Watches: John Lennon's Patek Philippe Ref.2499/100

On October 9th 1980 John Lennon turned 40 years old and celebrated by spending 21 hours working. Having not released an album for over 5 years, he was in the studio with his wife Yoko Ono on an album to be released later that year called 'Double Fantasy'. Having left for the Hit Factory recording studio in New York on Oct 8th at around 1pm, he worked with Yoko and team through the night and returned to his New York apartment on his birthday, a birthday he happen to share with his son Sean. Several photographs exist that were taken inside the studio the day/evening or morning of his 40th birthday, presumably taken by Yoko Ono, that show a carefree John Lennon wearing signature round glasses and a denim shirt with jeans, in two of the images he is clearly showing off the gifts he received from Yoko on such a milestone day.

John Lennon on his 40th birthday inside the recording studio

John Lennon on his 40th birthday inside the recording studio

The most talked about present from Yoko is probably the tie she hand-knitted for him as well as a diamond and ruby studded American flag pin she apparently ordered from Tiffany or Cartier jewelers at a cost of US$75,000, less mentioned is the Patek perpetual calendar chronograph reference 2499 wristwatch, also very possibly either from Tiffany & Co. or Cartier. The significance of the tie and pin remain a mystery to me but no doubt have a relevance, I had read the US flag pin was to celebrate John obtaining US citizenship, although as he received his US green card in 1976 he wouldn’t have been eligible for US citizenship until the following year in 1981. According to others working at the studio that night, Yoko presented him with the tie and Lennon was slightly upset such a milestone birthday didn’t warrant a more significant gift, she then presented him with the pin he proudly attached to the tie and presumably at the same time, a Patek Philippe watch. The pictures taken tell a slightly different story. The picture displayed above, presumably taken first, show Lennon wearing the pin on his shirt without the tie, the two pictures below appear to have been taken at the same time and show him wearing all of his presents, the tie now around his neck with pin attached to it and him holding up his hand, clearly showing off the watch. In the first picture he looks very straight faced and posed and you can almost imagine the photographer, presumably Yoko, saying “Come on, look happy!” hence the second picture with him grinning like a Cheshire cat and pointing to his new Patek Philippe watch.

Lennon proudly showing his birthday gifts, a custom made tie pin and Patek Philippe Ref.2499 watch

Lennon proudly showing his birthday gifts, a custom made tie pin and Patek Philippe Ref.2499 watch

The smile really says it all. The watch he is pointing to with such glee is a yellow gold Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph reference 2499/100 (the /100 was the sapphire crystal version). The model is one of the most popular and collectable in the company’s history; first released in 1951 it underwent 4 significant variations until the last one was sold in 1987. The version Yoko Ono gave John Lennon in 1980 would have been a fourth series fitted with a sapphire crystal.

John Lennon was tragically shot dead outside his apartment in New York by Mark David Chapman on December 8th 1980, just 2 months after his 40th birthday. Researching images and video taken of Lennon during those 2 months, Oct 9- Dec 8, I can’t find another scene where he is wearing the watch, nor tie or pin. 

So somewhere there is a Patek Philippe Ref.2499/100 given to John Lennon on his 40th birthday and probably worn only once, of course the big question is, will it ever see the light of day again? There was a rumour started by a Los Angeles based watch dealer that Lennon’s 2499 had recently been sold privately, however this dealer isn’t known for his truthful comments and as Yoko Ono has a reported nett worth of $600 million, doubt she would part with such a gift for the money. I would guess either Yoko Ono still has the watch or she gave it to their son, Sean Lennon, on his 40th birthday (Sean shares the same birthday as his dad). At 85 years old and with no financial considerations I don’t see why Yoko would sell such a personal treasure, we know she kept John’s glasses he was (presumably) wearing when he was shot so retains sentimental objects. Considering John Lennon’s Patek Philippe Ref.2499 is the only watch (known to me) that could break the current auction world record $17.8 million achieved for Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’ Rolex, as much as I would like to report I have a lead or a contact, I believe Christie’s or Sotheby’s at some future date will offer John Lennon’s Patek Philippe as part Yoko Ono’s estate auction.

