Eric Clapton’s Patek Philippe White-Gold 5970 with ‘Brick’ Bracelet

Eric Clapton’s Patek Philippe White-Gold 5970 with ‘Brick’ Bracelet

One of the best things that has transpired over the last two years is my close friendship with a gentleman who has asked to remain semi-anonymous for the purpose of this story because of his profile as a collector.

We met thanks to a recommendation made by Auro Montanari for dinner in Singapore, and immediately hit it off. My friend is tall, suave and has a penchant for relaxed Italian tailoring worn in that irrepressible way of truly stylish men. He is not only one of the most significant watch collectors in the world, but his divestment of two of the world’s most iconic watches — the Rolex ref. 6062 “Bao Dai”, which sold for over USD5 million, as well as a steel Patek Philippe ref. 1518 which achieved CHF11 million in 2016 — has helped establish Aurel Bacs and Phillips as the pre-eminent auctioneer and fine vintage watch auction house of the new millennium. To say that this gentleman sets a high horological watermark when he’s around, is perhaps one of the greatest understatements of all time.

Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph ref. 1518 in stainless steel with moon phases, applied Arabic hour markers, tachymeter scale and bracelet, which sold for CHF11,002,000 with Phillips during their Geneva Watch Auction: FOUR in 2016 (Image: Phillips.com)
Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph ref. 1518 in stainless steel with moon phases, applied Arabic hour markers, tachymeter scale and bracelet, which sold for CHF11,002,000 with Phillips during their Geneva Watch Auction: FOUR in 2016 (Image: Phillips.com)
Rolex historically important yellow gold automatic triple calendar wristwatch with moonphases, black dial and diamond indexes, ref. 6062 formally the property of the Last Emperor of Vietnam; watch sold with Phillips at their Geneva Watch Auction: FIVE, in 2017; watch sold for CHF5,066,000 (Image: Phillips.com)
Rolex historically important yellow gold automatic triple calendar wristwatch with moonphases, black dial and diamond indexes, ref. 6062 formally the property of the Last Emperor of Vietnam; watch sold with Phillips at their Geneva Watch Auction: FIVE, in 2017; watch sold for CHF5,066,000 (Image: Phillips.com)

For the purpose of this story, we shall call him H. From time to time, H dispenses horological and sartorial advice to me, which I am always pleased to receive. So it was with some amount of curiosity that I awaited his arrival at Patek Philippe’s Watch Art Grand Exhibition held in Singapore last year. Never one to disappoint, H showed up with a fantastic white-gold Patek Philippe ref. 5970 on a “brick” bracelet with Breguet numerals. It’s interesting, of course, because there are no regular-production versions of the iconic Lemania 2310-based, CH27-70-driven perpetual-calendar chronograph made by Patek. In fact, H’s watch formerly belonged to the man most associated with bringing Breguet numerals to Patek’s perpetual-calendar chronographs: Eric Clapton.

The fact that these indices became the signature leitmotif of Clapton’s special-order watches, speaks volumes for his taste and understanding of Patek Philippe’s history. Because ever since Patek first introduced the perpetual-calendar chronograph in the ref. 1518 in 1941, there has been no perpetual-calendar chronographs with Breguet numeral dials. The Breguet numerals only staged a reappearance on the dial of the ref. 5170 chronograph, and later, the ref. 5370 split-seconds chronograph. Such dials are found in the most coveted examples of the vintage chronographs ref. 130 and ref. 1463, as well as their split-seconds versions, the ref. 1436 and ref. 1563. A Breguet-numerals dial, which is universally viewed by collectors as the most beautiful variant of these models, adds a very considerable premium to the value of the watch.

Patek Philippe ref. 130 steel chronograph with Breguet numerals (Image: John Goldberger)
Patek Philippe ref. 130 steel chronograph with Breguet numerals (Image: John Goldberger)
Patek Philippe ref. 1463 steel chronograph with Breguet numerals and Tiffany stamped dial (Image: John Goldberger)
Patek Philippe ref. 1463 steel chronograph with Breguet numerals and Tiffany stamped dial (Image: John Goldberger)
1946 Patek Philippe ref. 1436 yellow gold split second chronograph with Breguet numerals (Image: Sothebys.com)
1946 Patek Philippe ref. 1436 yellow gold split second chronograph with Breguet numerals (Image: Sothebys.com)
1947 Patek Philippe ref. 1563 gold split second chronograph with luminous Breguet numerals dial (Image: Christies.com)
1947 Patek Philippe ref. 1563 gold split second chronograph with luminous Breguet numerals dial (Image: Christies.com)

So it makes absolute sense that the ever-astute Clapton would ask for these numerals on his pièce-unique watches. We’ve seen that the Breguet numeral is normally limited to the 12 o’clock index in his ref. 3970 and ref. 5004 watches, but why is that?

