Breathtakingly rare, this watch is a peerless example of Patek Philippe’s reference 2523 two-crown world time wristwatch in pink gold. In the pantheon of world-class Patek Philippe wristwatches, few can come close to matching the amazing rarity and beauty of this unique double-signed blue enamel dial reference 2523. Not only is the blue enamel dial centre Extract confirmed, but only one other single-signed example is known to exist (although it is thought that three may possibly have been made). Furthermore, it is the only known reference 2523 to be double signed with both Patek Philippe’s signature and that of the prestigious Milan retailer Gobbi. Christie’s is incredibly honoured to offer it here at auction for the first time in almost a decade since its first appearance in 2010. Part of a highly important private collection, its exclusivity and desirability is further enhanced by its spectacular all original condition, without any signs of restoration or cosmetic enhancement.
Only the fifth pink gold reference 2523 ever to be offered at auction, it was made in 1953 and sold in April 1957 to Patek Philippe’s distinguished retailer Gobbi in Milan. It is thought that a total of only seven reference 2523 dual-crown world time wristwatches in pink gold were ever made.
The beauty of the case and dial design is matched only by the complexity of the movement, the revolutionary world time system - or “Heures Universelles” designed and patented in the early 1930s by legendary watchmaker Louis Cottier (1884-1966). Patek Philippe immediately saw its potential and commissioned Cottier with the development and production of a series of "World Time" watches.
The world time mechanism of the reference 2523 is a functional complication that is simple to calibrate. One must first set the local or mean time by the crown at 3 o'clock (the 24 hour ring will revolve in the opposite direction of the hands). Then the outer ring is adjusted by turning the crown at 9 o'clock until one's current global location is indicated at the 12 o'clock position. Once this is calibrated, the relative time of each world location is set. The two-tone 24-hour ring indicates world locations that are in night time by the grey section and daytime by the silvered section.
The beauty of the case is defined by the solid lugs, highlighted by the angular facets, and demonstrates impressively that it has never been mistreated. Accordingly, the gold marks are as crisp as to be expected.
The dial with stunning royal blue enamel centre beautifully harmonizes with the pink gold case representing the very summit of mid-century watch design. An exemplar of Patek Philippe’s 1950s “golden age”, when design, craftsmanship and technological advancement coincided to perfection.
The present reference 2523 combines all the ingredients crucial to deserve the label "a collector's dream come true", reserved for the exceptionally small elite of the world's finest timepieces: a state-of-the-art movement of highest mechanical complexity, a design of extraordinary esthetical appeal, excellent original condition and the signatures of two celebrated houses.
It is unlikely that another reference 2523 of such immense rarity will be available to the international market for perhaps decades to come.
Serial no. 722’715, made 1953 by Stern Frères and under dial mechanism by Stern Frères in coordination with Cottier. Blue enamel centre on a gold plate with a satined gold rim for the hour markers, pink gold applied Roman and indexes.
The signature is painted in the enamel using a gold mixture. Revolving silver 24 hours bezel, day silvered and night dark grey. Two pink gold applied dots for the noon and midnight markers. Silvered outer dial ring for the cities, with engraved enamelled 40 cities around the World according to the time zone. Gold Lys hour hand and Dauphine minutes hand.
Serial no. 306’2015 Made in 1954 by Antoine Gerlach, Geneva Master case maker key 4, three-piece, snapped bezel and back, soldered lugs. Three-piece 18k pink gold with 4/10th mm thick snapped back and bevelled cut bezel with angled and faceted turned down lugs. Solid pink gold crowns marked BF G (for Boninchi Freres Geneve)
Serial no. 722’715, made in 1953, cal. 12 400 HU (Heures Universelles) with Cottier’s dial modification; amagnetic mono-metallic balance, stamped twice with Geneva seal.
The calibre 12 400, evolved from the calibre 12 120, it was made from 1950 to 1960 and was numbered from 720’000 to 729’999. It was the best 12’’’ calibre with subsidiary seconds of its time with 18 jewels and 18’000 oscillations
History of the Reference 2523 HU, 1953-1957
Ref. 2523 HU (Heures Universelles) was launched in 1953, produced in replacement of the former ref. 1415 HU (1939-1954).
Louis Cottier, a Geneva watchmaker who invented the “World Time” system in the mid 1930’s, delivered around 45 modified caliber “12 400” movements to Patek Philippe gradually from 1953 until 1965; the calibre 12 400, becoming 12 400 HU with Cottier’s modification. It is thought that in total only 26 watches were cased with ref. 2523, 18 in yellow gold, 7 in pink gold, 1 white gold. Even though ref. 2523 was listed and sold until the mid-1960’s, the 25 yellow or pink gold cases were ordered between 1953 and 1954 and the only white gold known in 1955. The yellow and pink cases were gradually delivered to Patek until 1957. After 1957, 20 more ref. 2523-1, with less prominent lugs, were made, about the same case distribution ratio. The tree-piece cases of the ref 2523 and 2523-1 (35.5mm diam.) were all made by Antoine Gerlach. The dials were made by Stern Frères, in particular the outer world time ring, and the decorated centre of the dial by superb enamel artists such as Nelly Richard or Marguerite Koch, both working almost exclusively for the Stern dial company. The ref. 2523 was usually produced with enamel dial decoration, translucent or cloisonné, or with a metal dial. Oppositely, ref. 2523-1 was made only with a metal dial.
In 1842, Raimondo Gobbi, a lover of horology, opened his workshop in Modena. The business was carried on with such competence and commitment that already ten years later, in 1852, the Grand Duke allowed him to boast of the appointment “Clockmaker to the Royal Court”. At the time, the sales and focus was on pocket watches and pendulum clocks. Raimondo’s youngest son, Giuseppe, helped with his technical skills to develop the firm and in 1896 he moved to Milan, opening a workshop in Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The great-grandsons Aldo and Gastone worked in the business from the early 1930s onwards, making the shop a leader in Italy in sales of Swiss clocks and watches and later adding goldsmithing and jewellery.
The first workshop was destroyed during the last war. On 4th September 1949 the current shop was inaugurated, and still retains the original furnishings of the time. Currently the business is managed by Luca Pozzolini Gobbi, Gastone’s son, and by his daughter Serena. With more than 170 years of history, the GOBBI firm can today affirm with pride that it has served its customers’ families for six generations.
Four ref. 2523 are displayed in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
Ref. 2523 watches are illustrated in: Patek Philippe Wristwatches, Martin Huber and Alan Banbery, 1998 edition, pp. 240 to 242.
Other examples are illustrated in: Patek Philippe Museum book, 2014 edition, Volume 2, pp.345 & 346.
Ref. 2523 watches are illustrated in: Blue Book 2, Eric Tortella, 2019 edition, pp. 354 to 399.
We are grateful to Eric Tortella for his assistance and study in researching this watch.