Clearly taken after the picture above, you can almost imagine Yoko saying, come on John, smile!

Clearly taken after the picture above, you can almost imagine Yoko saying, come on John, smile!

Watches: Celebrity Appeal

As I settle in for the night to watch a movie with a glass of wine, I’m reminded of the power of the big screen and people’s infatuation with celebrities; Whether we like to believe it or not, there’s no denying we’re all influenced by the media when buying luxury goods, mostly because we want to read about someone else’s opinion on a product before handing over our hard-earned money. But let’s be honest, when it comes to watches, seeing your favourite up on the big screen worn by an actor makes us fantasise about owning the same watch just that bit more.

For me personally, it was seeing Roger Moore wearing a Rolex Submariner Ref.5513 as James Bond in the 1973 movie ‘Live and Let Die’. This was the first Bond movie to be franchised and although Sir Roger Moore’s predecessor, Sean Connery, also wore a Rolex Submariner Ref.6538, it had never played such an integral role in the movie. The “wow” moment as a child was when Bond turned the bezel on his watch to activate the magnet gadget that started my personal fascination with Rolex. Such is the power of the big screen! No doubt Sean Connery wore a Rolex Submariner (ref.6538) in ‘Dr No’ due to his character's’ role as a British secret agent and the Britsh military testing of the Ref.65638 for its special boat service only a few years prior. I can’t confirm if it’s true of not but I was told by someone who did their college thesis on the subject, Rolex did sponsor to have Roger Moore wear a Submariner Ref.5513 in ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.

Although first seen as a gadget in the 1973 James Bond movie ‘Live and Let Die’, in the 1974 ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ , the Rolex Submariner Ref.5513 received a full screen shot lasting several seconds.

Although first seen as a gadget in the 1973 James Bond movie ‘Live and Let Die’, in the 1974 ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ , the Rolex Submariner Ref.5513 received a full screen shot lasting several seconds.

Of course today the James Bond character is synonymous with Omega and the brand has certainly gained some of Rolex’s market share, particularly in Asia, due to the association. I have always wanted to know though, do the actors that wear watches on the screen do so because they are paid to do so or because they like the watch? I know, for instance, the advertising Omega used while Pierce Brosnan played James Bond was labelled as ‘Pierce Brosnan’s choice”, then when Daniel Craig took over it was changed to “James Bond’s choice”, presumably because Daniel had a personal fascination for vintage Rolex sport watches and famously went on a talk show wearing a 1950’s Rolex Submariner Ref.6538, the same model Sean Connery had worn in the original Bond movies. Shortly after I noticed an Omega advert featuring ‘Daniel Craig’s choice’ and have not seen him wearing a Rolex again, I guess the marketing men won that one, or Mr Craig is a shrewd negotiator, 

For most big-screen actors though, once you reach the A-list, almost anything is obtainable. You want the latest complication? Of course Sir! Another watch the same as the one you were given last month but this time with a black dial? It will be delivered to you this afternoon, Sir. Brands know that if a celebrity gets photographed wearing their product, the public will want it more, the celebrities know that too.

Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1964 movie ‘Thunderball’ wearing a Rolex Submariner Ref.6538

Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1964 movie ‘Thunderball’ wearing a Rolex Submariner Ref.6538

Perhaps the ease in which modern, even highly desirable, watches are so easily available to them draws the A-listers to vintage, mostly 1960’s/70’s Rolex sports models or Patek Philippe. At the 2019 Academy Awards presenter Ryan Seacrest can clearly be seen wearing a 1970’s gold Rolex Daytona Ref.6265 on a bracelet.  However it’s on-screen that their performances affect us. Perhaps the first and also one of most significant uses of product placement was Steve McQueen wearing a Heuer Monaco Ref.1133B in the 1969 movie ‘Le Mans’. Heuer bought the rights to Steve McQueens stock images from the family and still uses the pictures from the movie to publicise its current version of the classic Ref.1133.

