What's a Patek Philippe Caliber 12-600 and what makes it so special? Well, in a nutshell it was Patek Philippe's first automatic - or self-winding as they call it - movement with production starting in 1952, which brought us the famous ref. 2526. But it definitely was a lot more than that, both in terms of references and importance. So this will be a guide into what and how many pieces were equipped with the legendary caliber.

September 20, 2023

Patek Philippe Caliber 12-600 - A Movement for the Ages


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


Reference Guide & Database:

Patek Philippe Sub-Second - Center-Second - Shaped Watches - Cal. 12-600AT - Cal. 27-460


What's a Patek Philippe Caliber 12-600 and what makes it so special? Well, in a nutshell it was Patek Philippe's first automatic - or self-winding as they call it - movement with production starting in 1952, which brought us the famous ref. 2526[1]. But it definitely was a lot more than that, both in terms of references and importance.


Closeup of a Patek Philippe Caliber 12-600AT movementThis time it's all about the inner values - Patek Philippe's first automatic movement - the Caliber 12-600AT. Photo Courtesy of Christie's.


1) The Movement

The Caliber 12-600AT (to be exact) was developed by a team led by Francois Cart and launched in 1953[2-4]. The 1950s sound quite late of an introduction year for a wristwatch technology that was first patented and launched over 30 years before in 1922[1-2]. So what took Patek so long? Patent laws...

In 1931 Rolex patented their full-rotor movement ... for 20 years! Meaning that until 1951 no other manufacturer would be allowed to built a compatible technology.  And Patek waited and developed in secret to jumpstart their caliber to the top upon introduction.


Patek Philippe Patents of the 1940s and 1950s enabling their automatic movementFigure 1. The three main patents associated with the success of the Caliber 12-600AT - The Gyromax balance wheel (left & middle) and the movement itself (right). Photo Courtesy of Majesty of Time.


Three major patents can be attributed to the Caliber 12-600AT: A new balance wheel technology - later called the Gyromax - was first patented in 1947 (Figure 1, left)[2]. Establishing a system of removable weights to better adjust the watches' accuracy was the first step. In contrast to the classic screw-adjustment it further enabled to fit a larger balance (Figure 1, middle). Finally, the Caliber 12-600AT (Figure 1, right; 12 ligne (27mm), 19800A/h) won over the masses by its impeccable finishing, the 18k golden rotor (a novelty) and the amount of jewels (30). All of which was perceived as the next level evolution of automatic movement quality[2].


2) The References

You may know Patek Philippe's reference 2526 - it's been the first and the most common of them all. According to Sotheby’s 14 references were fitted with the 12-600AT in total[5]. Here, we could identify 11* of these references featuring the groundbreaking movement.


9 Patek Philippe references featuring the automatic caliber 12-600 AT9 example references exclusively featuring the Patek Philippe Caliber 12-600AT. Photos Courtesy of Phillips, Christie's, Sotheby's, A Collected Man & Hodinkee.


The caliber 12-600AT was in production between 1952 and 1960 (starting with movement number 760,000[5,7]) before it was replaced by the Cal. 12-460/27-460. This also means that references that have been produced beyond 1960 came with distinct movement series.


(This is where you might wanna flip your phone)


Ref. 2526

Rare yellow gold Patek Philippe ref. 2526 on a Gay Freres Bracelet

    Period: 1953-60
    Production: 2900 (2400 YG, 360 RG, 70 WG, 70 PT)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: First Automatic, Enamel dial, 35.5mm
    Source: Christie's HK May 2021


Ref. 2540

uber rare vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2540 in Cushion Case

    Period: 1954-60
    Production: 31**
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Cushion Case, 32mm
    Source: Sotheby's Gen. May 2021


Ref. 2551

stunning 1950s Patek Philippe ref. 2551 with stepped case

    Period: 1954-60
    Production: 1372 (1100 YG, 230 RG, 25** WG, 15 PT)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Stepped Wenger Case, 36mm
    Source: Sotheby's NY June 2021; Christie's HK Nov. 2021


Ref. 2552

Disco Volante vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2552 in yellow gold

    Period: 1955-60
    Production: 650 (580 YG)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Disco Volante, Wenger, 36mm
    Source: Phillips Gen. Nov. 2017; Sotheby's NY June 2021


Ref. 2583

extremely rare Patek Philippe ref. 2583

    Period: 1956-58
    Production: 7** (7** YG)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: 36mm
    Source: Christie's Gen. Nov. 2010


Ref. 2584

Straight Lugs on a vintage Patek Philippe ref. 2584

    Period: 1957-60
    Production: 500 (360 YG, 80 RG, 12 WG)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Straight Lugs, 36mm
    Source: Christie's NY July 2017


Ref. 2585

ultra rare Amagnetic Patek Philippe ref. 2585

    Period: 1958
    Production: 5 (5 steel)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Amagnetic, Only Steel Model, 35mm
    Source: Hodinkee


Ref. 3403

Calatrava Style Patek Philippe ref. 3403

    Period: 1957-59
    Production: 9**
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Classic Calatrava Style, 32.5mm
    Source: Sotheby's Gen May 2021


Ref. 3415

vintage 1950s Patek Philippe ref. 3415

    Period: 1958-60
    Production: 370 (300 YG, 40 RG)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600)
    Specifics: Downturned Lugs, 35mm
    Source: Sotheby's NY June 2021; MLG Oct. 2021


