With Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present watch in 1954 with a monogram engraved to the case back according to a model given by the client and its subsequent sale on 12 October 1954.
For collectors and scholars of vintage timepieces, nothing is more exciting than when a watch with traits previously unseen comes to light. Obviously, this is an extremely uncommon occurrence, destined to become ever rarer with the passing of time and the discovery of the few remaining unknown pieces. When the watch discovered is a reference already regarded as one of the most attractive and sought-after wristwatch models ever made by any manufacturer, and furthermore boasts an imperial provenance, surprise gives way to acclaim.
The present timepiece unquestionably belongs to this category of stellar wristwatches. Indeed, this 2497 will leave even the most spoiled and refined of the collectors in delightful shock, as it is the one and only known example of this reference bearing a previously never seen military-style black dial with luminous Arabic numerals and luminous Alpha hands, all these features absolutely unrestored and in original condition. Furthermore this timepiece features one of the most distinguished provenances ever seen in an auction room.
According to our research, it was commissioned by Ing. Federico Bazzi to be presented as a gift to Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Mr. Bazzi was an entrepreneur and pilot based in Asmara, Eritrea (which will become federated with Ethiopia in 1952 after a decision of the UNO, and will be fully annexed to Ethiopia in 1961 by Imperial Decree). Among the pioneers of Italians aviation, Mr Bazzi was President of the R.U.N.A (Reale Unione Nazionale Aeronautica - National Royal Aeronautic Union) in Asmara; later in his life (in 1969 and 1970) he will also preside over the Milan section of the Rotary Club. Mr. Bazzi's spirit was markedly adventurous and voted to modernity. When involved in the electrification plan of Ethiopia, he decided to use an airplane for moving around the country. So, around the end of the 1930s, he personally flew a SAIMAN 202 from Italy to Addis Ababa. The flight involved ten stops and lasted 39 hours.
It would seem that Mr. Bazzi presented the watch to His Majesty during Haile Selassie's official visit to Switzerland in November 1954, a month after the delivery of the watch. Years later, the Emperor himself presented the timepiece as a gift to an eminent African personality, whose descendant is now disclosing it to the world. According to the Department of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University, It is historically confirmed that His Majesty used to make gift of watches to high profile acquaintances. This is a relatively commons habit among middle-eastern and African royalties and institutions, as chiefly exemplified by Omani, U.A.E and Saudi Arabian special order timepieces.
HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE
Born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael on 23 july 1892, he was the son of Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the Governor of Harar, and Yeshimebet Ali Abba Jifar, daughter of the ruler of the Wollo Province. As custom for all rulers of Ethiopia, his lineage can traditionally be traced to the first ruler of Ethiopia, Menelik I, offspring of biblical King Solomon and Makeda, Queen of Sheba. Reflecting this, his full title in office was officially "By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God".
This biblical lineage, combined with a particular interpretation of a passage from the Book of Revelation, prompted the emergence in Jamaica since the 1930s of the Rastafari movement. This religion, followed today by some 2 to 4 million people worldwide, considers Ras Tafari (the Emperor's title and name before coronation; Ras being loosely translated as "Duke") their Messiah. His Majesty never rebuked such titles, though he never either took active steps as leader of the Rastafari movement. When he visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966, a hundred thousand people gathered at the airport to witness his arrival. April 21 is now the second holiest day in the Rastafari religion, the holiest day being the day of Haile Selassie's coronation (November 2).
His first official title was bestowed onto him at the age of 13, on 1 November 1905, when he was named "Dejazmach", a title similar to European "Count". The following year his father died and he was elected Governor of the marginal province of Selale in 1906, a title which allowed him to continue his studies. The following year he was appointed Governor of part of the province of Sidamo, and sometime in 1910 or 1911 he was invested Governor of Harar. It is at this point in his life that he marries Itege Menen Asfaw, nice of Lij Iyasu, heir apparent to the throne at the time.
In 1917, Empress Zewditu was enthroned and Tafari, elevated to the rank of Ras, was appointed Regent Plenipotentiary, becoming the de facto ruler of Ethiopia. It is during the period of his Regency that he started a deep, though slow, modernization process of the country and furthermore secured the admission of Ethiopia to the League of Nations (the ancestor of the UNO) in 1923.
As a matter of fact, throughout his entire life His Majesty has been a strong advocate of peaceful international relationship and political mediation. Beyond facilitating the entrance of Ethiopia into the League of Nations, he also dreamed and actively worked toward a similar political entity among African states. Moreover, he was a fervent supporter of the return of the deported African people to their country of origin.
