Patek Philippe & Cie. An Exceptionally Rare and Possibly Unique Set of Three Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Trio Silver Openface Pocket Watches with Power Reserve and Original Fitted Box, Sold to the US Navy on 8 December, 1917 and used on US Zeppelin (Airship) Los Angeles (ZR-3)
Patek Philippe & Cie. An Exceptionally Rare and Possibly Unique Set of Three Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Trio Silver Openface Pocket Watches with Power Reserve and Original Fitted Box, Sold to the US Navy on 8 December, 1917 and used on US Zeppelin (Airship) Los Angeles (ZR-3)
Patek Philippe & Cie. An Exceptionally Rare and Possibly Unique Set of Three Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Trio Silver Openface Pocket Watches with Power Reserve and Original Fitted Box, Sold to the US Navy on 8 December, 1917 and used on US Zeppelin (Airship) Los Angeles (ZR-3)
Patek Philippe & Cie. An Exceptionally Rare and Possibly Unique Set of Three Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Trio Silver Openface Pocket Watches with Power Reserve and Original Fitted Box, Sold to the US Navy on 8 December, 1917 and used on US Zeppelin (Airship) Los Angeles (ZR-3)
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Patek Philippe & Cie. An Exceptionally Rare and Possibly Unique Set of Three Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Trio Silver Openface Pocket Watches with Power Reserve and Original Fitted Box, Sold to the US Navy on 8 December, 1917 and used on US Zeppelin (Airship) Los Angeles (ZR-3)

SIGNED PATEK PHILIPPE & CIE., MOVEMENT NO.’S 170’414, 170’416, 170'417, CASE NO.’S 274’699, 274’701, 274’693, MANUFACTURED IN 1912

Details
Patek Philippe & Cie. An Exceptionally Rare and Possibly Unique Set of Three Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Trio Silver Openface Pocket Watches with Power Reserve and Original Fitted Box, Sold to the US Navy on 8 December, 1917 and used on US Zeppelin (Airship) Los Angeles (ZR-3)

Signed Patek Philippe & Cie., Movement No.’s 170’414, 170’416, 170'417, Case No.’s 274’699, 274’701, 274’693, Manufactured in 1912
Movement: Manual, double numbered, Cal. 21’’’, equidistant lever escapements, controlled by Guillaume balances with “winged” arms, gold temperature adjustment screws and platinum mean time screws, special alloy Breguet balance spring with Phillips’ inner and outer terminal curves to assure isochronism, diamond endstone, “swan-neck” micrometric regulator, Patek Philippe & Cie. keyless winding (Swiss patent 2680, 27 September 1890)
Dial: Silver champlevé, Roman numerals, outer railway minute track, subsidiary seconds, power reserve
Case: Silver, each with engraved hinged case backs reading; US NAVY, each 60mm diam.,set within an original fitted US NAVY mahogany box with three compartments, each numbered on a brass plate with the corresponding watch’s serial number, marked ‘ZR-3,’ glazed apertures, a provision for placing the Trio in 60° upright position, presumably for easier observations, box 10 x 4.5 x 2.25 inches
Signed: Cases, dials and movements signed
Accompanied By: Three Patek Philippe Geneva Observatory Rating Certificates obtained on May 8, 1913, Three Patek Philippe Extracts from the Archives confirming date of sale on December 8, 1917

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Mabel Hui
Mabel Hui

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Lot Essay

Introduction

It is remarkable to discover any Navigator’s Trio, but in particular a Trio that served on one of the four US Navy zeppelins - the USS Los Angeles – which in 1924, (3 years before Charles Lindbergh's famed flight), took only 81 hours to fly from Friedrichshafen, Germany to New York.

In fact it is remarkable to discover any artifacts of the generally ill-fated US Zeppelin fleet. All but one of the US Navy airships ended in disasters similar to the German zeppelin Hindenburg. The lucky one was USS Los Angeles, or what the Navy called the ZR-3. It was a huge airship with a total length of 200 meters (656 feet), four times longer than a football field. It had a special navigation room, which, among other instruments, housed the Trio.

In 1917 the US Navy bought from Patek Philippe a series of four of what at the time were called Torpedo Boat Watches. They had consecutive serial numbers 170414, 415, 416, and 417. All four, in 1913, were presented by Patek Philippe to the Geneva Observatory contest and all did well. The total scores were 235.9, 217.7, 220.3, and 238.9 respectively. They were adjusted by three legendary timers, the highest paid class of watchmakers, H. Lossier, C. Batifolier, and J. Golay-Audemars. For the Trio, the Navy took the three watches with the highest scores, leaving No. 170415, with the lowest score of 217.7, for other purposes.

We do not know the details of how and when the Trio, bearing the mark of USS Los Angeles, found its way to the airship. The Los Angeles was launched in 1924 whereas the watches for the Trio were bought in 1917. During those few years the Navy may have used them for a different purpose.

As some Navy historians suggested, the Trio was used by the Navy Observatory. Marvin Whitney, who worked at the Washington Observatory, noted; "They [The Navigator’s Trios] were to be used by Observatory personnel on several different remote astronomical observation expeditions in which accurate time in these three frames was absolutely essential. …."