Many of the big action-packed movies you see today feature the lead actors wearing desirable watches. Both Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren wore Panerai ‘Bronze’ editions is the movie ‘Expendables 2’, such is the size you could hardly miss the watch. This was no doubt due to Sly’s influence as an unofficial representative for Panerai and, to his credit, until recently collaborating with Richard Mille, he has been diligently promoting Panerai since the 1990’s.

For the 2014 movie ‘Expendables 3’ Sylvester Stallone changed allegiance from his usual Panerai to wear a Richard Mille RM25 on a subtle red strap.

For the 2014 movie ‘Expendables 3’ Sylvester Stallone changed allegiance from his usual Panerai to wear a Richard Mille RM25 on a subtle red strap.

Audemars Piguet and Arnold Schwarzenegger are another famous duo. Apparently Arnold was not a paid spokesman for the company but certainly the two enjoyed an excellent business relationship. Arnold was even asked for his input when they designed the 1999 ‘End of Days’ model for him to wear in the movie of the same name. Apparently in the process he asked for a black military look and the AP design team were all taken aback, but obliged. This was the first in a long line of stealth models that dominated demand and fashion in the early 2000’s. Who knew the ex Governor of California was such a trend setter?

Of course who wears what on screen is not always black and white. When I was living in Los Angeles, a prop master for the hit TV series ’24’ told me Kiefer Sutherland’s contract with Baume & Mercier had just ended and asked what I considered the ideal watch for his character, Jack Bauer, to wear. To be honest here, picking suitable watches for certain characters would be my ideal pastime. For me there was only one brand he should wear; IWC, something like the ceramic Top Gun model. A little while later IWC emailed to ask if the prop master was genuine, apparently they had asked IWC to deliver something like 20 watches with no promise any would be worn in the filming and plainly told them none would be returned regardless. I never did see Jack Bauer wearing an IWC.




A version of this article was originally written by Charles Tearle for Hong Kong Sprial magazine

Adventure: Climbing the most remote 4000m Mountain in Mongolia; Well, Almost

Jon celebrating summiting Tavan Bogd; or so we thought

Jon celebrating summiting Tavan Bogd; or so we thought

I first met Jon while working for Surf’n'Sun backpackers in Surfers Paradise, Australia sometime in the early 1990’s. Despite polar opposite backgrounds, me from the city and him from the country, we shared a mutual love of life, adventure, surfing (well, me sitting on a board and falling off occasionally) and I guess as two Brits, immediately hit it off. At that time I was promoting waterskiing for the backpackers while also organising people to go out partying (tough job), and Jon had just circumnavigated Australia, on a motorbike, solo. You see Jon is a real-life adventurer, always on the go looking for the next challenge. 

Sometime in 1999, Jon was visiting me in London and on a beer-fuelled evening, decided his next trip would be to Mongolia, seeking a travel companion this time he was trying to persuade me to go with him.  After a few more beers we’d made a deal, having always wanted to climb a mountain myself, it was agreed that if I went with him to Mongolia, he had to join me to climb a mountain. Alas, Jon being a resourceful fellow, he called soon after to say he had found a mountain for us to climb; in Mongolia. Tavan Bogd is located where Mongolia, China, Russia and Kazakhstan all meet and advertised as the most remote 4000 meter mountain in the world. The only information we could find, keeping in mind it was 1999, said you just had to follow the river from the nearest village Khushuut to get there but declared, if you needed rescuing, you were out of luck. In the spring of 2000, with no prior mountain climbing experience or training, we flew to Ulan Bator in Mongolia on the start of our 4 week quest. Upon arriving at Ulan Bator airport we were approached by a local woman with an offer for accommodation at $5 per night staying in her grandmothers apartment, despite our natural scepticism and wary of the scams people people pull at airports, we are also both cheap, so took the deal. Luckily it was a legit offer and soon we were camped out in a local woman’s spare room right in the city. For those that have been to UB recently, it was a different place then, it had one State run hotel, one State run department store that sold everything, masses of homeless kids causing trouble and with so few tourists, nothing (at all) was in English. Trying to work out where to eat became a challenge as menu’s were like reading Martian, or to be more exact, Mongolian. We ordered food by mimicking a pig, or a cow, but it rarely worked and just led to laughter from other patrons, confused but hungry we usually just randomly pointed to things on the menu then looked at our server waiting for them to nod or shake their head. When food arrived we discussed what we thought it might be, often to no avail. The bowl of sheep eyes soup that was put on our table one meal was sent back as at that time we weren’t yet prepared to eat anything, little did we know.

