The present lot marks an momentous occasion in the vintage wristwatch collecting world. Appearing on the market for the first time from an important private collection, this is the first time in over 15 years that a Ref. 1415 featuring a map of Eurasia has been offered at auction, and the first time in over 20 years that an unknown example has appeared. In a market where 'unknowns' are increasingly uncommon to encounter, Sotheby's is honored to present such a historic and rare example, and furthermore one whose technical and aesthetic merits surpass every example in its category. The storied tale of the Heures Universelles legend here reaches its summit: its future owner will know the connoisseur's joy of its rarity and complexity, and the simple pleasure of gazing into the tonal azures of the dial's enamel seas.
Indeed, of the eight Ref. 1415 HU DE (heures universelles, décor émail) wristwatches to have come to the market, only two, inclusive of the present example, have featured the extremely rare Eurasia map, whereas the other six featured the more common world map. The other known example, movement number 964809, one digit off from the present example, was offered first at Antiquorum in 1994 and later recycled back into the market by Christie's in 2000.
Ref. 1415 was first launched in 1939, and it was not until 1948 that the first enamel dials appeared for this model. It is estimated that the small number created were produced only for five years. According to our research, this feature was fitted to fewer than one-quarter of the examples created in total, with esteemed enamelers Nelly Richard or Marguerite Koch being commissioned for the work. The underside of the dial is clearly stamped on the contre-email with the movement number for this watch, 964808, a further mark of the precision of each part being matched together in the Patek Philippe atelier before its original sale.
A period advertisement for the watch noted, "For men with international interests, it is indispensable." Indeed, the world time mechanism is one of the greatest successes of watchmaking, and Patek Philippe's contemporary offerings, such as Refs. 5110 and 5131, and are clearly inspired from these early models.
The 'Heures Universelles' function of Ref. 1415 operates via the rotating bezel. When the bezel is rotated so that the home city is at the 12 o'clock position, and the watch is set to the local time zone, the 24-hour indication adjusts automatically so that one can see the current time in 41 world cities. Because the case, dial, and movement are all integral to the technical function of the watch, Louis Cottier, who was the creator of the World Time, supervised the production of each element.
Louis Cottier (1894-1996) was born in Carouge and attended the Horological School of Geneva before going to work for his father and horological mentor Emmanuel Cottier (1858-1930). Like his father, Cottier was a very talented mechanical genius and went on to develop numerous patents that changed the face of watchmaking. Reacting to the realities of the Great Depression, Cottier saw a niche in high-end watchmaking and focused his talents on the development of complicated watches. Foremost among these discoveries was his development of the world time mechanism in the 1930s. This invention would inspire some of the most iconic Patek Philippe complications.
It is interesting to note that the present example, like many of Cottier's inventions, lists London and Paris on the same time zone, Greenwich Mean Time. On June 15th, 1940, Paris converted to Central European time due to the war. For many years, it was thought that Paris would eventually revert back to GMT, and there are Patek Philippe 'Heures Universelles' watches and wristwatches from as late as the 1970s which still list Paris and London on the same time zone.
For further examples of Ref. 1415 and other Louis Cottier Heures Universelles inventions, see Huber, A. & Banbery, M., Patek Philippe Wristwatches, pp. 243-245. See also Patek Philippe Museum, Vol. II, Geneva: 2014, p. 342-345.
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