Well, these watches have a relatively small case size of 36.7mm, so the space on the dial is already limited. Now add to this the fact that Clapton always ordered his watches with the inclusion of a tachymeter, which regular-production ref. 3970 and ref. 5004 watches don’t have, and the available space on the dial is considerably reduced. Incidentally, the tachymeter is a great inclusion, as it references both the ref. 1518 and ref. 2499 first- and second-generation watches, which are the most collectible Patek perpetual calendar chronographs of all time. But once you add the Breguet 12 and the tachymeter, the available space is only adequate for baton markers or, in the case of Clapton through a stroke of genius, applied dot markers.

Why do I consider this a stroke of genius? Because if you look at Patek vintage chronographs such as the ref. 130 and the ref. 1463, you will see that in general, these dots are combined with Roman markers, especially a Roman 12 o’clock index. But this unusual combination of a Breguet 12, dot markers and tachymeter made for what I consider the most handsome dial combination of all time.

Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a white gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with special salmon tachymetre dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock (Image: phillips.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a white gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with special salmon tachymetre dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock (Image: phillips.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a pink god Patek Philippe ref. 3970 erpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with a silvered tachymeter dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock (phillips.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with a silvered tachymeter dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock (phillips.com)
The accompanying paperwork that lists the former owner of the unique pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 pictured above as the one and only Eric Clapton
The accompanying paperwork that lists the former owner of the unique pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 pictured above as the one and only Eric Clapton
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 5004 perpetual calendar split seconds chronograph wristwatch with a special black tachymetre dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock; the watch is presently the property The Hour Glass permanent collection (Image: phillips.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 5004 perpetual calendar split seconds chronograph wristwatch with a special black tachymetre dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock; the watch is presently the property The Hour Glass permanent collection (Image: phillips.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a platinum Patek Philippe ref. 5004 perpetual calendar split seconds chronograph wristwatch with a special blue tachymetre dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock (Image: phillips.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a platinum Patek Philippe ref. 5004 perpetual calendar split seconds chronograph wristwatch with a special blue tachymetre dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock (Image: phillips.com)

Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz was clearly inspired by Clapton when it came to his own special-order watches. He basically got the same watches, but with Roman 12 o’clock indices, and he added luminous hands and markers, which, because of space limitations, fell into the minute track.

Formerly the property of Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, a yellow gold Patek Philippe ref. 5004 perpetual calendar split seconds chronograph wristwatch with special luminous black dial and applied Roman numeral at 12 o'clock (Image: phillips.com)
Formerly the property of Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, a yellow gold Patek Philippe ref. 5004 perpetual calendar split seconds chronograph wristwatch with special luminous black dial and applied Roman numeral at 12 o'clock (Image: phillips.com)

Patek, too, must have also loved these dials because they used the Eric Clapton configuration on the ref. 3970 watch created in a rumored five pieces for the London Watch Art Grand Exhibition in 2015. Although the configuration they selected — rose gold with a black dial with a Breguet 12, applied dot markers and tachymeter in white print — was not used in any previous Clapton ref. 3970, it was used in the aforementioned ref. 5004, which was sold in 2016 and today resides in Singapore’s The Hour Glass’s permanent collection.

The pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with special black tachymeter scale balck dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock; only 5 of these were produced by Patek Philippe for their 2015 exhibition in London (Image: phillips.com)
The pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with special black tachymeter scale balck dial and applied Breguet numeral at 12 o'clock; only 5 of these were produced by Patek Philippe for their 2015 exhibition in London (Image: phillips.com)

When the Patek Philippe ref. 5970 was introduced in 2004, Clapton was suddenly offered an exciting new possibility, and that came down to one big difference between the 40mm ref. 5970 versus the 36.7mm ref. 3970/5004: available dial space. The ref. 5970 offered significantly more dial real estate than its predecessor, which meant that even though the watch already came standard with a handsome bold tachymeter, Clapton could commission a watch with a full set of applied Breguet numeral indices. (When I say “full”, I mean 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 11 and 12, as the watch’s sub-dials encroach on the space normally occupied by the 3,5,6,7 and 9 indices.

And that’s exactly what he did — but this time, he didn’t order just one watch, but a set of four ref. 5970s, all with Breguet numeral dials and fitted with brick bracelets in matching metal, one of the most coveted special-order upgrades around. It is important to understand that in the context of the history of the perpetual calendar chronograph, “brick” bracelets were never sold separately by Patek Philippe and could only be part of a special order for very important customers. Indeed, it is only with the ref. 5270 in 2018 and the ref. 5204 in 2016 that these bracelets made their way into the regular production lineup. But the point is, back in the context of 2006, you had to be The Man to order a watch with a brick bracelet; you had to be a legend to order a watch with a special dial; and you had to be… well, basically Eric Clapton to order four ref. 5970 watches, all with Breguet numerals and all with “brick” bracelets.