Jon with a few locals in rural Mongolia

Jon with a few locals in rural Mongolia

Flying from Ulan Bator to Bayan Olgii, the furthest westerly airport, on local MIAT airlines (Maybe I’ll Arrive Today), was itself an adventure in patience, quickly followed by a mad rush elbowing for position, and finally ushered on board when our seat number was called, having no idea what was happening. Think Top Gear challenges, or perhaps more relevant, Dumb and Dumber. Arriving in Bayan Olgii airport was no better, landing in a field and grabbing our bags we soon realised our dilemma and Jon, being the more experienced, made the call “look lost” he said, it didn’t take much effort. We were soon approached and made to feel welcome in a strangers house drinking salted tea and eating a sort of stale donut mix until someone arrived that could translate. Negotiating for a ride to the start of our hike we were eventually piled into a Russian made 4x4 and driven to go find an American living in the village of Khushuut, our start-point on the (guessed) 80 mile hike to the mountain.

Completely lost, we crossed freezing rivers back and forth trying to find the correct route

Completely lost, we crossed freezing rivers back and forth trying to find the correct route

Not being able to locate the American our driver asked locals for directions to Tavan Bogd and offered to take us 10 miles up river to save us a days walk. Setting off with 40kg backpacks containing all our food and climbing gear, having had no prior mountain hiking experience was soon painful. We shared a water purifier, MSR Dragonfly cooker and a North Face 3 season tent, we weren’t prepared, not even close. Despite the fact we only had to follow the river nothing we could see matched the map we had bought in the capital, after days of nothing making sense, we left the river to follow the compass. Of course, we were soon lost, out of water and frustrated until a local informed us were were in the wrong place and directed us over a mountain range to our desired destination. We blindly set off into the snow soon realising an error in our gear, no snowshoes. It might sound crazy but try to imagine two Brits hiking over some remote snow-covered range in western Mongolia repeating “I’m light as a feather” while hoping not to fall through the thin snow crust. At one point it took around four hours to go maybe 100 meters, me now with a badly sprained ankle from getting lodged between two rocks after falling through the snow and on the other heel, a massive blister on my heel (Nurofen has never been so valuable).

At one point we didn’t see anyone else for 10 days

At one point we didn’t see anyone else for 10 days

Pushing on we made it over the range and ran out of light near the top of the next mountain, intelligently (dumb and dumber go camping) deciding to camp where we were, eventually finding two sort of flat rocks, wrapped ourselves up and tried to sleep, our gear all over the floor. Maybe 2am I felt it, the temperature had dropped, wind picked up and it got much darker, next I realised I was covered in snow, so was our gear. I soon heard the now familiar screams from Jon to get up as we quickly realised we were in a ‘white out’ situation, when you’re in the clouds and can’t tell up from down. Packing everything we could find we sat on our bags, used the ice axes as a rudder and sledged back down the mountain to set up tent. We stayed there for 5 days until the storm passed and later found out the storm was so bad several locals were caught without shelter and died.

Following the river, a few locals tried explaining we were going the wrong way

Following the river, a few locals tried explaining we were going the wrong way

When sun finally broke through again we packed our gear and headed back up the mountain, convinced, as this was the highest peak we could see, it must be Tavan Bogd. Our goal was almost over. Hiking up Jon took a break with the bags while I went to look over the next ridge, seeing the peak right in front of me, I pushed on, only it was a ‘false peak’, so I pushed on more, then more still. Arriving at the peak I took pictures, patted myself on the back for being so quick and heading down to grab Jon. Poor fella, to this day I’ve never seen him look so frightened, nor angry. I’d been gone over 4 hours and he’d been having visions of me injured, dreading having to call my parents.

