Nowadays, finding out the local time in different parts of the world is a breeze with just a quick internet search or a tap on a mobile app. But what about in the pre-internet era? The desire to keep track of time across time zones gave birth to a stunning timepiece – the Patek Philippe ref. 2523 two-crown world time wristwatch.
Designed as a useful tool for globetrotters back in the 1950s, ref. 2523 is a truly rare find in the market, with only three examples ever appeared at auctions in the last 20 years.
On 28 May, an ultra-rare ref. 2523 made in yellow gold with a cloisonné enamel map dial depicting North America will resurface at Christie's Hong Kong, after residing in a private collection for more than a decade.
One of only three examples known to still exist today, it is expected to fetch between HK$55 to 120 million (around US$7.1 - 15.4 million), making it potentially one of the most expensive watches ever auctioned in Asia.
Alexandre Bigler, Vice President Asia-Pacific and Head of Watches at Christie's, wearing the present lot
Lot 2361 | Patek Philippe | Ref. 2523J, A 18k gold two-crown world time wristwatch with 24 hour indication and cloisonné enamel dial depicting the North American map
Manufactured in 1955
Provenance (Edited by The Value):
- The original owner, 1955
- Habsburg Feldman, Geneva, ‘The Art of Patek Philippe’, 9 April 1989, illustrated on the front cover, 1989
- Christie’s Geneva, 14 May 2012, Lot 88, 2012 (Sold: CHF 2,771,000)
Estimate: HK$55,000,000 - 120,000,000 (around US$7.1 - 15.4 million)
Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: The Masterpiece Auction II From The Triazza Collection
Date and Time: 28 May | 9:00pm (Hong Kong local time)
The Patek Philippe ref. 2523 was first made in 1953, during a period described by watch lovers as ‘the Golden Age of design, craftsmanship, and technological advancement’. The World Time function or Heures Universelles allows the wearer to know the current time in major cities around the world – a reflection of its intricate craftmanship and technological complexity.
The idea for a world time watch goes back to the 19th century, when Sir Sandford Fleming – the gentleman who had convinced the globe to agree to a standardised system of 24 time zones at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C, in 1884 – commissioned the ‘Cosmic Time’ pocket watch.
With an increasing demand from travellers to track multiple time zones, legendary watchmaker Louis Cottier realised the world needed a miniaturised system for telling the time in every region of the planet, so that it could be accommodated in a wristwatch. But it wasn't until the early 1930s that he managed to turn this concept into reality and patented his innovation.
The world time dial bears the names of 42 cities in French
Swiss watchmaker Louis Cottier
Patek Philippe immediately saw its potential and commissioned Cottier with the development and production of a series of 'World Time' watches.
Encased with Cottier's invention, ref. 2523 features a dual-crown design specifically made for the world time mechanism. The outer dial ring, engraved with the names of 42 cities around the world, represents the different time zones, while the two-toned 24-hour bezel indicates day as silver and night as dark grey.
In order to adjust the time, one must first set the local time by the crown at 3 o’clock. Next, turn the crown at 9 o’clock until one’s current location corresponds to the one shown at the 12 o’clock position. Once this is calibrated, the relative time of each global location is set.
Silvered outer dial ring engraved with 40 cities around the world
The 24 hours bezel indicates day as silver and night as dark grey
Perhaps too ahead of its time, ref. 2523 failed to gain much ground when it was launched, which resulted in only 26 pieces ever made – one of the lowest outputs for any Patek Philippe serially produced references.
These watches were fitted with a variety of different types of dial centres, including engine-turned gold, and the celebrated cloisonné enamelled discs depicting maps, of which only 12 examples are known:
- 6 North America: 3 yellow gold including the present lot, 2 pink gold, 1 white gold
- 3 South America: 2 yellow gold, 1 pink gold
- 3 Eurasia: all in yellow gold
Patek Philippe Ref.2523 18k Pink Gold Two-Crown World Time Wristwatch | Sold: HK$70,175,000, Christie's Hong Kong
One of the ultimate world-class rarities, the reference has only appeared at auction four times over the last three decades. Another version, fitted with a polychrome translucent blue enamel disc, made its public appearance at Christie's Hong Kong in 2019 and sold for HK$70.2 million (US$8.9 million), making it the most expensive wristwatch ever auctioned in Asia.
The present lot, one of three examples publicly known, was last auctioned in 2012, when it fetched CHF 2.8 million (US$3 million) at Christie's in Geneva. Unseen in public for 11 years, it is expected to sell for at least HK$55 million (around US$7.1 million) at Christie's upcoming Hong Kong sale, and could potentially set a new Asian auction record for wristwatch.