These watches were configured as follows: a white-gold watch with a silver dial and black rhodium indices and hands; a pink-gold watch with a white dial. The note that the configurations of the remaining two are unknown publicly as it is only the aforementioned two, that have publicly appeared in auction

Paper work accompanying the unique Patek Philippe ref. 5970 white gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon-phases, Breguet numerals and bracelet, formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton; this timepiece was sold with Sotheby’s Hong Kong, in 2018 (Image: Sothebys.com)
Paper work accompanying the unique Patek Philippe ref. 5970 white gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon-phases, Breguet numerals and bracelet, formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton; this timepiece was sold with Sotheby’s Hong Kong, in 2018 (Image: Sothebys.com)
Unique Patek Philippe ref. 5970 white gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon-phases, Breguet numerals and bracelet, formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton; this timepiece was sold with Sotheby’s Hong Kong, in 2018 (Image: Sothebys.com)
Unique Patek Philippe ref. 5970 white gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon-phases, Breguet numerals and bracelet, formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton; this timepiece was sold with Sotheby’s Hong Kong, in 2018 (Image: Sothebys.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 5970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with a white dial and applied Breguet numerals (Image: sothebys.com)
Formerly in the collection of Eric Clapton, CBE, a pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 5970 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with a white dial and applied Breguet numerals (Image: sothebys.com)

If you think about this, Clapton must have put in his order for these watches shortly after they were introduced in 2004, meaning that he very quickly saw the design potential to execute his dream dial. He must have also been so excited that he ordered four of them at a time. Note that the bracelets are detachable, and the watches were also worn on straps by Clapton, as seen in this image here.

Singer, musician Eric Clapton wearing what is likely his unique Patek Philippe 5970G with applied Breguet numerals, and amusingly a Bathing Ape t-shirt; here Clapton was at the Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 11, 2010 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Singer, musician Eric Clapton wearing what is likely his unique Patek Philippe 5970G with applied Breguet numerals, and amusingly a Bathing Ape t-shirt; here Clapton was at the Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 11, 2010 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
As you can clearly see, the Breguet numerals on the ref. 5970 are taller and thinner, while the font used for the smaller watches is more compact, thicker and a little more squarish. I cannot think of a cooler and more appropriate guy to own this masterpiece than my buddy H, and it makes me happy to know it ended up with him.
Eric Clapton’s Custom, Breguet-Numeral Patek Philippe Ref. 5970G (©Revolution)
Close up on the dials and those Breguet numerals of Eric Clapton’s Custom, Breguet-Numeral Patek Philippe Ref. 5970G (Image © Revolution)
Chronograph pushers on the sides of Eric Clapton’s Custom, Breguet-Numeral Patek Philippe Ref. 5970G (Image © Revolution)
Eric Clapton’s Custom, Breguet-Numeral Patek Philippe Ref. 5970G (Image © Revolution)
Eric Clapton’s Custom, Breguet-Numeral Patek Philippe Ref. 5970G (Image © Revolution)

At some point, Clapton started to divest of some of his watches, though there is no clear understanding of exactly which other watches he might have still kept. You can see the listing for the pink-gold ref. 5970 watch from this set of four which was sold at Sotheby’s, here.

The pink-gold watch sold for CHF405,000, while the white-gold watch was sold at Sotheby’s in 2018 and achieved HKD4.92 million (about USD635,000). So imagine my utter delight when my buddy H came strolling into the hall of Patek Philippe’s Watch Art Grand Exhibition with this exact white-gold watch on his wrist.

Since I had the opportunity to examine and photograph this amazing ref. 5970 up close, I decided to craft this story around it. I was struck by how stunning it was and also by the fact that it seemed to have actually been lovingly worn by Clapton. If you look at the condition of the ref. 3970s and ref. 5004 sold at Phillips, those look comparatively unworn. The other interesting thing was that the Breguet numerals used on Clapton’s ref. 5970s are totally different from those used on his ref. 3970 and ref. 5004 watches.

As you can clearly see, the Breguet numerals on the ref. 5970 are taller and thinner, while the font used for the smaller watches is more compact, thicker and a little more squarish. I cannot think of a cooler and more appropriate guy to own this masterpiece than my buddy H, and it makes me happy to know it ended up with him.

The Breguet numerals used on Clapton’s ref. 5970s are totally different from those used on his ref. 3970 and ref. 5004 watches; you can clearly see, the Breguet numerals on the ref. 5970 are taller and thinner, while the font used for the smaller watches is more compact, thicker and a little more squarish

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