Lot 829, Patek Philippe Ref. 3587/2 Beta 21. A very rare, attractive and oversized yellow gold cushion-shaped quartz wristwatch. Estimate HK$180,000 - 300,000
There is a strong tendency for modern collectors, and, it must be said, from many of the fine watchmaking brands in the industry, to look down on quartz calibers. Of course, one can’t vaunt the merits of the hand-finishing on these electronic movements, or the skill that the watchmakers require to assemble them. These are characteristics though that we only came to truly appreciate after the quartz revolution, which took a few years to gain pace, starting from the late 1950s when electronics development affected many industries around the world. The Swiss watch industry did not take very long to react, establishing the Centre Électronique Horloger (CEH) in 1962, a collaborative effort led by 20 of the major Swiss brands, including Patek Philippe, which recognized that the Japanese and American companies were working in earnest on their own developments, with an aim to use the high-tech aspect of electronics and quartz to make significantly more accurate watches than what was generally possible through mechanical means alone. The event that shook the industry was the launch of the first production quartz wristwatch, the Seiko Astron, in late 1969. The CEH’s Beta 21 quartz movement was already in existence, but it would not be commercialized until a few months later, in April 1970, at the Basel Watch Fair, with numerous Swiss watchmakers using it to equip their entries into the quartz watch marketplace. We tend to forget though that this was very much the cutting edge of technology in that era, and therefore, production in large quantities was not a given; even the Seiko Astron would only see limited numbers delivered. The overseas companies though became much more adept at advancing and producing the quartz movements, and over the next two decades, the Swiss watch industry’s slower pace of development led to a severe decline, until a stroke of genius elevated the mechanical movement from a functional device to an example of the ingenuity and artistry of the watchmaker.
Patek Philippe, as highly esteemed then as it is today, was one of the early adopters of the Beta 21, and from the early ‘70s produced a number of iterations of its reference 3587/2. The craftsmanship exemplified in the case and bracelet are typical of the finer examples of Swiss watchmaking, and the reference’s place in history is undeniable. While today, quartz movements have become easily manufactured, they are still eschewed by the fine watchmaking brands, with extremely few of them having even dared to introduce new quartz calibers in recent years. This tends to draw us even more to the 3587/2, for it will forever remain a very rare piece, and an undeniable talking piece amongst watch enthusiasts.