Probably the most well known and possibly desireable time only watch made by Patek Philippe. It has many attributes that made it such. Below are some of the highlights.
The first Automatic (12-600AT) made by Patek Philippe.
Double baked Enamel Dial.
Classic oversized (for the period) Calatrava case.
Water proof screw back case.
Special crown with the double PP back to back on it.
An 18 karat rotor, perhaps the 1st time a vitally important part of a movement was made out of 18k gold.
A special bracelet made specifically by “Gay Freres” for the 2526.
The minute track was gold, painted on the baked enamel.
The 1st 2526 was delivered to a well known patek owner by the name of JB Champion on July 1953. The movement s/n was 760000. I personally have had many of the 2526’s and will always have at least 1 in my collection. Currently I have a very early s/n 760015 (16th one made) with a Tiffany dial. I regret several I have sold but none more than the yellow gold, black enamel dial. I am sure someday I will get another.
The 2526 case was made in yellow, rose, white gold and platinum. 36mm in diameter. Hallmarks were placed in different places which seems to be part of Patek’s DNA. With watches that had a bracelet you will see wear just under the lugs. I do not see this as a major issue for collectors.
There was a great variety of dials but the 1st series (for a lack of a better word) was the double baked enamel which has a slight beige tint to it. It had flared holes to accept the hour baton markers which had pins on them. The holes were flared to ease the process of the enameling. The baton markers were inserted into the holes on the dial and then swaged over. This process must have been very delicate and I would imagine many dials were lost between this process and having the holes in the dial. This led to the elimination of the holes and the hour baton markers being applied with an epoxy/adhesive. Many collectors find the dials with the flared holed holes much more desireable.
Being an enamel dial some of the dials did experience damage. Of those that were damaged the common problem is minute hairline cracks. These hairline cracks seem to appear in the area of 11:00 and 5:00. I have seen them in other areas of the dial but the majority of the ones I have seen are usually in this area.
There are a lot of theories out there, temperature/co-efficient of thermal expansion of two different materials, getting hit thus making it a very fragile watch, or leaving it in a safe for extended periods. I cannot say if one or any of these are true but in my opinion it is none of the above. The dial does not have any contact with the case and there is actually a substantial gap between the case and the dial.
My theory is they were caused by people working on them did not remove or replace the dial properly. The dial feet are located at the 11:00 & 5:00 position and if the screws that are located in the movement that hold the dial down were not loosened enough the dial could be damaged when taking it off, or conversely when you put the dial back on the screws were tightened to much this could easily create stress point that over time or immediately cause a minute hairline that you could only see under a loupe. Just what the world needs is another theory!!!! As far as being delicate, I wear mine frequently and have never damaged a dial or caused a hairline.
Special dials were made in limited numbers such as:
Full applied Breguet numeral (also on my list to own someday)
Dial with Arabic numerals at 3, 6, & 12.
The Masonic with writing “Do unto others as you would unto yourself”. This dial is not enamel.
Diamond dial mostly for the platinum and white gold, also not enamel.
Black enamel dial with baton markers.
I heard there was rose gold black enamel with applied Breguet numerals. That I would love to see and own (though I doubt I could afford it, but it’s nice to dream).
I must mention that Christies Auction house had the best selection of 2526’s I have ever seen in there Nov 2008 auction. If you can find this catalog and keep it for future reference.
One must be very careful when purchasing the 2526 to inspect the dial very carefully. Hairline cracks in the dial can deduct a lot from the value of the watch. With that said, it would not detract me from buying one with a hairline (especially some of the rarer models) but it should be priced accordingly.
The movement was Patek Philippe’s 1st self winding movement, the 12-600-AT. The 12 stands for 12 lignes the movement’s diameter. Lignes being a unit of measurement, 1 ligne is equal to 2.26 mm.
The 600 denotes the movement overall height in mm. somewhat of a misnomer seeing how the movement is actually 5.45 mm, oh well close enough.
The AT stands for Automatic.
The movement is 30 jewel, bi-directional winding, gyromatic balance, 18k gold rotor. There were several modifications of this movement during its relative short life (approximately 7-8 years).
They reinforced the rotor axis, they improved the rotor mount, they replaced the eccentric wheel cam with a ball bearing and finally they added a 3rd screw to secure the movement to the case. The early movements had what many described as rotor slap and you could actually hear it. This was eliminated after these mods.
I also read that they originally had a beryllium bronze (glucydur) screw balance and this was replaced with the Gyromax balance wheel after s/n 760300. As mentioned I have s/n 760015 and it has the Gyromax balance plus I have a technical write up by patek that was given to their AD’s on how to explain the great features of the 2526 and in it they feature the Gyromax balance and do not mention the other one….another patek mystery.
As mentioned earlier, “Gay Freres” designed different style bracelets for the 2526. They were carried over to the other references as new self winding watches were produced using the 12-600AT movements. These bracelets are distinguished by the same double back to back PP that is used on the crown. These bracelets were of the best quality and are very collectible.
The 2526 in my opinion is not the fragile watch that many seem to think it is in fact it’s a very wearable watch. The dials are truly unique and cannot be duplicated though some have tried. The 12-600 AT movement though had some early problems they were not major and was an amazing piece of engineering and artistry and still sought after by collectors some 56 years later. The case work is classic in style and proportions.
I personally believe every good collection should include a 2526. It is, the Iconic time only watch and truly one of the most beautiful and well known watch ever made. With such a broad selection to choose from there is one that suits everyone’s tastes and wallet.