Autor: Strahinja Đorić

From Lug to Lug: Patek Philippe ref.2526

Back to the roots!

It took a lot of time for this serial. I had to grow up. I had to see a lot of things and I had to learn something. That something is now pretty enough to start the serial called ‘’From Lug to Lug’’, in which I’ll write about the secrets of the vintage world and about the watches that have changed the history of horology. To be able to understand the present and to predict the future we have to return to the roots, the place where it all began. Each and every new review will start from the zero point in time and place when someone (or maybe more of them) decided to change the history. That is how the icons, which you absolutely have to hear about, were made.

Welcome to the serial From Lug To Lug!

Patek Philippe ref. 2526

The most important characteristic of this watch is that it is the first automatic watch Patek Philippe ever produced. That is the fact and you will come across that information all over the Internet, so I will remind you of it as well at the very beginning. However, this watch is so much more than just being the first one. Many of them were the first ones but they never left any trail, a memory, a remembrance, and a feeling of nostalgia after itself. This model did leave a trail and much more than that. It has left an indelible mark as one of the most beautiful time-only watches in the world since the world of watches exists!

*Time-only watches show just time and have three hands – an hour, a minute, and a second one (some watches don’t have the one for seconds)

Patek Philippe ref. 2526 in rose gold, photo author: Sat na Ruci Watch Media; owner of the watch: Srdjan Stevic.

History of the watch

It was launched at the Swiss watch Fair in 1953 and it was produced untill 1959. However, watches were delivered until the 1960s so there was a big miss delusion that the watch was produced in that year. In only 6 years 7.000 were produced in 4 materials: yellow, white, rose gold, and also in platinum. When talking about those years, the 50s, that was not a small amount of watches, because monthly there were 97 of them manufactured. The smallest amount was made in platinum (25) and yellow gold (20) and those ones were with a “regular” metal dial, also-it often had diamonds on index positions (there are few of them with enamel dials as well). Although there are a lot more in yellow and rose gold, they are far more valued because of the enamel dial.

First automatic Patek Philippe: reference 2526; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

The first one 2526 was produced in March and delivered on the 27th of July 1953 to an American J.B. Champion in Dallas, Texas (“Patel Philippe-cult Object and Investments”, J. Michael Mehltretter, p.36). The price of this watch on a leather strap was around 2.000CHF, meanwhile, on a golden bracelet it was on the market for 3.800CHF. That being said we can see that Patek had high hopes in its first automatic caliber 12’’’ 600AT. Patek was right, and soon you’ll see why. 

First Patek Philippe ref. 2526 sold to J.B. Champion with a dedication letter from Werner Sinn in front of the “Henry Stern Agency”; the 27th of July 1953; source: “Collezionare Orologi” by Osvaldo Patrizzi. 

Ticket for the eternity: caliber 12’’’ 600AT

Do you know when did Rolex launch its first automatic watch? Approximately 20 years before Patek, exactly in 1931 with the Bubbleback model. Does this mean that Patek Philippe didn’t have enough knowledge or capability to make one exactly two decades before? No.

This is the truth. Rolex decided to protect its patent for 22 years so that none of the companies could do anything about that. Unlike today, it was the time when no one tried to search for the holes in the law. Even though Patek Philippe developed its automatic caliber in the middle of the 1930s, they couldn’t do anything about it. The movement was ready, but Patek wouldn’t be the best company in the world if they were not working on its own calibers and technologies, so it invented its own Gyromax balance (the first patent for this balance was registered on the 26th of May 1947), it improved dials and started its own manufacture of enamel dials, that are the most precious in the whole Patek’s portfolio.

Patek first automatic caliber 12’’’ 600AT; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

The first thing I want to do is to decode the caliber marc. The first marc (out of 3) refers to the diameter of the movement, the second one describes the height of the movement, and the third one, a letter, is a marc for the function of the caliber:

  • 12’’’ refers to 12 lines– the old French measure for the length that was used in the watchmaking vocabulary to measure the circumference of the movement; in this case, it is 1=2.223mm or more precise 12×2.223mm = 26.67mm. 
  • 600 stands for the height of the movement, exactly 6mm
  • AT refers to an automatic movement (“Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investments”, J. Michael Mehltretter, p.36).

In reality, the dimensions of this movement are in diameter 27mm and in height 5,4mm, these measures deviate from the numbers on its marc, but you understood the point.

Caliber which not everyone can see; owner of the watch on the picture and author: Srdjan Stevic

Why is this movement so special? Beside being the first automatic movement Patek has produced, this watch has characteristics that can’t be compared to nowadays standards. It works on 19.800 vibrations per hour, it has 30 jewels that are there to secure an amazing precision. For the sake of comparison, contemporary automatic Patek movements don’t have more than 20 jewels, and the new Calatrava (the successor of a reference that I’m writing about) has a manual winding movement with 29 jewels. The movement ref. 2526 had an incredibly small deviation which was 1 sec for 24 hours. Don’t forget that we are talking about 1953!

