An Inside Look at Christie’s Highest Performing Watch of 2018

What caused a Serpico y Laino-signed Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 to blow past its estimate and reach $3.3 million?

When the Serpico y Laino Ref. 2499 sold for CHF 3,252,500 (almost $3.3 million) in our Nov. 12, 2018, Rare Watches sale, it not only became the highest price achieved for Christie’s watches in 2018, it also set a new benchmark in my personal passion for complicated Patek Philippes from the 1950s.

This impressive first series Patek Philippe reference is distinguished by its superb original condition, and, most notably, the signature SERPICO Y LAINO, CARACAS. To date, no other Ref. 2499 retailed by Patek Philippe’s representative in Venezuela, Serpico y Laino, is known to exist. Given the extraordinary price it achieved, let us consider each of the elements that made this watch truly exceptional – and extraordinary valuable.

Reference 2499 – Patek Philippe’s Benchmark Grand Complication
Widely acknowledged as one of the most important watch models ever created, Ref. 2499 has strongly influenced the designs of many of the world’s most renowned brands. Introduced to the market in 1950, it replaced the legendary Ref. 1518, the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch with moon-phase and chronograph made in series. The dial design used for the Ref. 1518 continued in later references and still does to date. It has the now classic layout of two windows for day and month in the upper half, the subsidiary chronograph registers at 3 and 9 o’clock, and moon-phase and date at 6 o’clock. For nearly 50 years, Patek Philippe was the only watch manufacture producing such a complicated timepiece.

Rarity – Only 349 Watches Made in 35 Years
Over a period of 35 years, Ref. 2499 was produced in four series with a total run of only 349 pieces. The first series Ref. 2499 is generally acknowledged as the rarest and most desirable model. Its production was started by the same master watchmakers when the last examples of Ref. 1518 were finished, resulting in a smaller production number than the following three series produced on their own.

Retailer Signatures
Only a small group of retailers – companies who were or still are prominent in their country or region – are allowed to add their name to a Patek Philippe dial. The most famous is arguably Tiffany & Co., a name that still appears on some of the firm’s watches today. The Ref. 2499 sold in the Nov. 12, 2018, auction in Geneva is the only known example, all four series combined, to feature the signature ‘Serpico y Laino Caracas’ on the dial and the stamp “S.&L. 18K” on the caseback.

The firm Serpico y Laino was founded in 1925 by two young Italian immigrants, Leopoldo Serpico, a jeweler, and Vicente Laino, a gold-smith. With wealth levels in the country rising on the back of the post-WWI oil boom, Serpico y Laino set about looking for goods to sell to the newly affluent sections of the population. Initially focusing on jewelry, the duo soon expanded into watches and became the exclusive distribution agent for Rolex in Venezuela in the 1930s. Shortly after, other brands were added and the firm was appointed the sole authorized retailer for Patek Philippe in the country. In 1966, after 40 years of flourishing business, Serpico y Laino closed its doors as the leading watch retailer in Caracas.

Superb Original Condition
In today’s vintage watch market, condition is of utmost importance. The more original the condition of a timepiece, the greater its appeal to collectors.
This first series 2499 ‘Serpico y Laino’ has not undergone any cosmetic enhancements or cleaning on the dial; its case is unpolished. The dial shows minor spotting from age but has preserved its original finish, highlighted by the accent over the second ‘E’ in Genève, and the raised hard enamel signature and scales. The color has changed over time to a charismatic ivory tone, further underlining its untouched condition.

A Remarkable Find
This first series Ref. 2499 was a sensational and significant discovery in the world of collecting vintage watches. Originally purchased by the consignor’s late father in the early 1960s, it was entirely fresh to market before the November 12 sale. To date, no other Ref. 2499, all four series combined, that was retailed by Patek Philippe’s retail partner in Venezuela, is known to exist. The rarity is furthermore enhanced by the fact that this is the earliest identified Ref. 2499 case produced by Wenger, the notable case supplier, so far.

Just like many watches, this model’s provenance is an embodiment of the late owner’s hard work. He left his home country of Italy as a young man in the early 1950s to immigrate to Venezuela, just as the founders of Serpico y Laino had, some three decades earlier. After difficult early years, he prospered in his retail business and his dream came true in the form of the present watch. It is unknown if it was purchased directly from his compatriots at Serpico y Laino or from a possible first owner, but it was undoubtedly his treasure, carefully kept and cherished for nearly 60 years.

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