By now, you’ve probably heard about the top lots from the upcoming Phillips sale. The Bao Dai, the stainless steel 6062, and the Patek 2523/1. Their rarity, their condition, and the high estimates that Phillips has been placed on these watches automatically make them the highlights of the auctioneer’s next sale. Their status also makes them incredibly popular during previews, and, sure enough, when I arrived at Phillips in London to preview the May sale, these were already on a tray with a small group of collectors huddled around them in one corner of the room. I’d come back for them in a bit, I figured.
Opposite them, on the other side of the room, near the beautiful bay windows that look out onto Berkeley Square, I noticed one solitary gentleman snapping pictures of a Calatrava. Since I know only one man who would visit Phillips on a Monday during lunchtime and instantly recognized the Leica D-Lux pointing in the direction of the watch, I thought I should see what had caught my friend’s eye. But before I could say hello, he turned around and instantly I knew he’d rather I wasn’t there.
No, Arthur. Don’t even think about coming near this one. You’re not going to be giving it any coverage.
Those are the words of a man who has made up his mind. Clearly, this was his personal favorite, and I could see why. The Calatrava he was busy photographing, lot 112 of the sale, is one of three stainless steel Patek Philippe reference 565 available and it’s absolutely stunning.
The Patek Philippe Reference 565
Patek Philippe launched the ref. 565 and Ref. 570 simultaneously in 1938, six years after the first Calatrava, and both new models had a lot in common. Both were 35mm, making them significantly larger than the ref. 96, and both retained the timeless, honest elegance of the Calatrava. But they were significantly different in other ways.
While the ref. 570 was produced predominantly in gold, its objective clearly being to build on the success of Patek’s classic dress line, the ref. 565 went in another direction and addressed the needs of a new clientele. Ref. 565 was one of the first Patek Philippe wristwatches to be made in series with a stainless steel case. It was introduced during an era when gold watches were in fashion and precious metals were certainly thought of as better investments. So these watches had to offer something else. And they did.
First of all, the ref. 565 had a screw-down caseback, making it the first large water-resistant Calatrava, and the watch provided better resistance to magnetic fields than most thanks to a soft iron inner case. These traits are the reason why people like Briggs Cunningham picked a stainless steel ref. 565 over the more luxurious ref. 570. These watches could be enjoyed whatever the circumstances, and so their owners could be as carefree as one could be in the 1940s with a Calatrava.
One reason I find these watches fascinating is the variety of styles in which they come. Very rarely have I seen the same ref. 565 twice, and my reaction to them is almost always different. In fact, I don’t like all 565s equally, but that’s kind of the point with this watch.
Ref. 565 Owner Roni Madhvani On What Makes This Reference So Special
"In terms of my particular 565, the rare combination of the dial elements goes a long way for its lure. In terms of comparing it to other Calatravas, I feel the case design of the 565 is as relevant and as attractive today as it was in the early 40s: even the case size in my mind stands the test of time."
Patek Philippe didn’t set itself too many rules when it came to making the ref. 565. Many came in steel, but some were made in gold. Some featured Arabic numerals, others occasionally had Roman numerals, and traditional Calatrava indexes even got the nod sometimes too.
The majority had a seconds hands at six o’clock, but again, there are exceptions – Patek also made examples with central seconds. During its 14-year production run, the original reference 565 would receive only one movement update, at the very end, when Patek decommissioned caliber 12’’’120 and replaced it with caliber 12’’’400. Same thing with the other version. Introduced in 1939, the watch would feature only two movements, caliber 12 SC and, from 1949 onwards, caliber 27 SC (the SC stands for seconde centrale, or central second).
The Breguet Dial Reference 565
Lot 112 is one of the Breguet dial variety, which are undeniably the most popular. This one has a beautiful creme dial and luminous baton hands, features in which Patek obviously still places a lot of faith, given their somewhat unexpected comeback at the upper end of Patek’s current line-up. There’s also a sub-dial at six o’clock for the seconds and a chapter ring around the edge of the dial.
It’s one of the more unusual ref. 565, but it isn’t unique. A few others like it have been sold at auction. Christie’s sold a couple, the first in 2009 and the second just this past year, for $46,030 and $69,527 respectively. Others have traded privately too.
What makes this particular ref. 565 jump out is the condition of its case, which is one of the best any similar ref. 565 that I know exists. That said, the condition of the dial shows that at some point the watch was sent back for a regular service and a clean – the comma and the accent in Patek’s signature are no longer visible – but this was a pretty regular occurrence for watches from that period. It’s something to be aware of, but not something to worry about too much. The lugs are still very full though and the case looks to be untouched.
There are a few other ref. 565s coming up at auction this May. Christie’s is offering a gold ref. 565 with central seconds and Arabic numerals at three, six, nine, and 12. The estimate for that watch is $20,173 to $30,259.
And, of course, Phillips is offering three models, all of them very different. Besides the one we’ve just discussed, lot 112, there is also a pink gold ref. 565 with gold Breguet numerals and a center seconds mechanism, and a stainless steel model ref. 565 retailed by Serpico y Laino. That one has an extraordinary two-tone dial, and it’s expected to perform the best out of the three. It most probably will.
The stainless steel models both carry higher estimates than the gold ref. 565, which Phillips is currently projecting will sell between $29,700 and $49,500. Phillips has placed an estimate between $29,700 and $59,500 for the Breguet dial ref. 565, while the model retailed by Serpico y Laino is estimated between $49,500 and $99,100.
This little ref. 565 may not be the most representative of the Calatrava overall, but it proves, once more, that there is nothing more beautiful than a really great vintage Patek. It also presents a rare opportunity to acquire a wristwatch that has a hint of the new ref. 5320G without jumping full-on into a modern perpetual calendar. It’s simple, it’s never going to go out of style, and this gem from the 40s can handle a modern lifestyle just as well.
I’m not saying it’s going set the world alight. I expect another watch – selling just 19 watches prior to this one – will do that instead. And, in fact, I suspect another ref. 565 will do even better than this one on the night. But when Aurel Bacs swings his gavel one last time, and talk of the Bao Dai once again fills the room, one person will be feeling quietly satisfied about their new watch.
The Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: Five will take place on May 13-14, 2017 in Geneva. The stainless steel Patek Philippe ref. 565 with Breguet numeral dial and luminous hands is lot number 112. You can read more about this lot and see the rest of the watches in the auction, on the Phillips Watches website.