Ten ‘Exceptional’ Vintage Watches That Aren’t a Rolex
Originally published by Stephen Pulvirent on Hodinkee.
This Thursday, December 7, the Christie's watch department will host its first ever New York City evening sale. Titled "An Evening of Exceptional Watches," the auction presents a pretty wild amount of diversity within its 100 lots. This trend toward slimmer auction catalogs that contain less filler and more quality, attention-deserving lots is one I am fully willing to get behind too. Since there's been a lot (and I mean a lot) of talk about vintage Rolex watches and auction records over the last few months, I thought I'd go through the upcoming lots and pick a few favorites, none of which wear the crown. Here are 10 that you absolutely can't miss.
Patek Philippe Ref. 130 Owned By Joe DiMaggio
We'll start with something big. In fact, this is the watch on the catalog's cover. On its own, a ref. 130 chronograph in yellow gold with Breguet numerals would be a plenty desirable watch. It's a slim, snap-back chronograph from the 1940s (this one dates to 1947, to be precise) that represents the heyday of the Geneva manufacture. But, this one comes with some extra provenance.
This particular 130 belonged to legendary New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio. To confirm the provenance, there is the extract from the archives confirming the sale of the watch in 1948 and then a receipt of purchase from a Joe DiMaggio memorabilia auction from 2006.
This watch is lot 5 and it carries an estimate of $150,000-300,000.
Omega Multi-Scale Chronograph
Flipping through the catalog, this watch captured my attention immediately. It is an Omega chronograph from the 1940s, but it's exceptional in a number of ways. First off, it's large for the era at 37mm, meaning it wears exceptionally well today. Then there's the dial, which has simple Arabic numerals and a complex set of nested scales at the center. There are multiple tachymeter scales in blue and a telemeter scale in red. Condition is really great too, with the case sharp and the pushers crisp, and I expect this watch to blow past its estimate pretty quickly.
This watch is lot 15 and it carries an estimate of $15,000-25,000.
Tornek-Rayville TR-900 Military Dive Watch
This is an extremely rare U.S. Navy watch that dates to around 1965. During that period, the American company Tornek-Rayville bought Fifty Fathoms dive watches from Blancpain and basically rebranded them for the U.S. Navy. It's thought that fewer than 1,000 were ever made, and, being U.S. government property, most of them were destroyed after they had been used due to the radioactivity of the dials. A few have survived though, and they turn up in unusual placed. This example was found by the current owner (and ex-military man himself) at an estate sale in New Jersey in 1990, where he paid just $25 for the watch.
This watch is lot 72 and it carries an estimate of $50,000-100,000.
Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-2
For a long time, early Speedmasters were some of the most undervalued watches out there. For those looking for a bargain, sadly those days are squarely in the rearview mirror. The ref. 2915 is the very first Speedmaster, and this second series example has all the details that people look for with these early watches. There's the broad arrow handset, the steel tachymeter bezel (the very first external timing bezel on a wristwatch), and the slim straight lug case. Furthermore, this watch comes from the family of the original owner, who was a British Royal Air Force pilot and later a commercial pilot. The watch definitely shows wear and looks honest.
This watch is lot 16 and it carries an estimate of $50,000-100,000.
Patek Philippe Ref. 1463 In Stainless Steel
The ref. 1463 is one of the most desirable mid-century chronographs there is. And in steel – forget about it. This reference is the only waterproof chronograph that Patek Philippe made during this era, and it has a number of distinguishing features, including the screw-down caseback, the sunburst style pushers, and the svelte 34.5mm case. This example comes from the original owner's family and is in honest condition. The dial has taken on a creamy color and the applied numerals at 12 and six offer a little contrast and substance. Personally, this is one I'd wear any day, anywhere.
This watch is lot 93 and it carries an estimate of $150,000-250,000.
Amelia Earhart's Tiffany Travel Watch
Now, this is something special. What you're looking at is a sterling silver travel watch given to the legendary Amelia Earhart by her friend and fellow aviator Amy Johnson after Earhart's 1932 solo crossing of the Atlantic. The watch is in pretty great condition and the engraving on the back of the reverse reads "To Amelia, In Sincere Admiration, Amy" – it's still crisp and easy to read as you can see in the first photo below. Likewise, all the hallmarks and the monogram engraving are clean and sharp too. The watch comes with a small blue leather case that also bears Earhart's name.
This watch is lot 9 and it carries an estimate of $60,000-120,000.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3448 'Senza Luna'
To use the same adjective as my colleague Cara, this watch is curious. If you don't know to what I'm referring, check out Cara's in-depth story The Curious Case Of The Patek Philippe Reference 3448 "Senza Luna" right here. There is only one ref. 3448 perpetual calendar known to have left the Patek Philippe factory for the very first time without a moonphase at six o'clock. Since that watch was sold in 2008, others have come to market, but their provenance always comes with a few questions. the current example is no exception. While I'm not sure I'd want to bid on this watch, it's definitely one worth looking into.
This watch is lot 97 and it carries an estimate of $80,000-120,000.
Skeletonized Omega Speedmaster In Yellow Gold
Well, this isn't something you see every day. Back in 1992, Omega created a very limited run of just 50 totally insane Speedmasters to celebrate the watch's 50th anniversary. Instead of the usual stainless steel case and matte black dial concealing a workhorse movement inside, these utilized 18k yellow gold cases with completely see-through dials and ornately skeletonized gold movement. While this definitely isn't my favorite Speedy of all time, it is one of the more interesting modern incarnations of the legendary chronograph and a watch that very rarely appears on the market.
This watch is lot 17 and it carries an estimate of $40,000-60,000.
Heuer Autavia With First Execution Dial
If vintage Speedmasters have started to find their footing in the auction world, vintage Autavias have recently scaled Everest. We're seeing records broken time and time again, with early and rare examples fetching prices that would have made collectors laugh just a year or two ago. This first execution Autavia really ticks all the boxes. It has the massive oversized chronograph registers, the radium has turned a ruddy orange color, the partly ghosted bezel still shows a bit of that red in the triangle, and the entire dial has faded beautifully.
This watch is lot 14 and it carries an estimate of $50,000-100,000.
Patek Philippe Ref. 2497
I thought I'd finish things off with my personal favorite watch in the sale. I don't think the ref. 2497 gets nearly enough love. Sure, it fetches six-figure prices all day every day, but it doesn't seem to have the same mythical, cult, ever-appreciating status as other vintage Patek QPs. The 36mm case is subtle and elegant and the proportions of the various dial elements are spot on. Those applied Arabic numerals combined with the dots? Oof. This example was retailed by Gubelin and is pristine too. Generous holiday gift, anyone?
This watch is lot 96 and it carries an estimate of $200,000-400,000.
An Evening Of Exceptional Watches is taking place at Christie's in New York City on Thursday, December 7, at 6:30 PM ET. For more, visit Christie's online.
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