Brochure from Swiss Industrial Fair (1953) featuring reference 2526; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

Besides the technical characteristics that are worthy of the 21st-century watches, caliber 12’’’600AT is one of the most beautiful ever made. Esthetics is the key, even when talking about the movement. Very often, companies, nowadays, leave the open case back so that the owners of the luxury (and maybe not that luxury) watches could admire the embellished calibers. Patek Philippe did that for the ref. 2526  by decorating the golden rotor with Cotes de Geneve lines, two big P letters, and with dropped edges. All of this maybe wouldn’t be so surprising if Patek didn’t put the non-transparent golden caseback and by that close the view on the caliber.

Solid gold caseback of Patek Philippe ref. 2526; author: Srdjan Stevic

You make a piece of art and you hide it from everyone. That’s what Patek did with 12’’’ 600AT caliber. Hidden from the undesirable and unwanted looks and kept the secrecy and mystery only for the owner, who can, with a little bit of knowledge, open the case back and enjoy a masterpiece. It is considered to be one by all of the world’s experts and it’s on me to nod my head with humility in front of this fact.

Scarface: enamel dial

The movement on the 2526 model is a big deal, but wait to see the dial. Enamel dials are considered to be rare to find, the hardest to repair, and according to many of us the most beautiful dials in the world of watches. In the title, I used the name of a famous Hollywood movie on purpose, because, as you will see in the sequel of the text, it is all about the face (one of the names for the dial is also the face of a watch) that is very, very fragile. But let’s begin by explaining what is enamel and an enamel dial.

An enamel dial on the ref. 2526 is considered to be one of the prettiest dials ever made; photo author: Sat na Ruci Watch Media; owner of the watch: Srdjan Stevic

Briefly, the enamel is a non-transparent glass coating used for the protection of a dial. Dials on the watches are made of a thin metal on which the coating of various colors and effects is applied, depending on what the company wants to see. The main component of the enamel is silica, and its melting point is 800 celsius. The enamel manufacturing process is very complicated and difficult, especially because of the temperature differences a dial has to go through. If there is the slightest deviation in the temperature of the oven there can easily happen the breakage of a dial and it’s not useful anymore. 

Example of destroyed enamel dial on ref. 2526; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

The first phase consists in applying an enamel layer over the metal dial at high temperatures, it melts and when it’s “baked” the first phase is done. In the second phase the minute and the second marker are being developed, as well as the brand sign, all of this is not stamped over the dial. These markers are impressed on the dial thanks to the enamel powder (previously heated up, then cooled down, and then smashed into micromillimeter pieces) which is applied on the previously made holes for the markers on the dial (pay attention-their color is creme). That same dial is put to the oven again so the powder would become stiff. That is where the “double-baked” dial comes from. 

The minute dots are on the edge of the dial; the second markers are divided into lines in subdial at 6 o’clock position while the logo is written in two lines and all of this is previously filled with enamel powder that is baked on the dial; photo author: Sat na Ruci Watch Media

This is the most problematic phase in producing an enamel dial. In the first generation of its dials, Patek Philippe placed golden bars that mark hours thanks to the pins, 26 holes of 0.2mm diameter were drilled through the metal dial (11 little holes plus 4 holes for 2 golden markers on the number 12). During the process of enameling, while being heated, enamel melted, went through the holes for markers, and shrank their holes. After the dial was baked the Patek’s worker had to redrill the holes which brought to the breakage of the enamel on the dial. 

If the dial breaks there is no solution, the next step will be to replace original dial with serviced one; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

Out of the solution of this first problem evolved the second generation of ref. 2526 dials where the only difference is in the arrangement of the steps in which the dial was made. Now, the holes for the markers were made after the enamel was baked and not before. Of course, the problem continued to exist since the enamel itself is not shockproof. At least, the Patek came to a brilliant and the most simple idea, instead of drilling holes, it started gluing indexes.

To sum it all, there are two series of dials for the ref. 2526; first serie with holes for pins and the second one with glued markers. In the first serie, there are 2 generations of dials because they are reposing on the same technology of producing holes for pins.

