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  • Manufacturer: Patek Philippe
    Year: 1953
    Reference No: 2523
    Movement No: 720'301
    Case No: 306'193
    Model Name: Two-Crown Worldtime, "Eurasia", "Silk Road"
    Material: 18K yellow gold
    Calibre: Manual, cal. 12'''400HU, 18 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: With three custom made Patek Philippe leather straps: brown, yellow and pistachio.
    Clasp/Buckle: 18K yellow gold pin buckle
    Dimensions: 36mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, movement and buckle signed by maker, enamel disc signed "LC" by watchmaker
    Accessories: Accompanied by Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming produciton of the present watch with cloisonné enamel dial representing Europe in 1953 and its subsequent sale on December 7, 1954

     
    • Catalogue Essay

      PLEASE NOTE THIS LOT IS OPEN ONLY FOR BIDS BY PHONE OR ABSENTEE

      “Grail watch”. Arguably, it is difficult to find a more abused term in the world of watch collecting, but this is the one instance where the word can be used with its original undiluted meaning: the present watch is - simply put- one of the most sought-after, unobtainable, attractive and fabled timepieces in the world; few parallels can be drawn in terms of pure watchmaking importance (at least in the realm of serially produced watches, without considering watches with historic provenance or Pièces Uniques), but jewels such as the black dial diamond numerals Rolex reference 6062 or the Patek Philippe steel 1518 come to mind: this is truly horological endgame.

      Phillips is proud to introduce to the world the "Silk Road" 2523: the earliest ever made Patek Philippe Cloisonné reference 2523, a previously unknown masterpiece with dial representing Eurasia.

      HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

      Due to the unrestrained aesthetic attractiveness of the watch, a single glance is enough to understand we are in the presence of something well beyond a “usual” important timepiece, but an in-depth analysis of the history and construction of the watch helps to shed further light on its “Ultimate Watch” status.

      The complication is defined by the presence of two rings: a fixed - but adjustable - one with the 24 time zones, and a second 24-hour ring, usually divided in nocturnal and diurnal halves for easier readability, revolving counterclockwise. This simple but brilliant system allows for the correct time for each city to be read on the respective adjacent segment of the 24-hour ring: a true Columbus’ Egg of watchmaking.

      The worldtime complication is a direct consequence of the advancements in the field of communication technology. While today it is rightfully identified as a traveller’s complication, its original purpose was in fact more “static”; the earliest examples do not even have a system to adjust the time zone. In its first conceptualisation, it meant to allow people with international business/interests to track simultaneously the time everywhere in the world. Imagine being PanAm CEO in the 1950s, and having to place consecutive calls (a real-world situation, since the mid first half of the past century) to your Tokyo, Rome, New York and Sydney offices. Knowing what time it is in each city helps you avoid calling someone out of office hours or during the night. That is why watchmaker Louis Cottier developed the system in the 1930s, when intercontinental telecommunication was beginning to be more commonplace. Very early in it’s evolution, however, the revolving city ring was introduced, thus “consecrating” forever the worldtime as a traveller’s timepiece.

      Reference 2523 is in fact the final step (in vintage wristwatches) of a refinement process that had begun two decades earlier. The very first Patek Philippe examples of the system involved a fixed city ring (as mentioned, without the possibility of easily changing the local time zone) and were executed as practically one-off -pieces such as reference 515 (as rectangular model), two modified examples of reference 96 (96HU), and references 542 and 1416, two 3-piece series, probably market tests - together with a prototype series of three 1415 examples - for commercialisation.

      The first serially produced model was reference 1415, featuring a diminutive 31mm diameter and a revolving bezel, allowing user-friendly change of time zone. In fact it proved itself quite successful - for such a new and unorthodox model - with about 115 pieces made mostly during the 1940s.

