Every once in a while a brand does something unpredictable, unexpected, or simply crazy. An entire case made of sapphire, a power reserve that mimics a dog’s jaws opening and closing, movement gearing that isn’t just exposed, but moves with the display of time. These are the bigger, bolder leaps taken by brands less vested in tradition, but even the more hallowed maisons take chances and risks from time to time, pushing back against their own commitments to. While it may not seem like it now, some 80 years after its debut, the Patek Philippe 1579 is just that type of watch.
The Patek Philippe 1579 came along at a time when the world was changing. World War II was in full swing and the Art Deco movement was ebbing as modernists took center stage—watches were not at the top of anyone’s mind. But when the 1579 was introduced in 1943, everyone who was interested in such things (and presumably a few who weren’t, but were looking in the right direction at the time) stood a bit stunned. Here was a watch with a for-the-time massive 36mm case, striking dial, and lugs that defied description (though would quickly become known as “spider” lugs). The 1579 started with an enamel dial with printed stick markers and an applied 12 and 6, but from 1950 to 1964, Patek started using silvered matte dials with applied indices in place of the batons. During its entire 21-year production run, it is estimated that fewer than 500 examples were made, with most offered in yellow gold cases; a scant 82 were made in rose gold, as seen here (even rarer are the seven stainless steel models, three platinum models, and two two-tone models). Making this model even more special, it’s double-signed by the famed Italian retailer Gobbi.
At a quick glance, the Patek Philippe 1579 is simply another gold vintage chronograph from one of the finest watchmakers in the world. A more thorough look, though, reveals an array of details that make it stand out against modern and vintage pieces alike. The most pronounced feature of the watch are its “spider” lugs: exaggerated polished facets and tall, brushed sides define these angular protrusions. The 18k rose gold case is further distinguished by a sloped bezel that lacks any curvature at all. In fact, the 36mm case of the 1579 is defined by its angles and faceting, as opposed to the softer, round edges of its contemporaries. Even the chronograph pushers along the thin 11.5mm profile are blocky affairs. The crown at three o’clock is certainly round (and quite tall), but even it is made sharp by its crisp ridged grip texture. In fact, to see even a semblance of the gentle lines that usually defined watches of the day, you have to roll the watch over to the rose gold snap-on caseback, which is convex, though flat at the apex with brushing.
Under an acrylic crystal with a pronounced dome is the silvered matte dial. Let’s start at the truly unique factor here, the double signage, with Patek’s name at the top and Italian retailer Gobbi’s at the bottom. More specifically, “Gobbi, Milano.” Raimondo Gobbi opened his workshop in 1842 in Modena and was shortly thereafter appointed Clockmaker to the Royal Court. In 1892 the shop moved to Milano, and in the 1930s, Raimondo’s grandsons began the transformation into one of Italy’s leading watch and clock retailers. It wasn’t just any retailer that could emblazon its name on a Patek dial, after all.
While the Gobbi text is intriguing, this dial has a lot more to offer. The second generation dial features applied square rose gold hour markers with faceted pyramidal tops, while matching 12 and 6 numerals are applied in their respective locations. The primary handset features leaf-shaped rose gold hands, while the chronograph hands are blued. Two sunken registers provide a bit of depth to the dial: running seconds at 9 and 30-minute chronograph at 3. Note the font, though: its quite a contemporary, curvy font without angles, and it contrasts beautifully with the sharpness of the case. Surrounding it all, just outside the curve of the crystal, is a base 1000 tachymeter scale.
The Patek Philippe 1579 features the Caliber 13-130 manual winding chronograph movement. This movement was based on a Valjoux 23 ebauche. This caliber was used in a number of classi Pateks, including the 130 and 1463. Of course, being Patek Philippe, the ebauche is heavily modified and decorated to the brand’s standards, with perlage, anglage, and Côtes de Genève. The column wheel caliber has 23 jewels, a swan neck regulator, shock absorbing device, and a bimetallic balance; it has a power reserve of around 42 hours and beats at a rate of 18,000 vph, which was common for movements of the time. (Here’s a fun tidbit: in 1996, Patek found 16 unused 13-130 calibers as it was moving headquarters, which it then restored and cased into a highly limited release, the 3670A.)
Versus the Competition
Let’s start with an easy one: a modern Patek Philippe chronograph, the platinum 5170P. This model is 60 years junior to the 1579 at hand, and demonstrates that Patek has evolved, even if incrementally. The gorgeous sunburst blue dial shows that Patek likes to have a bit of fun, and the offset subdials is a signal that the brand now makes its movements entirely in-house. There’s a lot to love here, and at a similar price to the 1579, it’s no easy decision.
The Vacheron Les Historiques 1955 Cornes de Vache is one of my all-time favorite chronographs. The lugs echo the 1579 lugs, but are more pronounced and less angular, while the dial is far more modern, with its white base, blue font, and baton hands. For me, this is as close to ideal as a dress chronograph can get.
Of course, it’s hard to discuss any chronograph alternatives without at least a cursory mention of the chronograph. No, not the Rolex Daytona—the Omega Speedmaster. While collectors may ooh and aah a bit more at the Daytona, history is on the Speedmaster’s side. It went to space! This particular example from 1967 has everything you’d want from a vintage Speedy: manual wind 321, hesalite crystal with the logo etched, dot over 90, sunken subdials, and the lyre lugs.
An appreciation of finer things, the old ways, and relative edginess will suit well the wearer of the Patek Philippe 1579. Its spider lugs were bold for the time and the watch itself is a product of the age in which it was produced, but is rather tame by contemporary standards. This is for those who appreciate a story even when the watch doesn’t speak for itself.
Patek Philippe is a brand that is entrenched in tradition, which means it doesn’t tend to do many things outside the box. Except for its most complicated timepieces, it maintains a rather staid design language, and when people are surprised or wowed, it’s usually by subtle elements, not some bold innovation. That’s the case with the historic Patek Philippe 1579, a watch that wowed on its introduction due to a few subtle elements, and continues to wow today for the same reason.