As I previously wrote, this blog’s goal for the rest of 2019 is to cover more watch auctions. The good, the bad, the ugly — whatever may come. Lucky for us, there’s a great online auction from Christie’s going on from now until June 25. With 232 lots, there’s a lot to get to, so let’s dig right in.
Okay, I don’t actually recommend buying this Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 16700.
With the lot already sitting at the top end ($18,000) of its estimate as of this writing and the buyer’s premium tacking on an additional 25%, I’m just bookmarking this for us to see how high it goes. This is like, maybe a five-figure watch if you buy it somewhere online?
The Ref. 16700 was in production from 1988 to 1999, and sure this one looks pretty freaking crispy, but that’s not totally rare for a watch that’s just 20 years old. Look, I’m a fan of 90s Rolex sports watches as much of the next guy (and the GMT is the best of the bunch) but this is a little crazy even for me.
I tell pretty much anyone who listens (for example, here) that the Rolex pre-Daytona chronographs, Ref. 6234 chronograph or Ref. 6238, are my favorite chronographs from the Crown — Daytonas be damned. These Wittnauer chronographs have a real Ref. 6234 feel on the outside, and on the inside they’re powered by the exact same column wheel chronograph Valjoux 72 movement.
What’s more, Wittnauer is an American watch company (technically it still exists, but they don’t make them like this anymore) so if you’re stateside, it’s a nice ode to the golden age of American watchmaking. Just last week (featuring a Gallet MultiChron Chronograph), I mentioned I’m a sucker for tri-color dials like this one. There’s something about 50s and early 60s chronographs — the smaller dimensions, polished bezels, column wheel movements, clean utility-driven dials — that’s just so right.
According to Christie’s, both watches have original dial, hands, and lume. The second one (pictured with bracelet, above) has slight cracking and a more weathered dial, which is probably to blame for its lower estimate.
Tudor Submariner ‘Snowflake’ Ref. 7021
The main beneficiary of the Rolex Submariner being super hot (besides the Rolex Sub, of course) is the Tudor Submariner. It’s an equally cool sports watch with some military provenance, and what it lacks for in prestige it makes up for in daring design. The “snowflake” hand is the most famous of Tudor’s departures from the traditional Rolex design cues, and it’s on full display in this Ref. 7021. Introduced alongside the Ref. 7016, in 1969, the Ref. 7021 features an ETA calibre 2484 and was Tudor’s first use of the Snowflake hour hand. This example also has the Rolex crown and case back in tact.
Listen, someone dropped $40,000 for a Ref. 9401 Snowflake at Phillips’ auction in May, so there’s no telling how high this one could fly. But, this Ref. 7021 does have a service replacement bezel and pip which will hold it back some. P.S. check out our history of the Tudor Submariner for more on the entire line.
Who doesn’t love Tintin? One of the most popular comic book characters, Swatch paid homage to him in 2004 with these two watches. If you can’t have fun with watches as a hobby and appreciate this quirky little set, then what are we even doing here? Swatch makes all kinds of limited editions for all kinds of characters, companies, or countries, but this Tintin collection has to be one of the most universally admired.
And you thought we were done with character watches. This is the first Mickey Mouse watch ever made for adults and also the first limited edition Mickey Mouse watch ever produced, being 1 of only 25 made. It was commissioned by Walt Disney himself and given to the designer of this watch, "The Keeper Of the Mouse" Ralph Kent, who received the watch from the hands of Disney himself in 1965. In fact, Disney gave the 25 watches made to his top executives at his company.
Hamilton made this first set of 25 Mickey Mouse watches. Later, Disney went to Helbros, which made the $19.95 watches that Disney would sell at Disneyland. Disney had first gone to Timex, but Timex didn’t want to gear up production for a theme park-only product. But three years later, Timex came out with the Mod Mickey watch, bringing the Mickey Mouse watch to the masses and creating an icon.