The first serial dial with holes for pins; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter
The second dial serial with glued indexes; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

To end this complicated process the dial was lacquered to get the end glow. Dials that survived the entire process were put in watches and today they represent the most beautiful thing you can find in the vintage Patek portfolio. They look soft and gentle as if something is going to happen to them every moment. They are not shockproof or temperature-proof. Every little concussion can cause enamel breakage and with that cause irreplaceable damage to a dial. 

photo author: Srdjan Stevic

If we set aside all the flaws of this perfect-looking dial we can start enjoying its beauty. There is the reason why they belong to “The Royal Class of Patek Philippe dials” and today there are very few of them even in the current production. They represent a little Holy Grail to every watch collection. An interesting distinction of this watch is the enamel on both side, which is not the case with any other type of a dial (metal was left as it is on the back side).

photo author: Srdjan Stevic

So far, because of my point of view, maybe you have come to a negative conclusion about the enamel dials. But, please, don’t. They are a dream for every one of us and their beauty is immeasurable. Together with a golden case, they made a perfect combination. The eternal elegancy. A story in itself. Also, Patek used to make non-enamel dials for the ref. 2526, mostly for the models in white gold and platinum, where they used regular metal dials with or without diamonds. There were also several models with creme-enamel dials and just 20 black enamel ones.

photo author: Srdjan Stevic

Made to fit everyone’s wrist

In the 50s the diameter of 36mm was pretty popular. Almost every famous classic was made in this size. And it fits everyone. This diameter is coming back today like a Fenix from the ash. At one moment I thought the world has gone crazy with watches measuring more than 43mm, however, lately, I’m starting to see more and more people wearing smaller watches.

The reference 2526 was made in gold and in a standard size of 35.6mm. It came on a leather strap or on a golden bracelet. That decision was up to the client since the price of the golden bracelet was as if you were buying a whole new watch (look at paragraph 4). To make it more beautiful, everything fits this watch perfectly. Throughout the work with Srdjan, I had an opportunity to see a lot of models of ref. 2526 and also to learn a lot. 

photo author: Srdjan Stevic

A lot of models that survived through years are never polished. This model has soft edges on lugs that are not too big, and between them, you can see hallmarks, the stamps in gold refer to the material that was used. Little Helvetia was usually in between lugs on the 6 position. Besides being sort of a registration mark of a watch (except the numbers on the inside part of a cover) you can also see if the watch was ever polished. The original impress depth was around 0.6mm, so you can recognize if the watch was ever polished if this depth is getting smaller (little secrets of big craftsmen).

All important hallmarks are engraved in the inside go the caseback; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

Price and availability today

Pay attention to a word today. When it was first released in the 50s it was not popular and demanded. Even though it’s Patek Philippe, this watch had to wait for the right customer. Today you will see this reference exposed at the most famous auctions worldwide. The most common models in the first generation in yellow gold are selling from 60.000€ up to 70.000€. Next, models in rose gold are a bit more expensive, around 80.000-90.000€. Up mentioned prices are for the watches on a leather strap, if you want to buy a watch with an original bracelet add 20.000€ or 40.000€ on those prices.

Out of 7000 watches, there are only 45 watches in platinum or white gold ever produced. Since it is so rare, the price goes from 200.000€ up to 400.000€, depending on the condition, documentation, and configurations. On the Phillips auction in December 2021, a beautiful full platinum 2526 with enamel dial was sold for an amazing 440.000€!

Patek Philippe ref. 2526 in platinum that was sold on Phillips-december 2021; source: Phillips

For the ones who want to know a bit more!

Patek wouldn’t be the watch company number 1 if it hasn’t had some little secrets. Not many people in the watch world know this, but there is one small detail. As a successor, the ref. number 3428 was made in yellow and rose gold and also in platinum, just and only with the enamel dial. The model was introduced in the 1960s and it’s visually identical to 2526. Dimensions are the same, and dials are the same, the only difference is in the caliber. 

Patek Philippe ref. 3248 in yellow gold case; source: Matthew Bain Inc.

Even though the caliber 12’’’ 600AT took all the glory and it was one of the most advanced movements, Patek decided to put something new into the new reference. It’s the 27-460 caliber which has an identical size to 12’’’ 600AT. It was produced also in the basic version as an automatic movement and with a date function, the mark was 27-460 M (M stands for Monodate).

The only difference between 12’’’ 600 AT and 27-460 is in these three details: the new caliber had a new rotor with a different pattern – Cotes de Geneve lines. The second difference is in fine adjustments for +/- that don’t exist in the new caliber. And the last detail consists of the amount of jewels, there are 37 in the new one, and 30 in the old caliber 12’’’600 AT.

Caliber 27-460 with thinner rotor; source: ”Patek Philippe-cult Object and Investements”, J. Michael Mehltretter

There is very little information about the ref. 3428, we don’t even know how long Patek was producing it. Also, there is no information about how many watches were produced. The only known information is that only 20 golden pieces were made and sold.

The end and the beginning

This was the first text in the new serial From Lug to Lug and also my first text on English! I am proud to finally open this serial and to have a chance to represent to you some of the best watches the world has ever seen. The goal is primarily to educate people because until now no one has ever written about these references on my mother language (Serbian). These texts, after they’re published, will become literature to study, because there is definitely not enough of it online or in the books.

The knowledge should be free of charge and accessible to everyone. We are proud to say that we are doing that, thank you for reading our portal. 

Until next time, enjoy one more time in reference number 2526!

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