After Empress Zewditu died, on November 2, 1930 Ras Tafari was crowned Neguse Negest, King of Kings, rendered in English with "Emperor"; it is at this point that he also takes his royal name Haile Selassie. During the first part of his rule, he introduced the first written constitution of Ethiopia on 16 July 1931. The constitution kept the power in the hands of the nobility but subjected them to democratic standards. This was a first step in the direction of a proper democratic country. Furthermore, he started a fierce battle against slavery which he will eventually manage to outlaw, overcoming fierce internal opposition, in 1942.
Following Italian invasion in 1936, the Emperor and his family fled the country, so that His Majesty could prepare a case to be presented before the League of Nations in Genève. When he did present the case he became an anti-fascist icon, was named man of the Year by Times magazine, and delivered what is considered one of the most powerful speeches of the past century. He was reinstated in 1941, after the Italians had been defeated with the help of the British Army.
The last part of his office saw him struggle to further modernize the country and to bring more social balance between the impoverished rural class and the wealthy aristocracy. Obviously, such measures were opposed by the ruling class. Indeed on 23 November 1974, taking advantage of the condition the country was left in by a devastating famine combined with the oil crisis of 1973, the Emperor was deposed. He died on 27 August 1975.
THE HAILE SELASSIE 2497 - A DETAILED STUDY
"CONSTRUCTION - The dial is made out of solid gold, which is then oxidized to obtain the black finish. The windows for the calendars and the moon are hand cut. The gilt scales, the Arabic hour markers perimeter and the signature are realized via gold powder mixture transfer; this would be the last operation on the dial before spraying a thin protective "zapon" layer. The movement number is engraved to the back of the dial. This has been observed until now on all especially ordered dials of that period.
The dial diameter is 29.9mm, the thickness 4/10th of a millimeter, and the weight is 4.71 grams (including the mounting rim).
"HANDS: the connoisseur will immediately recognize the hands featured on this piece as "Alpha" hands. This is a most unusual detail: reference 2497 normally mounts feuille hands or dauphine hands. As a matter of fact, it has not been possible to identify another vintage Patek Philippe timepiece with such hand-style, which weights in favor of this detail being a specific request from the client. The centre seconds hand and the "feuille" date hand are gold, instead of the usual blued steel found on this reference.
"MOON DISC: the moon wheel is 18K gold and bears 59 teeth: two times a 29.5 days moon revolution, It features two moons and ten stars on a blue sky, all realized via champlevé enamel. It weights 0.35 grams.
"CALENDAR DISCS: The calendar discs are gold (the weight: 0.15 grams each) and their inscriptions is engraved-enamelled, with mat-grainy surface finish, typical for this reference. It is worth of note how they aged slightly differently: the day disc with a slightly stronger ivory hue than the month disc. This is expected. Each sector of the day disc remains exposed to light for 1 day every week: that is 52 days per year. Instead, each sector of the month disc remains exposed to light 1 month per year, so only 30 days per year.
"LUMINOUS MATERIAL: According to our tests, the luminous material of both hands and numerals is fully original and unrestored. Luminosity is achieved, on dials from this time, via a mixture of radium and zinc sulfide. This compound was hand applied with sticks or brushes. Under microscopic analysis, it presents itself as a grainy mixture of crystals. It is an auto-luminescent compound: it does not need to be "charged" under sunlight like modern luminova, and it does not react to UV light. The radium excites the zinc sulfide molecules, which in turn emit photons (light) when returning to their ground state. The obvious advantage is constant luminescence. The disadvantage is low durability: with time, the zinc sulfide compound degrades and loses its reactivity and photo-emitting capabilities.
"DIAL MAKER: as most Patek Philippe dials from the 20th century, this dial has been manufactured by Stern Frères. Founded in 1898 in Geneva by Henri Stern and his wife Louise, the company soon distinguished itself as a superior dial maker. Their superior technical skills combined with uncanny management and the capability of transferring the passion for the craft to their children, allowed the Sterns to meteorically soar above any other dial maker of the time. They hired their first employee, an enameller, around 1900. By 1912 the company employed 28 people, which will grow to 50 in the 1920s, when the first proper factory is opened, 80 in 1938, 150 in 1942, and up to 500 in the mid 1950's, by which time the company is unanimously considered the best dial maker on the market. Over the course of the years, they supplied manufacturers such as Longines, Breguet, Cartier, Rolex, Vacheron-Constantin and Omega, to name a few. However, the company developed a particular bond with Patek Philippe which grew stronger with the passing of time, so much that in 1932 the Sterns acquired the company, and are at their helm still today.
"STYLE: The style of the dial is essentially a military evolution of the first series 2497 dial style. Military-style dials are characterized by two traits, both of them motivated by the necessity for optimal readability in all condition: 1) The presence of Arabic numerals. Arabic numerals can be immediately read independently from the angle of observation. On the contrary luminous baton numerals, for example, would prove highly impractical in the dark, as they all look the same; even if there is a double index at 12, baton numerals (and even Roman numerals) would still be far from optimal in a chaotic low-light combat situation. 2) Broad luminous hands with the luminous material covering the entire surface of the hands.