      The evolution of ref. 1415, reference 2523 is miles away from its ancestor in terms of design. It features an oversize-for-the-time 36 mm case, two crowns (one to set the city ring) and a city ring which becomes integral part of the dial rather than being engraved to the bezel (a “bead and notches” system allows for the city ring to smoothly snap into place at each time zone, a detail which highlights the attention Patek Philippe reserved to this model).

      It would seem that such elaborate and refined aesthetics - which make the timepiece so iconic and attractive nowadays - were too ahead of their time: reference 2523 was in fact a commercial disaster, and consequently production was very limited. A slightly modified version (ref. 2523-1) was lunched as well, but with no different outcome.

      The importance of this model is well recognized by the brand itself: 3 examples are housed in the Patek Philippe museum. That more or less equals to 10% of the total production, making this model the one with the highest ratio of examples present in the museum vs examples made, among serially produced references - though “serially” is more than an euphemism, considering they were mostly handmade by Cottier.

      LOUIS COTTIER
      Born in Geneva in 1894 to automata-maker Emmanuel Cottier, Louis Cottier was consequently in contact with watch/automata-making since the very beginning of his life. He was formally trained in watchmaking at the École d’Horlogerie in Rue Necker, Genève. During these years, he was classmate with Edouard Wenger - celebrated casemaker and lifelong friend - and trained under watchmaker Henri Hess, whom he held in the highest of regards. He will later recall “In 1908, we (Edouard and I) were side by side in the class of Herni Hess. … None (other teacher) has left such a deep and lasting mark as Henri Hess did.”

      After school, he worked for Jaeger until 1931, when the Great Depression had him loose his job and subsequently set up his own shop in Geneva at 45, Rue Vautier. It is with the introduction of the worldtime system that same year (patent no. 270085) that he made his name immortal. In fact, the inspiration for the idea came from his father’s unsuccessful attempt at tackling the same problem. When introduced, the worldtime complication was a truly novel complication, with a completely new aesthetic layout and which address a previously non-existent need. The novelty effect was in fact a success, and companies such as Vacheron Constantin, Agassiz (today known as Longines), and Rolex were also among Cottier's clients.

      In 1947, he moved to 20, Rue Ancienne and began to industrialise and improve his production methodology. It is during these years that he acquired the trust of Rolex’s founder Hans Wilsdorf to the point that, also thanks to the recommendation of horological historian Alfred Chapuis, he was appointed curator of his collection, a post most congenial to him also due to his love for history. He was in fact also a dedicated scholar of Genevan History, and his renown in the field was so high that important collectors would go to him asking not only for restorations, but also for historical researches on their timepieces. Furthermore, he was also a talented painter and aquarellist.

      He kept on developing new horological solutions, mostly for Patek Philippe, such as the present two-crown update to his worldtime system (1950); a 1954 wristwatch with double dial but single movement (a world’s first) and 1958 linear hour watch (which is the inspiration for the contemporary Urwerk’s “Cobra” timepieces).

      His final contribution to watchmaking history comes in 1959, when he patented the jump-hour travel time system found on Patek Philippe reference 2597.

      He passed away on September 16, 1966 in Carouge, the Geneva neighbourhood where he lived and worked for virtually his entire life.

      TECHNICAL ANALYSIS

      MOVEMENT:
      The overall execution of the timepiece is, from a purely technical standpoint, absolutely extraordinary.

      The watch is powered by one of Patek Philippe’s most reliable “time only” movements of the time, 12 lignes calibre 12’’’400, personally modified by Louis Cottier - the inventor of the world time system. The legendary watchmaker in fact insisted for personally executing the final assembly of every single piece (and to hand-make the hands) of the production.

      Going beyond the usual Patek Philippe quality, the restricted production output and the differently decorated dials meant that each one of these watches was treated practically as a Pièce Unique - the most important components of the movement and dial hand-finished and univocally linked to each watch: in fact, a movement number can be found on virtually all the main parts, including: 24 hour disc (movement number stamped to the underside, and then last 2 digits repeated on the metal ring with the toothing), city ring (hand-engraved to the underside), toothed gear for the city ring (hand-engraved to the upper-side), movement (both sides), and of course to the underside of the enamel disc together with Louis Cottier’s monogram LC.
      The case number is present, beyond inside the caseback as usual, also on the inside of the bezel (last 3 digits hand engraved twice, in Roman numerals and in Arabic numerals) and is also stamped to the movement bracing.