There are only a few Navigator's Trio known, even fewer used on zeppelins. These Trio's were made by Ulysse Nardin, Longines, and Hamilton (FIG). So far, this is the only one known by Patek Philippe. It must have been the most expensive Trio the Navy ever bought. For instance, Longines’ Navigator’s Trios, which were less expensive, cost $1000.00 in 1930.

Torpedo-boat watches were among the most accurate watches ever made. This “Trio” represents, possibly, the finest grouping of precision watches ever assembled.


What is the Navigator's Trio?

The U.S. Navy identified the type of watch found in this Trio as a torpedo-boat watch (TBW). The same type of watch was often referred to by other navies as a deck or chronometer watch. In Washington Naval Observatory correspondence, the term “chronometer watch” is used interchangeably with torpedo-boat watch.

The Navigator’s Trio, officially called by the Navy “Torpedo-Boat Navigator’s Timing Outfit”, was a set of three watches used for one of three purposes;
-To assure absolute exact time in a Navy’s synchronized attacks, when the smallest risk of an error in precise determination of time was intolerable
-To indicate three types of time at the same moment: sidereal, Greenwich Mean Time, and local time
-To indicate time in three different places, the departure place time, the destination time, and the local time

The use of three chronometers began with the British. Captain Shadwell noted that the system of supplying a ship with three chronometers originated in the British Navy around 1825. He wrote: “Two chronometers are of very little use; when one malfunctions it cannot be determined which one it is whereas with three chronometers, if one malfunctions, the other two still show the same correct time”.

The US Naval Observatory recommended, for the same reasons, the use of three chronometers for each destroyer.

Marquis Francesco De Pinedo, a general in the Italian Army and one of the first aviation pioneers, used the Navigator's Trio exclusively during several of his famous intercontinental flights.


A Short History of the Zeppelins (Airships)

Zeppelins were the largest flying machines ever, reaching up to 803 feet in length. By comparison, a modern Boeing 747 airliner is 243 feet long.

The history of zeppelins has been dominated by the image of the crash of the Hindenberg on May 3, 1937.

For approximately the first three decades of the twentieth century, zeppelins played a major role in the early development of aviation. They were used for scientific and polar exploration, circumnavigating the earth, transatlantic luxury flights, and by the military for observation platforms, for escorting convoys, for bombing runs and others.
As an example, on January 24, 1925, the US Naval Observatory used USS Los Angeles zeppelin, cruising at 4500 feet to broadcast a live report of the eclipse.

They were even used as aircraft carriers having the ability to receive and deploy aircraft.

Up until the Hindenburg's explosion in 1937, America had been preparing infrastructure in anticipation of a future where zeppelins would dominate the skies, floating people and heavy cargo to almost any destination.

It is a little known fact that the top of the Empire State Building was planned to be constructed as a docking terminal for zeppelins. The U.S. government was so convinced airships were going to be the next big thing that a special act was enacted, the Helium Control Act of 1927, forbidding the sale of helium - used in zeppelins - to foreign governments. This was one of the reasons for the Hindenburg disaster, the United States refused to sell helium to Germany and the Hindenburg had to be filled with hydrogen.

The United States Navy had four zeppelins in their fleet, the USS Shenandoah (ZR-1), the USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), the USS Akron (ZRS-4), and the USS Macon (ZRS-5). The later two were the largest helium airships to ever fly at 785' long.

A mooring mast for zeppelins on a ship. The top of the Empire State Building was planned to be one also.

They were very expensive – for example, the Akron cost 4.5 million USD in 1933 – and were equipped with excellent instrumentation which would include their navigation timepieces.

One wonders what trios the other American zeppelins carried in their navigation rooms. We might never know because, unfortunately, the USS Los Angeles was the only US Navy zeppelin to not meet a disastrous end. The Akron crash, with 73 dead, was the world's worst airship crash. The Hindenburg, by comparison killed 36 people.

Zeppelins were once considered the future of air transport and interestingly, 80 years after the Hindenburg disaster, the fascination with zeppelins is reborn. Airlander Corp is building modern airships today. Amazon.com Inc. has filed for a patent to use airships to store products and serve as a base for delivery-drones. Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, is also building a huge new zeppelin, for fuel efficiency, suggested by Bloomberg.

Mr. Brin, no doubt, will have great instruments, but none as remarkable as the Patek Philippe Trio.


Dr. Charles Edouard Guillaume for his metallurgical research and its applications into horology was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1920. Countless attempts had been made before Guillaume’s time to eliminate the so called Middle Temperature Error of compensation balances.
Marvin E. Whitney, Military Timepieces, AWI Press, 1992, p. 292
Whitney, op. cit.
Charles F.A. Shadwell, Esq, Captain, Royal Navy, Notes on the Management of Chronometers and the Measurement
of Meridian Distances, London, 1861, p.
Whitney, op. cit.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mooring_mast
Bloomberg, With Secret Airship, April 25, 2017

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