The modifications featured on this dial design compared to the normal version are quite numerous:
"Numerals: the numerals consist of the luminous radium paste applied inside a gilt outline. Never before such kind of numerals have been seen on this reference.
"Luminous alpha hands: as mentioned before, this style of hand is unheard of on a vintage Patek Philippe wristwatch. The hands consist of a gold frame into which the luminous paste is applied.
"Date and centre seconds hands: they are gold, instead of the normal blued steel, for better contrast against the black dial.
"There are no applied dot numerals at 5 and 7 o' clock, while normally present on this reference. This is probably an effort to make the dial more essential, thus increasing its military connotation.
"The font of the date ring is slightly different than what normally found on this model. The digits are slightly larger and more elaborate, with rounded serifs that make them look nearly Breguet in style. Interestingly, a similar font is also used on the other black 2497 and on the only black 2438/1 known.
"As suited for a black dial timepiece, the scales and all designations are gilt.
The reason behind the rarity of black dial Patek Philippe timepieces has been object of much speculation. An educated guess, backed by the philosophy of the company and the kind of timepieces produced, is that black dials were considered too casual for a Patek Philippe timepiece. Then, as it is now, the company was considered among the highest pinnacles of sophisticated and elegant watchmaking. Black dials, at the time, were usually featured on sport or utility watches, thus it is very possible that on the one hand clients were appreciative of the classical silvered dials, and on the other hand the company, well known for its reticence to grant special requests, was not keen to fit black dials into their timepieces. Research shows, for example, only another 2497 with black dial known from the market, no. 888'132, albeit that one is non-military in style as it lacks the luminous numerals. Interestingly, it bears luminous accents and luminous hands, but the hands are dauphine-style with a little groove in the center to accommodate the luminous material. That is very different from the Alpha hands on this watch, which allow for the near entirety of the hands, with the exception of the outer frame, to be made luminous. Even if we were to extend the search field to reference 2497's waterproof sister model - reference 2438/1 - only one more black-dial timepiece can be counted, and also this one has the classic dauphine hands with the luminous groove. As a matter of fact, in depth research managed to identify only four other watches from the 1950s with proper military-style dials, albeit none featuring Alpha hands.
oSteel reference 1463, movement no. 867'602, made in 1950 for Briggs Cunningham II, American millionaire sportsman and Patek Philippe collector. The military dial was requested for improved readability during car races. oAnother reference 1463, the movement number 867'601, one digit off that of the Cunningham
oSteel reference 565, donated by Patek Philippe to their night guard at the end of his thirty years of service with the firm. The military luminous dial an obvious nod to his profession.
oAn archive picture of a military-style reference 2570/1 from 1958 appears in the book Patek Philippe Wristwatches, by M. Huber and A. Bamberry, pp. 193
All this considered, the military dial of the present timepiece can be motivated by the fact that the watch was intended for the supreme military commander of the Ethiopian army, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie.
The case-style of reference 2497 is basically a carbon copy, without chronograph pushers, of the case of reference 2499, considered by many the most aesthetically pleasing case style of the past century. It is a three pieces case with snap on back and bezel, and welded sculpted lugs. Its evolution follows that of reference 2499: early cases present a flat case back and more downturned lugs and are made by Vichet (hallmark number 9), later the casemaker of choice became Wenger (hallmark number 1, such as in the present watch). Wenger cases feature a more rounded case back and more elongated lugs.
The bezel is marked 792 to the inside (the three last digits of the case number). It weighs 4.63 g. The inside of the case back bears the usual Patek Philippe inscriptions and marks, the 18k gold (0750) mark, the Swiss Hallmark (Minerva's head with a G for Geneva, in its lower part), the reference, the case serial number and the case maker mark (a number 1, for Wenger, in a key, for Geneva). The case back weighs 6.88 g.
Of course, the present timepiece is also distinguished by the engraving to the case back. Representing the monogram of His Majesty Haile Selassie, the Extract from the Archives confirms it was executed based on a drawing provided by the client: it is obvious that Mr. Bazzi purchased this timepiece with the specific intention of presenting it to the Emperor. Prof. Ahmed Hassen, PhD, Head of the Department of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University, among the most knowledgeable individuals on earth about Ethiopian History, is probably the most suitable person to illustrate it. When presented with a picture of the engraving, he wrote back: "I want to assure that this is a watch probably in gold of His Majesty, King of Kings, Emperor Hayla Sellassie I of Ethiopia (ruled;1930-1974) ... [there] is [the] abbreviated name of that Ethiopian famous [man] engraved on the object ... It was the name of the Emperor abbreviated like: QHAS but in Amharic to be read as Qdamawi Haylselasie, in English to mean Hayle Sellasie I."
