One of the World’s Best Watchmakers Made a Secret Wiretapping Device

Patek Philippe's ZL 4 N and ZG 4 wiretapping device, left, and a rose gold reference 2499, right. Courtesy of Antiquorum/Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe is known for making some of the highest quality (and most expensive) watches in the world. But at some point, it also turned out an unexpected device: a wiretapping machine.

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One of the lots in Antiquorum’s recent watch auction in Geneva was the Patek Philippe ZL 4 N and ZG 4, two desktop modules which the listing describe as “a fine and very rare, electronic wiretapping device and clock used by the Swiss police.” Hodinkee’s Jack Forster points out that it looks not unlike a clock synchronizing apparatus: the higher unit could be used to set the time, while the lower one has plugins for four coordinating timepieces.

But with all the testing, research, and verification that goes into high-end auctions (the units sold for CHF 11,250, about $11,366 at current exchange), this thing probably was used for what Antiquorum says it was: to listen in on the conversations of whoever was committing high crime in the world’s most famous neutral nation. As for having the Patek Philippe name attached, well, at least the Swiss police could count on knowing exactly what time any espionage they overheard was going to occur.