      CASE
      Made by Geneva-based Antoine Gerlach - poinçon number 4 in a Key - it is one of the most fascinating and complex Patek Philippe designs. Already, the inclusion of a second crown - making this the only vintage single-dial Patek Philippe model sporting 2 crowns - was extremely avant-garde, for Patek Philippe’s standard. The large 36mm diameter was also destined to raise eyebrows, especially when found in an elegant gold Patek Philippe dress watch. However, it is the design of the lugs that will live on as one of the most brave - and ultimately impressive, even though it took decades to be appreciated - architectures employed by the brand. In tune with the modernist vibe of the early 1950s, the lugs are a sculpted triumph of facets and edges - a design as incredibly attractive in its complexity as it is sensitive to polishing, the soft gold edges easily rounding and loosing their angular impact. Luckily, in the present instance the entire case is beautifully preserved, and the complex lugs shine in all their glory. The presence of the crisp gold hallmark to the band is further testament to how well cared-for the piece has been for its entire life. Additionally, this specific case presents a quirk seen on no other 2523 so far: the top right lug is stamped to the outside with a hallmark, most likely the import mark of the original country of destination.


      DIAL
      Reference 2523 (or 2523-1) in any iteration is considered by the most important collectors worldwide one of the pinnacles of Patek Philippe. However, the cloisonné dial versions have achieved legendary status since the beginning of the field as an organised endeavour. Most notably, a Cloisonné reference 2523 was featured on the cover of the thematic auction "The Art of Patek Philippe" held in 1989 to celebrate Patek Philippe’s 150th anniversary.

      There are many enamelling techniques known to watchmaking. A list of the best-known ones would include:

      Grand Feu: plain (monochrome, usually white) enamel.
      Flinqué: transparent enamel applied to a guilloché metal base.
      Champlevé: enamel applied to sectors carved within a metal plate.
      Cloisonné: enamel applied to compartments (cloisons) realized with gold wire.
      Miniature: a painted enamelled photorealistic scene

      Cloisonné enamel has developed a cult following in the watch collecting world not only for the absolute mastery of the craft needed to bend the micrometrical gold wires into the requested shape and then fill the compartments with the appropriate differently coloured enamel powders (not to mention the nightmare that is firing cloisonné enamels in the kiln). The artistic effect it provides is an equally seductive lure. The technique forces the artist to necessarily produce naive, nearly childlike motifs which can be compared in their powerful simplicity to Matisse’s style (his masterpiece “La Danse”, for example, would be an ideal candidate for a cloisonné enamel homage).

      One cannot talk about enamel without mentioning the difference between vintage and modern enamel. As some of the components originally used for enamelling (such as chrome and lead) were deemed too unsafe for the enamelers - who risked to inhale the powders during execution - they were banned by governments, and manufacturers had to find alternatives. Unfortunately, however, there was a reason why those specific materials were employed: they grant a much more deep, glossy and translucent quality to the enamel, which unfortunately their modern counterparts cannot match.

      Given their cost and technical difficulty, cloisonné dials were usually employed in “time-only” pieces - most likely in order to maximise the surface available for the artwork and to minimise the holes in the dial. In the entire panorama of vintage wrist timepieces, there is only one exception to this rule that we can think of: the Cloisonné 2523s, making this reference the only vintage one which merges the technical aspect of complicated watchmaking and the profoundly artistic soul of cloisonné enamelling. Taking this into consideration, it is more understandable why these incredibly scarce pieces are by many considered the Final Frontier of collecting.