Ref. 3435

Stunning Patek Philippe 3435 with Straight Lugs

    Period: 1960-70
    Production: 500 (24 RG)
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600 & 27-460)
    Specifics: Teardrop Lugs, 34mm
    Source: Christie's HK July 2020; Sotheby's NY Apr. 2022


Ref. 3444

Stunning Patek Philippe 3444 with Stepped Lugs and Case

    Period: 1960-63
    Production: 200
    Movement: Perpetual (Cal. 12-600 & 12-460)
    Specifics: Stepped Case & Lugs (Baumgartner), 35mm
    Source: Sotheby's NY June 2021; MLG Oct. 2021



3) The Production

As far as production goes the estimated total output of the Caliber 12-600AT was at around 7100 pieces[2,6-7] - or to be precise 1,900 for the first batch between 1953-55 and another 5,199 between 1955-60[7]. That's less than 900 pieces a year. So let's see how these got distributed to different references.


Distribution of Patek Philippe caliber 12-600AT production by reference.Figure 2. Distribution of Patek Philippe caliber 12-600AT production by reference. * Refs. 3435 & 3444 only rough estimate (50 each) based on overall production overlapping production period with Cal. 12-600. ** Combining refs. 2540, 3403, 2583 & 2585. For the first 3 of these references only known-to-market examples were counted. Sources see above.


We can see that the flagship reference 2526 makes up over 40% of the entire movement production. Combining the two most common references - ref. 2552 - we look at over 60% of the total output. In descending order this is followed by the references 2552 (9%), 2584 (7%), and 3415 (5%). Thus, as far as we know the 5 top references - in terms of production volume - account to 82% of all caliber 12-600AT. And there are the 5 very rare ref. 2585 examples in steel. That's the production we can be (kinda) certain about.

However, this is the point where it gets a bit muddy. For the remaining 18% we can only estimate where movements were used. The references 3435 and 3444 for example have known overall production but used both calibers 12-600 and 27-460. Based on the overall output (500 & 200) and the relative overlap with the 12-600 production period (1/10 & 1/4) we would estimate both to constitute approximately 50 pieces.


Lesser known Patek Philippe ref. 2584 with Caliber 12-600ATOne of the lesser known Patek Philippe references bearing the famous Caliber 12-600AT - the 2584 (production ~500) with its stepped case and the straight yet downturned lugs. Photo Courtesy of Christie's.


For the references 2540, 3403 and 2583 we only know about the pieces coming back to auction. Thus, their noted production is a very low floor estimate. It's only an educated guess but typically for watches from that period and collectible standing we're looking at 10-20x overall production in relation to the known pieces.

In other words we can't identify somewhere between 400-1200** Caliber 12-600AT production models. This means that we're missing between 6% to 17% or in other words that we can attribute over 82% of all assembled Caliber 12-600AT! If we consider that we are still about three references short[5] and that potentially movements got lost or broken in the process of assembling the final pieces we actually have a pretty good idea where all these movements went. I count this as a win!


patinated vintage 1950s Patek Philippe ref. 2551Another example, second in production volume and one of my personal favorite references of the bunch - the Patek Philippe 2551 (1372 produced in total). Photo Courtesy of The Keystone.


4) The Conclusion

So what can we learn from all of this? First, there's still a lot to uncover for one the most beautiful and best researched movements of Patek Philippe's history. This is only the beginning, because we know that broad appeal starts particularly from the rare timepieces before it translates to the rest.

Second, one of my personal credos is that we need to better understand what rare means and how we should apply this term. A - time-only - movement that's been produced less than 900 times per year for only 8 years... that's rare! Seeing that several references have been produced in quantities approximately at 100 pieces annually... that's even rarer.


vintage 1950s Patek Philippe Calatrava 2526Here's to the first, probably the most well-known Cal.120-600AT example timepiece - a ref. 2526 in yellow gold. Photo Courtesy of S. Song Watches.


Third, you might come across the 2526 more often. And historically speaking it makes sense to put Patek's first self-winding wristwatch on a pedestal. But if you look closer there's so many references making great use of this sub-second perpetual movement incorporating the calibers layout just perfectly into their own proportions. It's peak design from one of arguably the most imaginative eras in watchmaking history!



- Patek Philippe ref. 3402 - produced from 1957 onward - also featured the cal. 12-600AT. (Thanks to @This.Watch.Of.Hours)



* Rumor has it - particularly attributed to John Reardon of Collectability & Sotheby's[5] - that a total of 14 references featured the 12-600AT. So for whatever I've overlooked please tell us in the comments.

** More likely we can attribute even less pieces as several of the production estimates can be seen as upper bounds.




[1] Pivotal Dress Watches - Patek Philippe 2526; Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage Watches;


[2] Focus On - Patek Philippe 2526, the history and innovations of an out-of-the-ordinary reference; Enrico Aurili, Majesty of Time;


[3] In-Depth - The Patek Philippe 2526, And Why It's A Watch To Pay Attention To; Ben Clymer, Hodinkee;


[4] Ref. 2526: Patek Philippe Self-Winding Watch; John Reardon, Collectability;


[5] Reference 2551 - A pink gold automatic wristwatch; Sotheby's New York, June 2021;

Sotheby's NY June 2021

[6] Patek Philippe Kaliber; Stephen Foskett, GrailWatch;


[7] Patek Philippe Geneve; Martin Huber & Alan Banberry; (1986) Peter Ineichen Verlag;


All rights on text and graphics reserved to the Author.

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