Geneva Auction Highlight: The White Gold Patek Philippe Reference 2497
Watch specialists often use the word "important" to describe a watch, not because they’re too lazy to think of another term, and certainly not because it’s convenient or even advantageous to make a watch seem more valuable than it is. They use it because collectors continuously redefine what importance means to them.
Those who remember watch collecting as nothing more than an obscure and exotic hobby will remember importance as a simple mix of rarity and complexity. Today, there are quite a few more parameters to consider, including the condition, correctness and historical importance of a reference to a watchmaker, or even, to the industry. In that sense, the present white gold Reference 2497 is certainly one of the most important watches currently on the market.
Historically, the reference 2497 and its waterproof twin, the reference 2438/1, are two of the most significant watches produced by Patek Philippe. They were the first (and for more than forty years, the only) serially produced sweep seconds perpetual calendar models. And they were different in a few more ways which made them special to Patek Philippe.
The 2497 was launched in the early 1950s, almost at the same time as the acclaimed reference 2499, which is very similar in terms of case construction and dial layout, with one major difference, the benefit of a chronograph.
The calibre 2497 may not be as complicated, but is noteworthy for something else: consecutive movement numbers. Research shows that a combined 179 examples of reference 2497 and its water resistant sibling 2438/1 were produced during their 12 year production period, with movement numbers spanning from 888.000 to 888.178.
Of course, not all 2497 are the same. Patek Philippe introduced a number of changes throughout the model’s production, which further helps us identify when each example was made.
A „First Series” is a 2497 that uses dots and Arabic numerals as hour makers. These are typical of the earliest models. A „Second Series” will use baton numerals instead. Those are present in the later models.
The present example is a „First Series” with a Wenger case, which has the particularity of having a domed back, more extended lugs, and a slighter larger diameter than the Vichet cases, and it is powered by movement number 888'054 – which confirms it is one of the earlier 2497s.
In this instance, what is more interesting than when the watch was made is what it was made with. To a vintage watch collector, an unusual dial variation is highly attractive and the design would be something to consider as well, but case metals ultimately decide which 2497s are the most desirable.
This is most probably a combined consequence of the visual impact of a white or pink case, and also of the historical scarcity of such metals. Most complicated Patek Philippe vintage models were offered only in yellow and pink gold, making those in white metals extremely sought-after. In fact, it was highly unusual for a company to offer a specific model in all three gold colours and platinum.
As you might have guessed, reference 2497 shines in this department as well: notwithstanding its extremely limited production, it is the only vintage complicated Patek Philippe to be available in yellow, pink, white gold and in platinum.
The white gold 2497 is the rarest gold 2497. This here is one of three pieces that we know of. Only the platinum 2497 is believed to be rarer, and only by one example. Furthermore, the present piece is the only white gold 2497 recorded in the archive as sold with a bracelet, and the bracelet itself has an interesting story.
If the case and bracelet look like they belong to two different time periods, it’s because they were made separately. Believe it or not, Patek Philippe couldn’t find a buyer for the watch in 1954, when it was assembled, so they kept it…for a while. Finally, they found a client for the watch in 1963, which explains why it comes on a very 1960s bracelet.
It’s pretty incredible to think this watch was once unloved. The 2497 is considered a masterpiece of design today. Back then, this would have been a very large watch. The case of the 2497 is light years away from the much more restrained lines of its direct ancestor - reference 1526. However, somehow, the overall execution conveys elegance and restrained refinement, without feeling in the slightest excessive or pretentious.
The dial as well follows the same guideline: the wealth of information provided by the perpetual calendar is elegantly and sparsely arranged, giving the impression of a much simpler timepiece. Patek Philippe followed its own example, designing the dial according to the reference 1526, the manufacture’s first perpetual calendar, with some small improvements of course.
The seconds hand is given a more prominent position. Placed at the centre of the watch, the hand feels more connected to timekeeping elements of the watch, and removes any confusion created when it lived with the date hand at 6 o’clock. During this early era, placing the seconds at the dial’s center was no simple matter, requiring additional, complex gearing similar to a chronograph to execute.
As the connoisseur well knows, the aesthetics of a vintage timepiece can be truly appreciated only if the watch is preserved in unadulterated condition: an aggressive polishing or a clumsy dial restoration can easily mar the proportions of the case or the unspoiled beauty of the dial.
Miraculously, one might say, the present piece has not aged a day despite spending more than 70 years outside of the manufacture: the grooved lugs are perfectly preserved, the case overall presents hardly any sign of wear, the crown is original, even the bracelet links have virtually no stretch. When such a level of originality meets an equally high level of rarity, the heart of any watch lover simply skips a beat.
Finally, we must speak briefly about the watch’s value because importance and value ultimately go hand in hand. The last time this watch was sold at auction it fetched just under CHF 1.5 Million, an impressive sum by any standard but an even better performance given the auction took place in 2005. How much it will make this time around is anybody’s guess, but it isn’t long before we find out.