The Precision and the Passion
Be you a neophyte or seasoned vintage watch collector, regardless of money you have available, keeping an eye on the market can yield useful intelligence
Article by Alex Ghotbi Photograph by Andy Barnham
To the novice, starting a vintage watch collection can seem like a daunting task but it is also one laden with adventure and lots of fun. Obviously it is a hobby that will take time as opposed to collecting a modern watch, the buyer just doesn’t need to walk into a shop and leave with a watch on his/her wrist. Collecting vintage requires time, patience, a lot of hunting and even more research and education. However, what is not systematically needed is millions of dollars in the bank (even though this can help when targeting the rarest and most coveted).
In this article I shall offer you a selection of three different types of watches (sold at Phillips) that are either iconic or relevant in their own right that can fit different budgets:
Rolex 5500: The reference 5500 is a hybrid watch. Rolex, like most brands, built upon early successes and often made subtle changes to a timepiece, gracefully evolving predecessor models. The reference 5500 is a crossover watch composed of an “Air King” case, but fitted with the classic 3-6-9 Explorer dial. Rolex produced two variations of the 5500: the “Precision” with the caliber 1520 and the “Super Precision” with the chronometer-certified caliber 1530. Manufactured from 1958 until 1967. Sold for CHF 6,000 (approx. £4,850) in Geneva Nov 2016.
Movado: modern Movado has lost its luster but they have some of the most exciting vintage models. The Tempomatic with its beautiful and stricking dial with Breguet numerals and in-house self-winding movement, the caliber C.266, began production in 1945. The large size case on this example from 1950 impresses with its 37 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 4,375 (approx. £3,500) in Geneva Nov 2016.
Omega Speedmaster Ref. 145022-16 ST circa 1971. Most probably the best known chronograph model along with the Rolex Daytona, the Omega Speedmaster is certainly one of the greatest horological icons of all time and the first and only watch to have been to the moon. Sold for HK$ 40,000 (approx. £4,000) in Hong Kong May 2017.
Up to £10,000
Vacheron Constantin (Ref 4418). Amongst the three historic Swiss watch brands, Vacheron Constantin is often considered as being the more audacious and daring. During the 1940s and 1950s Vacheron Constantin opened the dam to its creative juices and experimented heavily on lug designs, going from minor twists to openly Baroque. The case of the present watch is surprisingly curvaceous with amazing massive downturned lugs – nicknamed by collectors “flame lugs” – perfectly complementing the serene silver dial. Sold for CHF 10,000 (approx. £8,100) in Geneva May 2017.
Heuer Autavia 1163MH: Needless to say Heuers are currently hot. However, where the round shaped Autavia models (a combination of the words Automobile and Aviation) are selling at quite high levels the tonneau shaped models superbly embodying the 1970s cool can still be had at relatively affordable prices. Sold for CHF 6,875 (approx. £5,500) in Geneva May 2017.
Patek Philippe Ref 3433: There is not much more one could expect from a classic, elegant and timeless watch than what can be found in this reference 3433. The thin stepped case with a dash of “disco volante” playfulness perfectly fits the wrist and will allow one’s shirt to smoothly slip over it. With a large 36mm diameter, a silver colored sunburst dial adorned with thin gold baton indexes, this wristwatch embodies the ultimate gentleman’s elegance. Sold for CHF 11,250 (£9,100) in Geneva May 2017.
Rolex Ref 1675 GMT Master II: With the growth of transatlantic fights, Rolex partnered with the world-renowned aircraft company Pan American Airways, also commonly referred to as “Pan Am”, to help their pilots combat the effects of jet lag while traveling through different time zones. The successor to the first GMT-Master reference 6542 with its fragile Bakelite bezel, reference 1675 was introduced in 1959 with a more practical metallic bezel insert.Sold for HK$137,500 (approx. £13,800) in Hong Kong May 2017.
Breitling Ref. 817: When collectors and aficionados mention the word chronograph, the watch most likely to spring to mind is the famed Daytona Cosmograph, however there are other rare and exclusive timepieces that should be considered when forming a well-rounded collection. The Breitling 817 is such a watch. Made in 1974 for Italian army helicopter pilots and commanders of the Battaglione Paracadutisti Carabinieri Tuscania, it is believed the production numbers for the Breitling 817 were fewer than 1,000 and research shows very few have appeared in public over its 40-year history. One likely theory on why so few watches are known is that the manufacturer destroyed most of them following regulation changes for radium usage. Sold for CHF 13,750 (approx. £11,100) in Geneva Nov 2016.
Up to £30,000
Rolex Submariner Ref 5513 was launched in the early 1960s and made until the late 1980s and had the longest production run of all Submariner models. Its undeniable success can be attributed to many features, all of which make the reference highly sought after by collectors around the world. Reference 5513, along with reference 5512, was the first Submariner models to be fitted with crown guards. Its predecessors, such as reference 5508 or 6536/1 all featured a ‘small crown’, which Rolex deemed too delicate for a robust tool watch. Sold for HK$237,500 (approx. £23,900) in Hong Kong May 2017.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: Back in the early 1950s Blancpain launched the Fifty Fathoms as a military watch fulfilling French combat divers requirements. At that time, the use of radium was common for luminous material and according to the needs of the army, the military issued models used a high level of radium, a radioactive substance, for greater legibility. When Blancpain decided to offer this divers watch to the public, the brand realized the need to easily differentiate the two versions. As the civilian version didn’t use any radioactive material, Blancpain decided to place a cross on the radioactivity symbol and place it prominently at 6 o’clock. Sold for CHF 31,250 (approx. £25,300) in Geneva May 2017.
