The present timepiece is without doubt one of the most captivating and important horological discoveries in recent years. Uniting exceptional rarity, stunning looks and the immense excitement of being a previously unknown iteration of the landmark reference 2497, in addition this timepiece features one of the most distinguished provenances ever seen for a wristwatch.
For collectors and scholars of vintage timepieces, nothing is more thrilling than when a watch comes to light displaying traits that were previously not known to exist, when that watch is made by Patek Philippe the whole watch world pays attention. Nowadays this is an extremely uncommon occurrence, destined to become more so with the passage of time and the discovery of the few remaining unknown important pieces. When the watch discovered is a reference that is already regarded as one of the most attractive and sought-after wristwatch models ever made by any manufacturer and furthermore boasts an unparalleled and august pedigree, surprise gives way to acclaim.
This 2497 will leave even the most spoiled and refined of collectors in delightful shock, as it is the one and only known example of this reference to bear a previously unknown type of military-style black dial with luminous Arabic numerals and luminous Alpha hands, all absolutely unrestored and in original condition. In fact the untouched nature of the present watch cannot be overstated, very few collectors and enthusiasts ever have the opportunity to study a complicated Patek Philippe watch from the 1950s so completely original as the present watch.
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 formed a federation with Ethiopia in 1952 after a decision of the UNO, and was fully annexed to Ethiopia in 1961 by Imperial Decree). Among the pioneers of Italian 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 also presided over the Milan section of the Rotary Club.
It would appear that Mr. Bazzi presented the watch to Haile Selassie on his official visit to Switzerland in November 1954, a month after the confirmed delivery of the watch by Patek Philippe.
Years later, the Emperor himself presented the timepiece as a gift to an eminent African personality, whose descendant has now consigned it for sale. The Department of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University have confirmed that the Emperor used to make gifts of watches to high profile acquaintances. In fact this is a relatively common habit among Middle-Eastern and African royalty chiefly exemplified by the well-known 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. In common with 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 2nd November, the anniversary of Haile Selassie's coronation.
In 1910 he married Itege Menen Asfaw, nice of Lij Iyasu, heir apparent to the Ethiopian throne. 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. After Empress Zewditu died, on November 2, 1930 Ras Tafari was crowned Neguse Negest, King of Kings, rendered in English as "Emperor"; it was at this point that he took the 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, in 1942 he started a battle against slavery which he eventually managed to outlaw, overcoming fierce internal opposition.
Following Italian invasion in 1936, the Emperor and his family fled the country so that he 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
DIAL - 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 on all specially 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 has feuille hands or dauphine hands. No other vintage Patek Philippe timepiece with this type of hand-style has been identified suggesting that this detail was 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 champlevé enamel blue sky. Weight 0.35 grams.
CALENDAR DISCS - The calendar discs are gold (weight: 0.15 grams each) and their inscriptions are engraved-enamelled, with matte-grainy surface finish, typical for this reference. It is worthy of note how they have aged slightly differently: the day disc has 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 testing, 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 – in common with 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. By the mid-1950s, the company was unanimously considered the best dial maker in the market. Over the years, in addition to Patek Philippe they supplied manufacturers such as Longines, Breguet, Cartier, Rolex, Vacheron-Constantin and Omega, to name but a few.
The differences between the present dial design and a regular reference 2497 are quite numerous:
Numerals - the numerals consist of luminous radium paste applied inside a gilt outline. Thought to be unique to this watch.
Luminous alpha hands - 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 – made of 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 normally found on this model. The digits are slightly larger and more elaborate, with rounded serifs which give an almost Breguet style. Interestingly, a similar font is also used on the other black 2497 and on the only black 2438/1 known.
In accordance with black dial timepieces, the scales and all designations are gilt.
The reason behind the rarity of black dial Patek Philippe timepieces has been the subject of much speculation. It is possible that black dials were considered too casual for a Patek Philippe timepiece. Then, as now, the company was considered the epitome of sophisticated and elegant watchmaking. Black dials, at the time, were usually fitted to sports or utility watches, thus it is quite 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.
The only another reference 2497 with black dial known to the market, no. 888'132, was fitted with its dial by Patek Philippe only in 1990, it is non-military in style lacking the luminous numerals but with luminous accents and luminous hands. The present watch id the only reference 2497 known to exist from the 1950s with a black dial and furthermore the almost certainly unique Alpha hands which are, with the exception of the outer frame, entirely 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 this has the classic dauphine hands with the luminous groove.
In fact, in-depth research has managed to identify only four other watches from the 1950s with proper military-style dials - none featuring Alpha hands:
1: Steel 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.
2: Another reference 1463, the movement number 867'601, the preceding number to that of the Cunningham
3: Steel 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.
4: An archive picture of a military-style reference 2570/1 from 1958, illustrated in: Patek Philippe Wristwatches, M. Huber and A.
Banbery, pp. 193
Considering the background to the other known Patek Philippe watches with black dial, it is clear that the military style dial of the present timepiece was a special request motivated by the fact that the watch was intended for the supreme military commander of the Ethiopian army, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie.
CASE - 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 piece case with snap on back and bezel, and welded curved 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: there is therefore no doubt 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 in the study of 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."
MOVEMENT - 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 was reserved a specifically dedicated movement number range. The movement number 888'058 indicates this is the 59th of these movements to be produced.
CONDITION - 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 incomparable vintage vibe. The luminous material is absolutely original and untouched, still present and 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 was in 2015 when prepared for auction.
The case is a testament to the care that has been taken with this piece 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 an absolute absence of watchmaker's inscriptions or marks because the watch was never serviced, and possibly never opened. The movement 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 were 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 made. For example, reference 1518 was made in 281 examples, and the reference 2499 total output was 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 made by Wenger feature more rounded case backs and straighter lugs (the same evolution as reference 2499).
The scarcity of special orders and variations (so far, only five known pieces in a 12 year production run) highlights the exclusivity of this reference and the importance it had in the panorama of Patek Philippe's oeuvre of the time.
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.