What do the Parthenon, the works of the late Swiss architect Le Corbusier and the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse wristwatch have in common? Their proportions were apparently inspired by the principles of the golden section – a ratio of approximately 1 to 1.6180 – which was first discovered by mathematicians in ancient Greece and thought to be the foundation for harmoniously balanced design.
Little wonder then that Golden Ellipse fans, such as Michael Kwan, a senior adviser with Japanese trading giant Itochu, and Paris-based watch aficionado Dan Souffir, are all praise for the timepiece – which made waves with its distinctive, rounded-rectangular form when it was launched in 1968. Kwan, who bought his yellow-gold, blue-dialled Ref. 3738/100J-012 in 2013, says: “It’s a very elegant watch, and an evergreen model that has been around for many years. I first saw a similar model back in the 1970s on a friend.”
Describing it as the “embodiment of horological perfection”, Souffir enthusiastically recalls what it was like upon seeing a Golden Ellipse on the cover of a watch magazine in 2008: “It was love at first sight. I’ve always liked classical watches. The watch was classic and simple, and the shape was very original and harmonious.” Four years ago, at a Parisian pre-owned watch shop, he found a Golden Ellipse to call his own: Ref. 3548 from 1972.
While its fans swoon over its form, the creation of the Golden Ellipse was about more than just achieving mathematically perfect proportions. As Nicholas Foulkes wrote in Patek Philippe: The Authorised Biography, the company sought to create a “readily identifiable” timepiece that could not be easily replicated industrially, at a time when “advances in mass production meant that cheaply produced watches were able to imitate the appearance of luxury timepieces with ever greater facility”.
Aside from its unusual shape, that first yellow-gold timepiece stood out with other features, such as an 18K blue-gold dial. The watch was a big hit, spawning several iterations in the 1970s and early 1980s (see timeline), from jewellery versions to horizontally oriented editions. In fact, there were 65 versions of the Golden Ellipse in the 1970s. It also became the first watch to spawn an entire accessory collection, including cufflinks, pendants, keychains and even solid-gold lighters.
A few milestones in the Golden Ellipse’s 50-year history.
1968: The Golden Ellipse is launched. Measuring 32mm by 27mm, the Ref. 3548’s distinctive form and its blue-gold dial make it a hit with watch fans of the day.