Wearing the ref. 2526, and experiencing it up close, gave me the opportunity to really appreciate the nuances of this model. The dial is superior to anything I have ever had on my wrist before: the way the light hits the enamel and changes at every angle has to be seen to be fully appreciated. And the feeling of the gold rotor spinning on your wrist is a subtle reminder of the micro-mechanical genius at work as you go about your day. The weight of the relatively heavy handmade case on your wrist is a testament to quality that can be seen, and felt.
A Patek Philippe newsletter in the early 1950s described the company’s first automatic system as ‘The famous 18k gold rotor that glides like a swan on a clear lake.’ The exceptional quality meant that the slightest movement of the wrist caused the bi-directional rotor to spin and accumulate energy, enabling the watch to gather enough power for a 40-hour power reserve. Although Patek Philippe was not the first to make an automatic wristwatch, the company’s version was recognized as one of the most accurate and aesthetically beautiful systems in the world.
The automatic caliber 12’’’-600 was first used in a groundbreaking new watch, the ref. 2526. When introduced, Patek Philippe referred to the timepiece as a ‘Self-winding Watch’ rather than an automatic or a self-winder. The terminology subtly encouraged comparison with Patek’s great 19th-century innovation of ‘Stem-winding’. The initial enthusiasm for this automatic watch was due to its Gyromax balance and bi-directional rotor.
Today, most recognize the ref. 2526 for its unique dial, originally described in marketing material as ‘Double-baked enamel on sterling disc. This is a modern version of the old durable enameled dial. Its features: greater beauty and durability. It will not change color; it is highly scratch-resistant, and it can be washed with soap and water.’ Furthermore, the 18k lapped markers called attention to their detail: ‘These stick markers are actually riveted to the disc. Note their careful lapping, and other indications of finest craftsmanship.’ Another notable detail on the ref. 2526 was the unique 18k winding crown which bore a “PP” logo cut in relief on the crown. This is the first time this distinctive stylized logo was used on the crown. Every last detail of the watch was explained and promoted by Patek Philippe as can be seen in the accompanying images.
A slimmer reference
The ref. 2526 was aggressively marketed and sold through authorized retailers around the world. Originally retailing for 500 USD, the ref. 2526 was an instant success due to its unique design and technical innovations. The demand for thinner watches led Patek Philippe to release a new version of its automatic watch in 1955, the ref. 2552. According to a Patek Philippe ad from the time, ‘In this model, attention has been focused on obtaining a thinner watch – without forfeiting any of the protective qualities… A different case and dial construction has accomplished this, and the result is very gratifying.’
Although sales remained strong for the ref. 2526, the market increasingly demanded a thinner version as styles changed in the mid-1950s. Unlike the thick enamel dial on the ref. 2526, the ref. 2552 had a silvered-metal dial and a modified case making it significantly thinner than its predecessor although it retained the same caliber 12’’’-600.
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