Patek Philippe's 'North America Dial' World Time vintage watch fetches US$8.5m in Hong Kong

More than just timepieces, Patek Philippe watches have a long-standing reputation as a symbol of exceptional craftsmanship and understated luxury. But beyond their aesthetic appeal, they are also solid investment items, with demand only going up over the years.

On 28 May, Christie's Hong Kong brought to the auction block one of the grail watches for Patek Philippe collectors – the Ref. 2523 'North America Dial' in yellow gold, where only three examples are known to exist.

Treated to a single-lot evening sale, the wristwatch eventually fetched HK$66.6 million (around US$8.5 million) – nearly tripling its previous auction price of US$3 million in 2012.

The lot was hammered at HK$55 million

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
Hammer Price: HK$55,000,000
Sold: HK$66,625,000 (around US$8.5 million)

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: The Masterpiece Auction II From The Triazza Collection
Date: 28 May 2023

Auctioneer Emmanuelle Chan opened bidding for the lot at HK$38 million and called out multiple bids for her absentee bidder. When the watch reached HK$50 million, Managing Director of Christie's Indonesia Charmie Hamami made a move, placing a bid of HK$55 million for her client on phone.

After a few more mintues of patient waiting, as no futher bids came in, the lot hammered with Hamami's client with paddle number 8047, selling for a final price with fees of HK$66.2 million (around US$8.5 million). 

Charmie Hamami (middle), Managing Director of Christie's Indonesia, won the lot for her client

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.

Legendary 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.

The 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

Over the last three decades, the reference has only appeared at auction four times. Another version, fitted with a polychrome translucent blue enamel disc and signed by Patek Philippe and Gobbi, 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.

Patek Philippe Ref.2523 18k Pink Gold Two-Crown World Time Wristwatch | Sold: HK$70,175,000, Christie's Hong Kong