‘Head in the clouds’

‘Head in the clouds’

That night we ventured down, pleased to have accomplished our goal of summiting Tavan Bogd. The next morning, as I took my usual 2 Nurofen to make it past the first few hours hiking, Jon complained of a headache and asked for my last two tablets, assuring me he still had an entire pack left, I handed them over. Later that day we came cross the first people we’d seen for 10 days, seated in their ger, we drank tea, ate some sort of rock hard food and all was good; then as we were leaving the mother motioned her son was sick with stomach ache and did we have medicine? “Sure” Jon exclaimed, as he gave her the last of our Nurofen. I still haven’t, nor will I ever, forgiven him. In the end, it became too much, having relied for 3 weeks on eating 1980’s Falklands Island ex-military rations and instant mash potato, with no protein, our bodies were weary losing almost 20 percent bodyweight and without Nurofen to ease the pain, I could hardly walk. Now lost yet again, Jon negotiated to buy some meat off a local nomad and we sat staring, lovingly, at the boiling chucks, unable to talk due to the rancid smell as we dreamed of food. The meat tasted so bad it would make Bear Grylls puke, yet we had no choice. Soon after we found a stunning and tranquil lake that revived my energy and we pushed on with our return journey, alas soon realising at our pace we couldn’t get back to Olgii for our scheduled flight. Credit to Jon he ventured off into the wilderness and found a nomadic family with a truck, somehow negotiating for them to drive us to Kashuut. A few hours after his return to camp a truck complete with Ger and family arrived, they had packed everything they owned. En route we seemed to pick up every person, goat and curiously a motorbike on the way, until we were all so squeezed into the tuck bed we could hardly move. Upon arrival at the village nothing was better than hearing an American accent, in good spirits we had made it safely after achieving our goal and finally met the American we were seeking prior to our departure. Listening to tales of our adventure he took us on a tour of the area, at one point stopping by a nearby river to admire the immense spectacle of the imposing Tavan Bogd mountain we had just climbed in the distance. In front of us was the biggest, scariest most deadly looking mountain I could imagine, and not the hill we had been up. Confused we explained if this river led directly to Tavan Bogd, where did the river on the other side of town we had followed go? “Nowhere really” he explained, looking at each other in confusion we all realised, we were never even close to the mountain we had planned to climb. Of course seeing the actual mountain, so imposing from 80 miles away, we didn’t care. 

The adventure over. Above we are in Kashoot waiting for a bus to take us back to Olgii, and home

The adventure over. Above we are in Kashoot waiting for a bus to take us back to Olgii, and home

A few years later I got to climb several 4000m mountains in the Swiss Alps with a local experienced mountaineer I was friends with, after my first climb with supervision I knew if we hadn’t got lost in Mongolia, we probably wouldn’t have come back alive. We made so many errors on that trip, but both came away unscathed with memories and vital experience.

Writers note; the title is a little misleading as Tavan Bogd is the only 4000 meter mountain in Mongolia.

Our start point, Khushuut, is indicted by the green circle; the blue route leading directly to Tavan Bodg was the route we were meant to take. The red route was the actual route we took before getting a lift a back to the village.

Our start point, Khushuut, is indicted by the green circle; the blue route leading directly to Tavan Bodg was the route we were meant to take. The red route was the actual route we took before getting a lift a back to the village.

