As long as this little site has been on the interwebs, I’ve been talking about how much I love the idea of early travel watches (see?). There is something so beautiful about them – so romantic. Or, to borrow a term from my colleague Cara, they’re just "chic AF." Why? Think about what international travel meant in the 1960s. We’re talking about donning your Sunday best as you step aboard one of the first commercial jet-liners (Boeing 707 or Douglas DC-8, naturally). Once aboard, you’re met by a smiling, well-dressed young man or woman, and served the drink of your choice, or maybe several drinks of your choice. The entire cabin is respectful of the fact that international travel is even possible and to be clear, it is not something, in the early 1960s, that most can even imagine – the average domestic ticket on TWA would cost you 5% of your yearly income.
And this only makes the fact that some Swiss companies – well, one in particular – was building wristwatches designed for those who jumped timezones so special. Vintage travel watches are rare. In fact, they are far rarer than I think most people realize, and that is why I thought I’d call attention to the two Patek Philippe travel watches available at the Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction Five this May.
Patek Philippe Reference 2597
This is reference 2597. Think of it as a ref. 570 Calatrava with a special travel-time movement – because that’s basically what it is. Using caliber 12’’’400 HS (heures sautantes, or jumping hours), we have a time-only watch that allows its wearer to jump the hours forward and back using two small pushers integrated into the side of the case (which Laurent Ferrier may have seen when designing this).
By pushing the button at bottom with your finger nail, the hour hand jumps exactly one hour backward. By pressing the button at top, it jumps one hour forward. This design was conceived by Louis Cottier to allow for quick timezone adjustments without having to take the watch off your wrist. Two different series of the 2597 were made – series one as you see here, and series two with a second stationary hour hand, or "home time" hand.
I have long admired the 2597 and have looked long and hard for great examples – they are incredibly difficult to find. If you look for second series watches with the third hand you might be waiting a very long time. A tip I’ve picked up along the way is that you will from time to time find 2597s with a third hand that dates to pre-1961 – if that’s the case, that third hand is likely not original. Frankly, the majority of the three-hand 2597s I’ve seen sell over the years I assume were not born that way.
So, what makes a desirable 2597? Quality, obviously, and potentially a retailer’s signature. Last year Phillips sold this very high quality 2597 signed by Gübelin and accompanied by an original bracelet at just over $106,000 after it was previously on offer by Watches In Rome for some time. The watch seen in the upcoming sale is also double-signed, but it’s a New York watch and the Tiffany & Co. signature is present above "Patek Philippe" at 12 o’clock. This watch is compelling in its origins and is made even more so by its seemingly unmolested condition and Tiffany signature. The case quality is very good, the dial signature deep and clean, though there seems to be large-ish dimple between 11 and 12 o’clock not easily visible from the listing pictures. Still, this is an extremely desirable example of a very rare and interesting reference, especially if you’re like me and still wish you were born in the golden age of jet travel.
This is not the only 2597 coming up for sale. Here is another high quality 2597 – this one comes from Dr. Crott and is void of a double-signature. The watch is very nice and has some interesting provenance, though the astute buyer will remember that Antiquorum sold this very watch just last December. It sold all-in then for $67,500, while the estimate at Dr. Crott this time is €85,000 to €110,000. To be fair to the seller, the sale price in December was below market price and it did not include any mention of who its owner was, whereas Dr. Crott does make mention of who its original owner was and why he is important. We will see if a flip is possible soon enough.
Patek Philippe 2523/1
The 2597 travel time above allows the wearer to jump timezones easily, while the reference 2523 allows the wearer to see all timezones at once. The 2597 plays it cool and stays under the radar – it could easily be confused for a simple Calatrava. The 2523/1 however is a different beast. It not-so-casually displays all timezones around the world. It features long, elaborate lugs. The center ring may be seen with a few different patterns (the enamel discs are found on its brother reference, the 2523). Oh, and of course, this bad boy has two crowns!
No, you weren’t seeing a 2523/1 on the wrist of your average millionaire in the 1960s. The idea of a worldtime Patek wristwatch dates all the way back to the 1930s with the introduction of the 1415 – it featured just one crown and an engraved city ring. The 2523 came out in 1953, again with the help of Louis Cottier who originally developed the idea decades earlier and licensed the technology to Patek as well as Rolex and Vacheron Constantin.
Now this 2523/1 is a special one, naturally. This, like the 2597 above, is signed by Tiffany & Co. So you can just imagine a New York magnate walking into the flagship store on June 5, 1964 and saying "I want the most expensive watch you have" and being shown this. Indeed, the 2523/1 was an exceedingly expensive watch in period and it did not sell well – which is why only nine of them are known. This is the only example signed by Tiffany currently on the market and that only adds to the opulence that is perhaps the defining wristwatch of the golden age of aviation.
While this Tiffany-signed 2523/1 is a very special watch – one of just nine examples of this reference known and the only Tiffany retailed piece – it sold in 2008 at Christie’s for around $800,000. Some years later it was offered by Lugano-based dealer Davide Parmegiani.