Wesselton stones were selected. When necessary, a gem cutter would cut a stone specifically to fit part of a watch setting. No expense was spared and the opportunity to produce an Haute Joaillerie piece was the ultimate accumulation of the goldsmith and the jewelers’ skills. The diamonds are set into platinum, a further challenge for the jeweler and the bracelet maker as it is such a hard and difficult metal to work with. Weighing in at almost 12 carats, the 202 diamonds are set with a precision and beauty that remains today, the envy of both the watch and the jewelry world.

202 Top Wesselton diamonds decorate the entire length of this extraordinary bracelet watch for a carat total of 11.53. Image credit: Collectability

This ref. 3215/26P is possibly unique and previously unknown to the watch world. Highly jeweled examples of the ref. 3215 rarely come to market as they would often be a special commission and thus remain within a family’s vault for generations.

Even the back is perfect. Note how smooth and exceptional the inside finish of the bracelet is to protect delicate fabrics from pulling when worn with an evening gown. The S&L stamp can be seen on the case back. Image credit: Collectability.

The basic ref. 3215 was launched in the mid 1950s and listed until the mid 1960s. It was also sold as a simple “head” case, meaning without lugs so that a client’s jeweler could create a bespoke piece. We know that this piece was created exclusively, in-house by Patek Philippe because of the number ‘2’ after the reference number 3215/26P. Cases for the ref. 3215 versions were made by Staffelbach & Rotach (key number 15), a highly specialized jewelry maker in Geneva. Stern Frères made all the dials for these delicate watches which were either fitted with a small 6 or 7 ligne caliber. This watch is fitted with a caliber 7”’70.

Taken around the time that the ‘Star of Caracas’ was sold, this picture shows Serpico y Laino’s store on the Mercaderes 21 Stock Exchange, very close to the Gran Hotel in Caracas. Image credit: Serpico y Laino

Serpico y Laino was founded in Venezuela in 1925 by two Italian immigrants with a passion for the finer things in life. Leopoldo Serpico was a goldsmith who repaired and sold jewelry, Vicente Laino was a businessman who realized the potential of expanding the jewelry business and selling fine European watch brands. In the early 1930s, Laino negotiated with Hans Wilsdorf in Geneva to be the exclusive distributer for Rolex; Patek Philippe soon followed. Because of their exclusive relationship with Patek, Serpico y Laino was able to obtain some of the most important timepieces such as this jeweled beauty. In addition, the retailer was granted the rare honor to put its name on the dial, and initials on the case of each Patek timepiece that it sold. To be able to stamp your name on a Patek dial was an important selling point at the time for the retailer as in the early days, customers were more likely to know their local retailer than a foreign brand. If a watch had the retailer’s stamp of approval, this could be a decisive reason to buy. At auction, a Serpico y Laino signature is an added value to any piece that comes up for sale and of particular interest to vintage watch collectors. The impressive number of chronographs and time-only watches such as the ref. 2526 that have come up at auction over the years, indicates how economically prosperous Venezuela was at the time, and how successful the retailer was attracting customers that could comfortably own a jeweled piece such as this ‘Star of Caracas’. Until its closure in 1966, Serpico y Laino was the leading watch retailer in Caracas for over forty years.

If you are looking for something really special to give a loved one, or a unique piece for a collection, the ‘Star of Caracas’ is in a league of its own. This unique, fresh-to-market discovery is in exceptional condition and to recreate a diamond bracelet watch to the same quality would be almost price prohibitive today.

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