A “gold watch” is an archetypal reward for years of meritorious service to a company. But how cool would it be if your company contracted with Patek Philippe to build a special set of 20 Calatrava watches? That’s exactly what General Motors Overseas Operations did in 1954, and these watches are a unique collectible today!
Considering the Ref. 1578GM
Patek Philippe was already a remarkable brand in the 1950’s. Even as the Swiss watch industry was expanding after World War II, no one could touch the classic elegance and sophistication of a Patek Philippe Calatrava. The watch seems familiar today but that’s because it was so loved for the last half-century!
In 1954, General Motors Overseas Operations (“GMOO”) decided to celebrate the success of 20 top-performing executives by commissioning a special run of the popular Patek Philippe 1578 Calatrava. These watches were made of 18-karat gold and featured a unique black dial with gold markers – Arabic numerals for 3, 9, and 12 and pyramids at the other positions. Powered by the hand-wound Calibre 12-400, these 1578’s remain distinctive and desirable. Patek assigned a special model number, 1578GM, just to this set of 20 watches.
I spotted one while perusing Auctionata’s March 10, 2015 auction catalog. Surprised by the striking black dial and $5,000 initial bid, I decided to do some research. I found a few of these that have been sold over the years, most for more than twice that price. This one seems to be in average condition with an incorrect strap. I imagine it will sell for much more than their estimate! These seem to have been saved for special occasions or produced for a few years, since the one listed here was apparently engraved 8 years after the commission.
This same watch is listed to have sold for $15,000 by “iCollector” on November 15, 2004. It was part of a set of seized assets, so it seems to have had a rather colorful history. It was also shown by Hodinkee as part of their coverage of the 2015 Original Miami Beach Antique Show but presumably did not sell.
Ref. 1578GM Registry
Since there does not seem to be a registry for this special model, I decided to create one here. For posterity, here are the examples I found in my Internet search, along with others from the comments section of this blog.
Note that I have uncovered at least 22 examples, and there could be even more. Not all are identical to the McAuliffe example pictured here. In fact they vary quite a lot in terms of the engraving style and even the case and dial material. One even has a white dial, which is possibly a replacement.
It is also possible that some of these came from a later run. Christies says that Patek Philippe paperwork shows the Smith and Helling examples sold in 1962, for example. This would explain the varying engraving quality as well. It is also possible that some are not completely authentic or are otherwise modified. Some have un-signed crowns, one has a white dial, and two appear to be in rose gold.
Not all are marked identically inside either: Most say “REF1578GM” but some have just “REF1578” or “1578GM” or even “1578MG”!
Here are all the Patek Philippe Ref. 1578GM watches I could find.
- G.K. Ahlers, 1920-1950 “REF1578” 655XXX (Only Vintage)
- L.W.F. Bailey, 1935-1960 Overseas Operations 646XX (William Farmer/eBay – rose gold and different engraving with no “GM” inside the caseback)
- W.J. Balmain, 1924-1954 (eBay)
- S.W. Brooks, 1930-1955 Un-Signed Crown (TravisB/Rolex Forums and Harold Freeman Jewelers)
- P.W. Cofelin, 1933-1959 Un-Signed Crown (Miami Beach/1stDibs)
- E.J. Duggan, GMOO 1922-1947 (Stephen Duggan)
- J. A. Eberth, 1927 – 1952 (Antiquorum, December 9, 2009)
- F. C. Forsberg, GMOO 1936-1961 (Matthew Bain)
- M.J. Gaffney, GMOO 1929-1954 “REF1578GM” (Robert Maron)
- W.R. Hamer, GMOO 1927-1960 White Dial (Lauritz)
- C.H. Helling, GMC-GMOO 1939-1965 2625803 (Christies, December 6, 2018, $17,500)
- J. E. Linebaugh, 1923-1956 (Watchuseek, January 14, 2009, $4,000)
- A.E. Mayer, GMOO 1936-1961 695857 (Alessandro Ciani)
- W. D. McAuliffe, GMC-GMOO 1937-1962 (Auctionata, 2015)
- J.J. McLaughlin, GMC-GMOO 1936-1961 (Royal Jewelers)
- R.A. Mehrtens, 1928-1953 (Chrono 24)
- E.C. Nurenberg, 1929-1954 (Alan Jeffrey Bean)
- T. J. Quinn, GMC-GMOO 1935-1960 (Feel Good Watches, offered at $18,750)
- K.P. Smith, GMC-GMOO 1934-1964 2625784 (Christies, June 21, 2017, $27,500)
- G. L. Terpenning, GMC-GMOO 1936-1961 “REF1578GM” 2813819 (Robert Maron)
- P.L. Walsh, G.M.O.O. 1925-1950 Rose Gold, Un-Signed Crown (OnBeHalf)
- H.O. Watts, 1936-1961 (David Burns)
- Unknown “1578MG” 685XX2 Un-Signed Crown (Matthew Bain)
- No engraving REF1578GM 2625771 (South Beach Art Deco/eBay)
- Unknown (Christies, December 14, 2012, $13,750)
- Unknown (Christies, June 13, 2012, $10,000)
- Unknown (Christies, May 15, 2006)
- Unknown (Sotheby’s, May 17, 2005)
Not all black-dial 1578s are part of this series:
- Christies did sell a different black-dial 1578 on June 10, 2009. It had rectangular markers and no arabic numerals. Perhaps it was a replacement dial, or maybe it was a unique model.
- Sotheby’s also sold one on June 8, 2006, with different markers.
- Madison Time Watches had one listed on Chrono24 in 2018 with no engraving on the back of the case.
- Watchbox.be had a black-dial “REF1578” listed on Chrono24 in 2018 with rectangular markers but no photo of the caseback.