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!
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.
I wonder if there is a registry somewhere for the 20 produced. For posterity, here are the six I found in my quick Internet search:
- W. D. McAuliffe, 1937-1962 (Auctionata, 2015)
- T. J. Quinn, 1935 – 1960 (Feel Good Watches, offered at $18,750)
- G. L. Terpenning, 1936-1961 (Robert Maron)
- F. C. Forsberg, 1936-1961 (Matthew Bain)
- J. A. Eberth, 1927 – 1952 (Antiquorum, December 9, 2009)
- J. E. Linebaugh, 1923-1956 (Watchuseek, January 14, 2009, $4,000)
- R.O. Watts, 1936-1961 (@_DavidBurns)
- Unknown (Harold Freeman)
- 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)
Interestingly, 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.
Year: 1950's, 1960's
Brand: Patek Philippe
Style: Dress watch, Wristwatch
Case: Gold, Precious Metals
Country: Europe, Switzerland
Tags: 1578, 1578GM, Auctionata, Christies, General Motors, Hodinkee, Original Miami Beach Antique Show, Patek Philippe, Patek Philippe 12-400, Patek Philippe 1578, Sotheby's, iCollector