Breguet “Dress Watch”: Breguet is one of the rare brands where one can immediately recognize the maker at a glance. What is even more mind boggling is to think that Abraham-Louis Breguet set these visual codes over 200 years ago and yet they remain relevant today. This model fully features Breguet’s signature elements such as the superb hand guilloché dial, “pomme” hands and coin edge case. The beautifully hand finished Peseaux 260 based movement is a marvel of horological genius. The Peseaux 260 was made from about 1944 to 1967 in approximately 3,300 pieces and designed specifically to compete in observatory chronometer trials as conducted in Geneva and Neuchatel. So exceptional was this movement that it was used by many different brands in order to compete in these widely influential timing competitions. Sold for CHF CHF30,000 (approx. £24,300) in Geneva May 2017.
Between £30,000 – £40,000
Patek Philippe Ref 130: In production for almost 30 years, reference 130 is the most iconic and recognizable of vintage Patek Philippe wristwatches and is a winning combination of the celebrated “Calatrava” case design with the sporty elegance of a chronograph. Made in stainless steel, yellow and pink gold with a multitude of dial combinations, its simple yet elegant design symbolizes the firm’s balance between classicism and high watchmaking. Sold for CHF 40,000 (approx. £32,400) in Geneva May 2017.
Rolex 6238: The reference 6238 is undoubtedly a milestone in Rolex’s chronograph history. Launched in 1960, it is the last model to feature a plain bezel and an inner tachymeter scale. It can also be described as Rolex’s first modern chronograph, and one that would pave the way to reference 6239, the first Cosmograph Daytona ever released by Rolex. Thus the nickname “Pre-Daytona” given by collectors. The matte black, or so-called “grené” finished dial, is particularly rare, as the majority of this reference was available with a silvered dial. Sold for CHF 131,250 (approx. £106,200) in Geneva May 2017.
Audemars Piguet 5504: Audemars Piguet’s vintage full calendar timepieces are amongst the rarest and most desirable on the market. The reference 5504, manufactured in 1949, is easily recognizable by its large 37mm case, elongated slim lugs and date chapter ring that is printed in an inner circle below the indexes. According to Audemars Piguet’s archives, reference 5504 was made in 20 pieces. Today, only nine are known, amongst which four are owned by Audemars Piguet, with one in the Audemars Piguet Museum in Brassus. The other three are exhibited during traveling exhibitions. Sold for CHF 131,250 (approx. £106,200) in Geneva May 2017.
Patek Philippe ref 1463: Reference 1463 is one of the most popular vintage chronograph wristwatches on the market today. Today, the model is even more favored than it was at the time of production, due to its robust case proportions and oversized chronograph pushers. Along with the elusive reference 1563, it was the only vintage chronograph model manufactured by Patek Philippe that was fitted with a water-resistant case and round chronograph pushers. Sold for CHF 250,000 (approx. £202,300) in Geneva May 2017.
The Sky’s the limit…
Rolex 6062 “Bao Dai” This elusive Rolex 6062, cased in yellow gold, is one of only three black dial models known to be set with diamond markers and belonged to the last Emperor of Vietnam, the Bao Dai. It is interesting to note that due to the diamond numeral at 12 o’clock, the Rolex crown was moved down, consequently making it impossible to have the “Rolex Oyster Perpetual” above the day and month apertures. The “Officially Certified Chronometer” wording was also removed from the center of the dial and placed below the moonphase indication. This timepiece is not only extremely desirable due to its imperial provenance, but is also a condensate of Rolex’s genetic code: the iconic Oyster case, a Rolex “perpetual” in-house movement and of course the ultimate rarity of a full calendar complication featuring a moonphase display. It embodies what Rolex stands for. Sold for CHF 5,066,000 (approx £4,099,500) in Geneva May 2017.
Rolex Ref. 6263: For decades, scholars and collectors have debated the possibility of a yellow gold Paul Newman wristwatch with screw down pushers. To some, it was virtually incomprehensible that a correct example would ever grace the market. The fact was even more pertinent as literature did not confirm the fact, nor did Rolex ever comment on the subject. Yet, the Rolex community discovered two yellow gold Daytonas with screw down pushers, both within a very close serial range, which displayed all the correct characteristics of an early “Paul Newman” dial. Reference 6263 was launched in 1969 and both examples were manufactured in the very earliest stages of the model’s production. Both had extremely early serial numbers, made during the reference’s infancy – a period where Rolex was experimenting with different dial configurations. The most dazzling aspect, is of course, the dial. A creamy lemon shade providing a sharp contrast with the ivory dials that were fitted to stainless steel Paul Newmans. The graphics on the subsidiary registers are white, which is a clear aesthetic departure from the gilt subdials of reference 6239 and 6241 Paul Newmans. This distinction is incredibly important, as it really differentiates the watch from its pump-pusher predecessors. Sold for CHF 3,722,000 (approx. £3,011,700) sold in Geneva May 21017.
Patek Reference 1518 was the company’s Renaissance, a rebirth of its founding principles of innovation married to tradition. The ‘innovation’ aspect of course being that reference 1518 became the world’s first perpetual chronograph wristwatch to ever be produced in a series by any manufacturer. Of the 281 pieces made, the majority of reference 1518 was encased in yellow gold, while approximately 20 per cent were cased in pink gold. Scholarship has shown that during the reference’s 14-year production run, a total of only four 1518s are publicly known today to have been completed and to exist today in stainless steel. Sold for CHF 11,002,000 (approx. £8,900,600) in Geneva Nov 2016.