Auctions: Why I believe Rolex bought Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ‘Paul Newman’

The picture that a started it all, this image was used in an Italian advertising campaign and created the demand for the Rolex ‘Paul Newman’

The picture that a started it all, this image was used in an Italian advertising campaign and created the demand for the Rolex ‘Paul Newman’

In the 1990’s an early 2000’s Patek Philippe made no secret they would bid at auction, usually successfully, on their own historically important vintage watches in an effort to build inventory for the (2001) ’Patek Philippe Museum’ in Geneva. The fact that they had such deep pockets and knew the history of each watch, meant they usually bid a hefty premium and made the news as vintage watch prices started to seriously escalate.In the 90’s every top lot reported at auction, almost without exception, was a Patek Philippe. You just can’t buy that sort of reputation and it secured them as the worlds foremost respected watch manufacturer, but, well, you can, obviously, buy that sort of reputation. In later years Omega started buying back their own watches at auction to build a museum, even going as far as to assist in the highly publicised Antiquorum OmegaMania auction in 2004. While Patek Philippe were usually publicly quoted as being the buyer of significant watches, Omega were less forthcoming about their participation. That said, Omega has every right to bid and buy at auction and no doubt still does, regardless though, they won’t buy just anything, only significant pieces they would put into their own museum. 

This accepted and known practice of prestigious Swiss manufacturers bidding for their own vintage and highly collectible watches at auction didn’t muddy the waters, other than perhaps to dissuade some collectors from bidding when they assumed they would be against Patek Philippe, they simply knew they wouldn’t win. Everything changed though when a French journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Stacy Meichtry, published an article in 2007 titled ‘How Top Watchmakers Intervene in Auctions’. The article suggested that manufacturers were buying back their own watches to artificially inflate prices and create demand. The article is one of the worse pieces of watch journalism I have ever read and so factually incorrect regarding both the manufacturers participation and the auction process, it is amazing the WSJ ever published it, or weren’t sued. Even the title was incorrectly written. Amazingly, it’s still available online here. Overall, the participation of watch manufacturers bidding at auction was written in a very scandalous way, and, well, the Swiss really don’t like scandals. It didn’t mention Patek Philippe also bid and bought watches from other makers it wanted for it’s museum and made it sound, at least to the average reader, like they were in cahoots with Antiquorum to bid on every watch at auction and fool collectors by driving up prices, which was a lie, or certainly misleading. To the casual reader it was a bombshell and changed the way manufacturers bid at auction. Ever since the publication Patek Philippe stopped allowing the auction houses to announce their purchases to the press, initially changing the wording to “purchased by an private museum’ and then to simply requesting privacy. The same for Omega, Stacy Meichtry turned what was once an accepted and acknowledged practice of transparency, into secrecy. Which brings us to Rolex S.A.

Rolex are known to be perhaps the most secretive of Swiss watch companies, for good reason. When the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf died in 1960 with no heirs, he left his 100% ownership shares to the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation (founded in 1945). This means the profits from Rolex are re-invested back into the company and they’re not obliged to release financial details, it’s also why they spend more money on advertising the any other watch company, something like US$80 million in 2018 and donate an unknown figure to numerous worthwhile events and charities. With an estimated US$8 billion value, Rolex really is unlike any other watch company. Ever noticed you never see a Rolex advert on the inner pages of a glossy magazine, only on the back or inner covers? When you spend the most, you demand the most. It’s well known within the industry Rolex have been quietly bidding and buying at auction for some time and purchase rare examples from select dealers; but it’s always very quietly. It’s also rumoured recently they’ve been acquiring watches with strong provenance. Which is why, in New York on October 26, 2017, when (ex) Phillips Geneva representative Dr Nathalie Monbaron bid $15.5 million (US$17.8 million with auction fees) for the Rolex Daytona ‘Paul Newman’ given to Paul Newman by his wife Joanne Woodward, I knew, with some decree of confidence, Rolex had bought it. The final two phone bidders were Nathalie Monbaron from Geneva and Tiffany To, from (previously) Hong Kong. Tiffany’s bidder, who we now know to be a Singapore collector, placed an opening bid of $10 million to took the room, and auctioneer, by surprise, however he was more cautious bidding in later stages raising the bid slowly in $100,000 increments. Nathalie on the other hand, speaking in French to her successful client on the phone, was bidding in a very prompt and precise manner, you could say in a very Swiss way. The final bids were NB at 15 million, TT at 15.1 million and eventually NB at 15.5 million. Before Aurel Bacs put the gavel down he commented “It’s not going come back to you Tiffany, EVER, I know where it’s going’. This was an unusual and telling comment from Aurel as any collector could be tempted to sell, or his heirs no interest in watches and sell, only if someone with no financial restrictions and a strong incentive to retain the watch would that comment be applicable, like a corporate company for instance. I heard stories subsequently about a Saudi Prince buying it, or Ralph Lauren, the latter I know untrue as the watch was offered directly to Ralph by (seller) James Cox (James asked me how much to ask, luckily, for him, I talked him out of selling) there were other similar unrealistic tales about the buyer, but sometimes this business is about reading between the lines.