      As mentioned, three cloisonné designs were made for this model, all representing geographical maps: a North America version, a South America version, and the present map. While its focus is undoubtedly on Europe (and indeed it is described as such in the Patek Philippe Archives), it extends beyond the Old World boundaries, to the point that the design has come to be known as "Eurasia" by the community.

      The only one of the known 2523 map designs to include part of Asia, on it one can immediately and extremely easily distinguish Italy (even Sicily), Spain, France, the British and Irish islands and the Scandinavian and Danish peninsulas, and to the east the Far East Lands; in fact, either intentionally or serendipically, the “east shore” of the landmass broadly recalls the Asian/Pacific coastline. It is because of this expansive map that the piece was nicknamed “The Silk Road”, connecting Europe and the East.

      It is worth mentioning that the colorful dial gives to the timepiece a versatility hardly ever seen on watches of this importance. This is why the piece is supplied with 3 Patek Philippe custom made straps, a brown one for the more serious occasions, and then two more carefree and eye-catching - and some may say daring - options which perfectly complement the palette of the enamel: mustard yellow and pistachio green.


      PRODUCTION DETAILS AND NUMBERS

      Reference 2523 was fitted - despite its low production numbers - with a number of different dial styles (surprisingly, none of them the standard “silvered” dial): beyond the cloisonné dials, guilloché pattern and blue translucent enamel were employed. Furthermore, the reference was made in 3 metals: yellow gold, pink gold and white gold. It is apparent that such a plethora of variations was an effort - ultimately futile - to try and ingratiate a market that had reserved a less than tepid welcome to the watch. Curiously, reference 2523-1 only features plain silvered dials, or guilloché dials.

      A comprehensive list of all the known 2523s is summarised in the table below, which shows us that:

      The production of reference 2523 movements was made in two batches, one starting with movement no. 720’300, and the other with no. 722’700.
      - The latest known movement no. of the first batch is 720’304, and movement 720’312 is a ref. 96, thus the total output of this batch is between 5 and 12 pieces. All the known Eurasia maps are form this batch.
      - The latest known movement no. of the second batch is 722’719, and movement 722’724 is a ref. 2431, thus the total output of this batch is between 20 and 24 pieces.All the known Americas maps are form this batch.
      Consequently, the total output for reference 2523 is between 25 and 36 pieces, one of the lowest outputs for any serially produced reference.

      Of the known ref. 2523, only 12 have a cloisonné enamel dial:
      - 6 North America: 3 yellow gold, 2 pink gold, 1 white gold
      - 3 South America: 2 yellow, 1 pink
      - 3 Eurasia, including the present new discovery, all in yellow gold

      Interestingly, the cases appear to mostly bear consecutive numbers but to have been assigned randomly to the movements, especially for the first batch.
      The earliest known case number is yellow gold case 305’699: an outlier, possibly a final test eventually employed in production (and used for the earliest movement 720’300).
      Until the discovery of this watch, the earliest known case no. of the main batch was 306’197 (found on movement 720’303). The present case however is much earlier (306’193). It thus becomes by far the earliest known of the main batch which, given the currently available information, appears to have numbers between 306’193 to 306’212 for yellow gold cases, and then from 306’213 to at least 306’220 for pink gold cases. The one white gold case is an outlier, with number 307’475.

      Furthermore, as movement number 720’000 is a known watch with guilloché dial, the present 720’301 piece is the very first Cloisonné 2523 ever produced.

