There are levels to watch collecting. Most men start with something like the always excellent Rolex Submariner and never move on from there. But for others, it turns into a deep dive down the rabbit hole where terms like “tourbillon,” “in-house movement,” and “caliber” are thrown around regularly. If one found himself at the bottom of that rabbit hole with a shovel and dug another 100 feet, he would likely come across the stainless steel Patek Philippe ref. 1518 that just became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction.
As part of its Geneva Watch Auction: Four, Phillips sold the watch above for 11,002,000 Swiss francs, which is roughly $11 million. The stainless steel ref. 1518 was built in 1943 and first sold in 1944. The reason for the exceptionally high price is a reflection of both the high quality of the timepiece and its rarity. When it was first introduced, the ref. 1518 was at the vanguard of advanced watchmaking. Integrating both a perpetual calendar and a chronograph into a wristwatch wasn’t done at the time, and this watch cemented Patek Philippe’s elite status.
Only 281 of the ref. 1518 watches were produced between 1941 and the early 1950s. Of those, the vast majority were done in yellow gold, with approximately 20 percent of that inventory was produced in pink gold. But yes, only four were made with stainless steel that are known to exist today. The watch sold at auction was the first one of those, and has a “1” stamped on the inside of the case.
The steel ref. 1518 is so rare that there isn’t even one in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, and the last time one went up for auction was a decade ago. It’s unknown who the buyer of this watch was, but should you be lucky enough to see it in person, be sure to ask the wearer what time it is.