The present caliber 27 SCQ is part of a series of 179 movements modified from a caliber 27 SC base, which have been numbered in an especially selected 888'000 movement numbers series, starting from 888'000 to 888'178. The following serial numbers until 889'999 were never used by the company. It is unclear why Patek Philippe adopted these serial numbers for these movements. However, it certainly highlights the importance of this model for the company. No other highly complicated model of the time has been reserved a specifically dedicated movement number range. The movement number 888'058 indicates this is the 59th of these movements to be produced.
Calibre 27 SC is the best 12''' manually wound calibre in production at the time. Back then, Patek Philippe was the only company to serially produce perpetual calendar watches. The movement diameter is 27mm, its thickness is 7.5mm and its weight is 16.25 grams including the gold crown. It bears 18 jewels and oscillates 18'000 times an hour. Among its technical features, worthy of note are the micrometric adjustment, shock proof device and Breguet hairspring. The balance is bimetallic, cut, with gold regulating screws. Like all caliber 27 SC it is marked twice with the Geneva Seal and bears a "didactical" (with extended information about the watch) main bridge.
The condition of the timepiece is as exceptional as its rarity: the dial has aged with a characteristic light patina which strengthens the matte effect of the black finish and grants it an incommensurable vintage vibe. The luminous material as well is absolutely original and untouched. It is still present unspoiled on nearly all the numerals - with the exception of a small loss on the numeral at 8 o' clock - and even the Alpha hands, which one would expect after more than sixty years to have lost the delicately applied material, still present part of the original finish, especially the minute hand which being more narrow managed to retain most of the luminous material. The absolute absence of any mark or scratch on both sides of the dial denotes an absolutely original, untouched dial. It is highly possible that the one and only time this dial has been removed from the movement has been now, for this very inspection.
The case as well is testament to the care this piece has been looked after throughout its entire life. The "2499-style" design shines in the full glory of its timeless proportions, with the trademark sculpted lugs superbly well preserved and the engraving to the back as crisp as ever. Both the expected gold hallmarks are present as well, under the bottom right lug and under the top left lug.
The case back, like the dial, features and absolute absence of watchmaker's inscriptions or marks as the watch was never serviced, and possibly never opened. The movement as well lacks any mark or scratch to the screws or bridges, confirming absolute absence of any kind of intervention.
REFERENCE 2497 OVERVIEW
In production from 1951 to 1964, reference 2497 was at the time, together with its sister waterproof reference 2438/1, the first and only sweep centre seconds perpetual calendar available on the market. Furthermore, a similar set of complications was not replicated by Patek Philippe until 1993, when they launched references 5050 and 5059. Reference 2497 was available in the three gold colors and in platinum.
It is known that one hundred seventy nine 27SC calibres have been upgraded with the perpetual calendar and moon phases modules. It is estimated that around 115 of these movements were eventually cased in a 2497 case, thus making this reference one of the rarest complicated Patek Philippe models ever. For example, reference 1518 was made in 281 examples, and reference 2499 total output is 349 pieces.
Both the dial and the case of this reference present an evolution over time. Earlier cases were made by Vichet and feature flat case backs and more prominently downturned lugs, while later examples were made by Wenger a feature more rounded case backs and straighter lugs (same evolution as reference 2499).
The dials can be grouped instead in three series which loosely overlap: oFirst series: alternated Arabic and dot applied numerals
oSecond series: introduced a few years after the launch of the model, the second series dial can have either short rectangular applied baton numerals (second series A) or longer applied baton numerals tapered on the side facing the center of the dial (second series B).
A few notable "piece unique" are known from this reference:
"No. 888'019 - pink dial, baton numerals, no outer divisions
"No. 888'029 - platinum case, baton and square diamond-set numerals, platinum bracelet
"No. 888'058 - black luminous military-style dial. The present timepiece
"No. 888'075 - platinum case, hard-enameled Breguet numerals
"No. 888'132 - black luminous non-military dial
The scarcity of special orders and variations (so far, five known in a 12 years production run) highlights the exclusivity of this reference and the importance it had in the panorama of Patek Philippe's offer of the time.
Uniting exceptional rarity, unparalleled provenance, stunning looks and the excitement of being a previously unknown iteration of landmark reference 2497, the present timepiece is without a doubt one of the most captivating and important horological discoveries in recent years.
We are profoundly indebted to Prof. Ahmed Hassen, PhdD, for the assistance in researching this timepiece.
We inform the prospective buyer that, given the historical importance of this artifact, Prof. Hassen and the entire Department of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University kindly request his or her permission to write a research paper on the subject.