The collection of non-watch ephemera associated with particular brands or retailers is a sideline for most collectors – an interesting sideline, but a sideline nonetheless. Still, among the logo’d golf balls, whisky glasses, sets of spoons, wacky retailer displays showing the tastes of another era, and what have you, every once in a while something comes up that rely defies description. This is one of those times. At Antiquorum Geneva on November 12, a watch world still reeling from the record set by the you-know-what-once-owned-by-you-know-who mostly missed a lot that I can safely say is one of the weirdest finds in non-watch, watch brand collecting. It’s not exactly ephemera, because it’s a functioning clock, and it doesn’t really defy description, because one can describe it perfectly well: it’s a wiretapping device, made by Patek Philippe, and used, or so the Antiquorum listing says, by the Swiss police for, well, wiretapping.
The lot actually consists of two units: the clock proper, which is unit ZL 4 N, and the lower unit which as far as I can tell was the one used for recording (it looks like you could use it to control up to four recording units). Now that said, in digging around I’ve discovered another listing for these two units which describes them, not as a wiretapping device, but as a master/slave setup, with the central clock up top, and the lower unit for controlling up to four slave clocks; we’re trying to see if we can establish which listing is actually correct. Certainly, Patek at one time made very sophisticated master-slave electronic clock systems (check out this one from 1975, which sold for CHF 125,000 at Christie’s in 2014). The rationale for the clock, if this is a wiretapping device, would be that for the tap to be admissible as evidence, you have to be able to verify the exact time of the recording.
The Antiquorum listing for the lot says, “A fine and very rare, electronic wire tapping device and clock used by the Swiss police,” and goes on to laconically remark, “Clock in running condition, wire tapping untested.” The listing actually gives reference numbers for each unit so if you wanted to, you could theoretically get an extract from the archives for this thing, whatever the heck it actually is. Patek did have an Electronic Division which it started in 1948, so I guess anything is possible. Naturally I really hope it’s a Patek Philippe wiretapping device. The high estimate on the listing was just CHF 4,000 and the final selling price was CHF 11,250 … so either someone got a very cool if extremely niche Patek timekeeping device, or something really weird.
Check out the Antiquorum Geneva listing, right here.