Diary of a Patek Philippe collector – What is a watch icon? (26th September 2020)

Last week I started a new theme that looked at Patek Philippe icons. One question that I probably should have addressed beforehand is exactly what I mean by the word “icon.”

The dictionary holds several different meanings for the word. The closest dictionary definition is probably given as “a person or thing that is revered or idolized.” However, in the context of watches, I think it is probably a good idea to be a little more specific in terms of how I intend to use the word.

Last week’s blog started with the Ref. 3700A. The Ref. 3700A was the very first Nautilus and the watch that launched the entire Nautilus range. For Patek Philippe, I feel very few cognoscenti would dispute the use of the word icon when it comes to this watch. However, there are really very few watches that can boast the type of “reverence” or “idolisation” that accompanies the Nautilus. Take the Ref. 2499, for example. I would suggest that many Patek Philippe collectors would argue that this is one of the finest watches ever made. So, is it an icon?

Many people consider the Ref. 2499 to be the finest watch ever made. A combination of style, complication and perfect balance. With just 349 watches made in this reference, it is also one of the rarest production watches in Patek Philippe history. Is it an icon?

The watch created no new technical innovation. It was not the first perpetual calendar chronograph. Nor was it made especially famous by any particular owner (like the Rolex Daytona Paul Newman). If you showed a Rolex collector a picture of a Nautilus, there is a good chance that he would recognise the watch as a Nautilus. Show the same Rolex collector a picture of the Ref. 2499 and the chances are that he will not recognise the watch. Show quite a few Patek Philippe collectors a Ref. 2499 and many would not recognise it. So is it an icon?

Well, for the purposes of future blogs on icons, I am going to use the following rules to define what I mean. To be an iconic watch requires at least 3 of the following 5 rules to be in place.

  1. A very high level of recognition from Patek Philippe collectors
  2. Of historical importance within the history of Patek Philippe innovations
  3. Capturing and embodying the ethos and/or style of the manufacturer
  4. A specific rarity value
  5. Factor X

OK, I understand that this is, by definition, a subjective list but I think it is a reasonable framework. From the list, it can be seen that the Nautilus Ref. 3700A ticks many of the boxes. Possibly all five. The Ref. 2499, for example, would qualify with 3 out of 5 (not saying which until I decide to blog the ref. 2499…..).

I would like to invite any opinions as to the five factors I have included and welcome any suggestions as to what other factors might be included under the icon framework. My intention is to create an icon list of 5 historical watches and 5 more modern watches. I would also be interested to hear any suggestions regarding what collectors believe should be included and why.