Okay, this is not a great example of a Ref. 16570 Explorer II ‘Polar’ by any stretch of the imagination. The lugs are polished, I don’t know what happened to the bezel, and there’s no original bracelet, box, or papers. But, it gives us an opportunity to talk about how hot this watch is in the market more broadly. Rolex used tritium as the luminous material for its watches until the late 1990s, when it switch to Luminova and super Luminova. Tritium has a very short 12.5 year half life, meaning that just 25 years (i.e. two half-life cycles) after manufacture, a watch would have just 25 percent of its original tritium luminous material. That means Rolex watches of the early- to mid-1990s are developing a nice patina right about now. This Explorer from 1993 falls right in that sweet spot. Additionally, with so many trying to get their hands on a GMT-Master (see above), the Explorer II is a desirable alternative. It’s got the same movement as the GMT-Master II of the era, the Ref. 16710: the calibre 3185, which added a double balance-wheel bridge to the previous Rolex GMT movements. The main difference between the calibre 3185 powering this Explorer II and the GMT Master II compared to the calibre 3175 powering the GMT Master is an independent hour hand — the calibre 3185’s 24-hour hand is independent of the 12-hour hand, meaning it can be set separately, without disrupting the 12-hour hand.
It’s not often you see a Tiffany-stamped watch with a Patek Phillipe movement at a reasonable price. Christie’s has a Patek Phillipe archive extract confirming this pocket watch was manufacturing in 1919 and sold one year later. What’s more, this one’s got a functional minute repeater.
According to the Patek extract, the original Patek Phillip case of this pocket watch was replaced by this current Tiffany 18k gold case. But, the dial and hands appear to be original and honest, with the champagne dial having developed a nice patina over its 100-year history.
After singing the praises of the Valjoux 72 movement in the Wittnauer Professional Chronographs above, I had to highlight one more watch with the same movement. Heuer introduced the Autavia in “compressor cases” in 1968 (hence the “C” in the name), and this example is an illustration of the first run, or “Mark 1” of these Autavias. These Mark 1s had smaller teeth on the bezels, reverse panda dials, and the hands and sub-dials so reminiscent of the Heuers of this era.
And who knows, now that TAG Heuer seems intent on rejuvinating the Autavia line, maybe people will flock back to these OGs.
Rolex introduced its anti-magnetic Milgauss (Ref. 6541) in 1956. A year later, Omega introduced the similarly anti-magnetic Railmaster (Ref. CK2914) as part of its historic trio of tool watches. These were meant as tool watches for those working in power plants, medical facilities, or research labs where electro-magnetic fields could mess with a watch’s timing.
In 1958, Patek Phillipe got in on the action, releasing the Ref. 3417 in steel (Ref. 2570 is the gold Amagnetic), the watchmaker’s first foray into the anti-magnetic craze. According to some collectors, up to 60-70% of the Ref. 3417 had the word “Amagnetic” stamped at 12 o’clock beneath the Patek Phillipe name — this one does not. And of course, this watch also has the desirable manual wind calibre 27 AM 400, which is protected by a faraday cage construction to make it anti magnetic. For a brand that doesn’t really do tool watches, this is a pretty nice effort. Apparently there’s a great treaty on the Ref. 3417 somewhere on the web, but every link I can find to it is now dead. Let us know if you can find it!
Rolex Bubble Back Ref. 5026 ‘Enamel Dial’
Old Rolex Bubble Backs are some of my favorite watches. They have this preppy, Ivy League vibe that just never goes out of style. This one seemed unique enough to highlight: it’s a 36mm Ref. 5026, with a beautiful white enamel dial. Sure, the lugs look a little polished, but this is a watch from 1946, so what more did you expect?
It’s the odd case shape that gives this watch its nickname (“Disco Volante” translate to “flying disk/saucer” in Spanish), but there’s so much more than a fun case shape here. The watch is powered by Patek’s famous calibre 12-600, the brand’s first automatic movement. While the movement made the Calatrava Ref. 2526 one of the most famous and desirable time-only watches around, this 18k gold Ref. 2552 is a worthy alternative. It’s not in perfect condition by any means, it’s just a good, honest watch.