A Transitional GMT-Master, Vintage Day-Date, and a Watch without a Crown
Every month, London’s Watches of Knightsbridge hosts an online auction. Typically the lots are nothing too expensive; just good honest watches from a trustworthy house. This August’s online auction features about 50 lots, ranging from a Rolex GMT-Master 16750 Pepsi on the high end to a few little dress watches from Longines and Omega on the low end. It’s a great way to start paying attention to auctions (perhaps even picking something up) without being scared away by blow-out-your brains prices.
Let’s take a look at a few of the best lots from Watches of Knightsbridge’s August online auction.
When I first saw this at the top of the lot list, I thought to myself “no fucking way, a Rolex Pepsi (any reference) for less than $10k?”. Turns out, there’s good reason for the low estimate: a service case.
The GMT-Master Reference 16750 was introduced by Rolex in 1981, remaining in production until 1988. It’s considered a “transitional” reference from the unmistakably vintage Reference Reference 6542 and Reference 1675, which this reference replaced. And when Rolex discontinued this GMT-Master in 1988, it moved into a definitively modern era, introducing the GMT-Master II (hey, you can finally set that GMT hand independently now!).
Overall, the Ref. 16750 is similar to its predecessor, the Ref. 1675, though it does offer some performance improvements. Let’s also remember that the Ref. 1675 had been in production since 1959, so updating Rolex’s GMT line was no small undertaking.
The new Ref. 16750 GMT-Master was powered by Rolex’s new caliber 3075, bringing the quickset feature to the its GMT caliber (allowing the wearer to set the date independent of the hour hand). It also increased the balance speed to 28,800 bph, bringing the GMT in line with other models on Rolex’s collection.
In another sign that this was a transitional reference, there are two dial variations of the Ref. 16750. In the early years, Rolex fitted these GMT-Masters with a matte dial and lume plots that were not lined with white gold. Towards the end of its run, these old-school matte dials were swapped for a glossy black dial that featured white gold surrounding the lume plots. Rolex transitioning from tool to luxury, in other words. The matte dials are harder to find, and thus more desirable. Lucky for us, this particular example looks to have a matte dial in pretty good condition. Particularly lucky since this example has a service case — often, these matte dials were swapped out for glossy dials when they went in for servicing.
So what’s wrong with this particular GMT-Master? It’s that service case: the serial number is 4,4xx,xxx, which would indicate a birthdate for this case in the 1970s, according to various Rolex serial number charts. As mentioned, production of the this GMT-Master didn’t begin until 1981.
Lot 25 estimate: £7,000 to £8,000
In 1956, Rolex released the Day-Date, the first watch to display both the date and the day of the week (fully spelled out) on the dial. Available only in 18k gold and platinum, it was a conceived as an ideal dress watch, taking the Datejust and turning it up a notch.
Two years later, Rolex released the Reference 1803, which remained in production for twenty years until it was replaced by the Reference 18038 in 1978. Like the Reference 16750 GMT-Master above, the Ref. 18038 was a transition to modern, while the Ref. 1803 is decidedly vintage. Throughout the Ref. 1803’s production era, the Rolex continued to use only 18k gold or platinum. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a Ref. 1803 on the pre-owned market with its original Presidential bracelet, though this is increasingly difficult to uncover.
I love a good Ref. 1803, and this one fits all the criteria: it’s in decent condition overall, has an interesting “cappuccino dial”, and the estimate doesn’t seem to be reaching into the absurd. Because the Ref. 1803 was in production for 20 years, good examples and interesting variations of it abound, it’s not exceedingly difficult to get your hands on one. Which is why it drives me insane when some vintage “dealers” acquire a bunch, jack up the price another 30%, and then
Lot 33 estimate: £4,500 to £5,000
Next, for fans of symmetry and something different: the world’s first wristwatch without a crown. In the 1950s, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the "Futurematic”, a watch with an automatic movement and no crown. The watch is set by sliding a coin-shaped crown on the case back of he watch (“Don’t Lift — Slide” it reads). To set the hands, the wearer simply rotates the crown clockwise; to get the hands going again, you slide the crown toward the outside of the case.
The lack of a crown gives the watch a noticeably symmetrical and smooth silhouette, with the curved lugs of this later era model flowing subtly off the case.
Lot 43 estimate: £1,800 to £2,200
And finally: Honestly, if I were more confident in my masculinity, I’d wear this Cartier Panthere every day.