My next watch selection for iconic status maybe somewhat controversial. For a start, it does not have a particularly overt visual status. Nonetheless, I believe the Patek Philippe Ref. 2526 is one of the manufacturer’s iconic watches.
I was evaluating which of the Patek Philippe Calatrava range one could consider as icons. The watches I considered were the Ref. 570, Ref 565, Ref. 3417 and Ref. 2526. To be fair, I think all four are iconic Calatravas. However, which do I consider a Top 10 icon from this list? I think the Ref. 2526 gets the nod. It does so for several reasons.
Patek Philippe, as a manufacturer, is perhaps most noted for two things. First, for having pioneered most of today’s popular complications. Second, for creating an understated elegance and style to their dress watches. This latter characteristic is, perhaps, no more evident than in the vintage Calatrava range. For me, the vintage Calatrava is the epitome of understated elegance.
So why do I pick the ref. 2526 as a Patek Philippe icon?
Most often seen in yellow gold, but also coming in rose gold, white gold, and very rarely in platinum. Most often with an eggshell enamel dial. But the occasional black can be found.
The first self-winding movement from Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe launched the ref. 2526 in 1953, some 22 years after Rolex patented its own self-winding mechanism. The Ref. 2526 is, then, the very first self-winding watch from Patek Philippe. This makes it historically important within Patek Philippe. Patek Philippe clearly wanted to mark the watch as significant and it did that in a number of key ways.
Many have described the 12-600AT as the finest automatic movement ever made. In essence, the movement was made for the Ref. 2526 (and subsequently used in a handful of other references). It is estimated that a total of around 7000 watches across this handful of references housed the 12-600AT movement between 1953 and 1960.
The finishing on the 12-600AT is stunning. It is suggested that the decoration on the rotor is the first ever decorated rotor in history. It is certainly the case that I have not seen a decorated rotor on earlier watches. The finishing across the entire movement is, frankly, astonishing. What makes it even more so is the fact that such finishing was applied decades before crystal casebacks became de rigeur. Hence, the owner of the Ref. 2526 would never actually see the extraordinary lengths that Patek Philippe went to. Yet, Patek Philippe did go to extraordinary lengths. And they did so because the Ref. 2526 was significant to them.
What has to be one of the most beautiful self-winding movements ever made.
I think it is also worth stating that the excellence of the finishing needs to be taken in the context of the era. This was 1953! As promotional material of the time stated….
“The slightest movement of your wrist actuates this gold winding weight, gathering and storing 40 hours of energy….A watchmaker finds sheer delight merely in examining this superlative mechanism for he recognises the infinite skill with which it is made….To you this great watch will be a source of unending satisfaction and pride….knowing that one possesses the finest.”
When Patek Philippe want to mark a watch as very special, giving it an enamel dial is one of the things that they occasionally do. Look at today’s ref 5370P. This is a special split second chronograph for Patek Philippe and they marked it so by using an enamel dial. The ref. 2526 was also singled out for such treatment. The vast majority of ref. 2526 received enamel dials.
With today’s technology, enamel dials are STILL difficult to make. In 1953, the double-baked enamel technique was an extreme rarity. Patek Philippe wanted to mark the initiation of its self-winding range with a watch that would age beautifully. It wanted to match a watch with perpetual motion with a perpetual dial – one that would not tarnish. A Patek Philippe brochure of the era described the dial as “impervious to the action of outside agents, such as tarnishing produced by sunlight.”
Of course, for a 1950s technology, the subsequent 70 years or so has tested the enamel well. Although it is possible that after 70 years, the enamel on a Ref. 2526 may have developed some hairline crack, most seem remarkably intact.
Back in the 1950s, snapback cases were the norm. Creating a water-proof screwback case for the Ref. 2526 was, again, unusual. Patek Philippe were ostensibly trying to create a watch that was marked out as special.
I own both 3417 and 570, but not a Ref. 2526. When comparing all three on the wrist, I have to say that although I love my white metal variants, the Ref. 2526 sits more prominently on the wrist. It is a watch that I would love to wear as a dress watch or with a business suit. It has a feel to it that oozes style and class. Another quirk of 12-600AT is that it has the double-P crown – something made specifically for the 12-600AT. It adds another layer marking the watch as special.
Is the Ref. 2526 the finest time-only watch ever made by Patek Philippe? I think it is certainly in the frame. It combines three major technical developments. The Gyromax balance, the self-winding mechanism with first ever decorated gold rotor and the screw back case.
Lions don’t need to roar to be lions. For me, the Ref. 2526 is a Top 10 icon from Patek Philippe.