      MOVEMENT - CASE - MATERIAL - DIAL
      FIRST BATCH
      720’300 - 305’699 - YG - Guilloché
      720’301 - 306’193 - YG - Eurasia
      720’302 - unknown
      720’303 - 306’197 - YG - Eurasia
      720’304 - 306’201 - YG - Eurasia
      720’305 - unknown
      720’306 - unknown
      720’307 - unknown
      720’308 - unknown
      720’309 - unknown
      720’310 - unknown
      720’311 - unknown
      720’312 - ref. 96

      SECOND BATCH
      722’700 - 306’202 - YG - Guilloché
      722’701 - unconfirmed - YG - Guilloché
      722’702 - 306’207 - YG - Guilloché
      722’703 - 306’208 - YG - Blue enamel
      722’704 - 306’209 - YG - Blue enamel
      722’705 - 306’204 - YG - Blue enamel
      722’706 - 306’205 - YG - North America
      722’707 - 307’475 - WG - North America
      722’708 - 306’210 - YG - North America
      722’709 - 306’211 - YG - North America
      722’710 - 306’206 - YG - South America
      722’711 - 306’212 - YG - South America
      722’712 - 306’213 - PG - Guilloché
      722’713 - possibly 306'214 - most likely PG - unknown
      722’714 - 306’215 - PG - Blue enamel
      722’715 - 306’216 - PG - Blue enamel
      722’716 - 306’217 - PG - North America
      722’717 - 306’218 - PG - North America
      722’718 - possibly 306’219 - most likely PG - unknown
      722’719 - 306’220 - PG - South America
      722'720 - unknown
      722'721 - unknown
      722'722 - unknown
      722'723 - unknown
      722’724 - ref. 2431

      Such a remarkable scarcity, when coupled with the legendary status of this model, means that when a collector manages to acquire one of them, she or he hardly ever lets it go. This is apparent when analysing how often these watches appear at auction, and how scarcer their appearance is becoming. While most of the known cloisonné dials appeared at some point in the 1990s/early 2000s, in the past 20 years they appeared at auction 4 times: in 2002 (Eurasia), then 4 years later in 2006 (North America), then 6 years later in 2012 (a different North America example), and now, 10 years later, the current specimen.
      It is safe to say that the mythical aura that envelops these watches is only destined to increase, while their appearance at auction is following the opposite trend.

      This previously unknown watch was discovered in Europe. It resided in an important Italian collection until the mid-1990s, when it was acquired by the current owner.

      Combining rarity, technical proficiency, mind-blowing good looks and ultimate exclusivity, this watch is unarguably one of the most important timepieces in existence and it would be the crown jewel of even the most important wristwatch collection.

    • Artist Biography

      Patek Philippe

      Swiss • 1839

      Since its founding in 1839, this famous Geneva-based firm has been surprising its clientele with superbly crafted timepieces fitted with watchmaking's most prestigious complications. Traditional and conservative designs are found across Patek Philippe's watches made throughout their history — the utmost in understated elegance.

      Well-known for the Graves Supercomplication — a highly complicated pocket watch that was the world’s most complicated watch for 50 years — this family-owned brand has earned a reputation of excellence around the world. Patek's complicated vintage watches hold the highest number of world records for results achieved at auction compared with any other brand. For collectors, key models include the reference 1518, the world's first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph, and its successor, the reference 2499. Other famous models include perpetual calendars such as the ref. 1526, ref. 3448 and 3450, chronographs such as the reference 130, 530 and 1463, as well as reference 1436 and 1563 split seconds chronographs. Patek is also well-known for their classically styled, time-only "Calatrava" dress watches, and the "Nautilus," an iconic luxury sports watch first introduced in 1976 as the reference 3700 that is still in production today.

      View More Works

PLEASE NOTE THIS LOT IS OPEN ONLY FOR BIDS BY PHONE OR ABSENTEE

33

Ref. 2523
A previously unknown, first of its kind, extremely important, rare and attractive yellow gold worldtime wristwatch with two crowns and "Eurasia" cloisonné enamel dial

1953
36mm Diameter
Case, dial, movement and buckle signed by maker, enamel disc signed "LC" by watchmaker

Full Cataloguing

Estimate On Request

Sold for CHF7,048,000

Contact Specialist

Alexandre Ghotbi
Head of Watches, Continental Europe and the Middle East

41 79 637 1724
[email protected]

 

 

The Geneva Watch Auction: XIII

Geneva Auction 8 - 9 May 2021