Patek Philippe’s First Automatic Watch Is Heading to Auction

The first self-winding wristwatch made by Patek Philippe is going on the block at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on April 7. A first-series Ref. Patek 2526, the 36 mm 18-karat gold timepiece with white enamel dial is expected to fetch between $384,000 and $770,000 (HK$3,000,000 to HK$6,000,000) thanks in part to its storied provenance.

“Patek’s first automatic watch is a very important milestone for the brand,” Joey Luk, director and head of Sotheby’s watches department in Hong Kong, tells Robb Report. “It is shown by how beautifully decorated the movement is even when they could only be seen by watchmakers due to the solid case back. It’s arguably the best automatic caliber ever made.”

More from Robb Report

Patek Philippe first series Ref. 2526
Patek Philippe first series Ref. 2526

Patek Philippe introduced reference 2526 at the Basel Fair in Switzerland in the spring of 1953. The brand then “waited for a couple of months to see how the watch would be received,” Luk says.

In the summer of 1953, the brand delivered the watch to Joe Ben (J.B.) Champion, Jr., an American criminal defense attorney in Texas whose mid-century collection of Patek Philippe watches has enchanted modern-day collectors. Over the past 30 years, just three of his watches have surfaced on the market, all made especially for him. In addition to reference 2526, these include a record-breaking platinum observatory watch sold by Christie’s in November 2012 for 3.8 million Swiss francs and a chronometer-tested open-face watch sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2004.

Patek Philippe first series Ref. 2526
Patek Philippe first series Ref. 2526

Champion ordered reference 2526 on a mesh/woven yellow gold bracelet. Bearing the serial number 760000, the watch is accompanied by a letter dated June 27, 1953, from Werner Sonn, then-president of the Henri Stern Watch Agency in New York City, the brand’s American subsidiary. The letter confirms the provenance of the watch as well as the fact that it is, indeed, the firm’s very first self-winding wristwatch.

Champion’s watch was sold by Antiquorum in Geneva in 1991 for 32,200 CHF and again by Antiquorum in New York in 1998 for $57,500, where it was purchased by the current owner, who changed the bracelet to the one that now appears on the model, Luk says. It has remained in his collection for the past 26 years.

The live sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong begins on April 7 at 10 a.m. HKT (April 6 at 10 p.m. ET).

Best of Robb Report

Sign up for Robb Report's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.