rolex.org

rolex.org

In late 2018 Rolex released the new website rolex.org to (finally) focus on their heritage and previous important owners. The Rolex advertising campaign stresses ‘Every watch tells a Story’ and, although it can always be argued Rolex watches have some pretty impressive owners, including dictators and presidents, none come to mind like the passion and influence Paul Newman impressed on the world when he wore his ref.6239 Daytona; a watch he gave away in 1986 because he jumped into a swimming pool with it on, forgetting it wasn’t waterproof and the glass steamed up. Yes, that was the original story James Cox told me. Wouldn’t have made for a good press release though.

I would expect to see Rolex, finally, hopefully, open a museum in Geneva hosting their own watches and others, such as the first automatic watches launched by Harwood in 1926 that Rolex purchased the patent for in 1929 and released their own, improved, version of in the form of the Oyster Perpetual in 1931. Assuming they do open a museum, among the watches on display I am confident with be Paul Newman’s very own Rolex ‘Paul Newman’. 

Of course others might have a different view of the unknown buyer, or comment that they ‘know’ who the buyer was and it was a Saudi Prince, especially since Aurel Bacs commented in an interview the buyer was an individual, but knowing Aurel, that was a ruse to confuse. Of course one of the problems with this business is; everyone’s an expert.

Watches: The Lure of Vintage

Several years ago a collector came to me with a list of luxury modern watches he owned and asked, what should I buy next? Looking over his list of some 50 watches, he had a good selection of complications from the right manufacturers, a few from independents and the usual commercial ones that are always in demand. Rather than concentrating on one collecting area, he had diversified to allow for turbulence in any particular brand, it was what I would call a financially ‘cautious’ selection, if perhaps not a particularly passionate one. However, something was missing, he didn’t own a single vintage watch by any brand.

IMG_4709.jpg

After some discussion I advised he should include a selection of vintage watches and the look on his face was one of sheer horror. You see he viewed the watches as a commodity without ever becoming emotionally attached to them and so, in his opinion, the risks for buying vintage outweighed the potential financial rewards. Buying vintage watches, as with buying vintage cars, can be a virtual minefield; it doesn’t matter how much money you have, if you are not experienced or well advised, mistakes will be made. There are usually plenty of people willing to give you advice when buying vintage but this is rarely accurate and often, unfortunately, misguided. In short, you need a reliable independent guide, preferably two, or three. For those with a passion for watches who are either lucky, have researched themselves or willing to learn by costly mistakes, the rewards for buying vintage, both financial and emotional, are like no other.

1963 Rolex Submariner Ref.5512

1963 Rolex Submariner Ref.5512

I agree owning a unique modern Patek Philippe wristwatch is something most of us only dream of, but if you have the money then other, similarly unique pieces can be made, or you find the company decides to make your ‘unique’ piece as a series. Apparently the first Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref.5711p was made a unique piece, but turned out so well, they made more. To find a perfectly preserved Patek Philippe minute repeater wristwatch from the 1950’s isn’t something that turns up often and when it does, demand is high. Imagine a watch 60 years old that has never been polished, had no restoration and been stored away, unseen and forgotten for several decades. These are the watches that keep the aficionados awake at night and make the billionaire collectors, usually hardened businessmen, go weak at the knees - to find exceptional vintage watches isn’t just about having a lot of money.

Patek Philippe Nautilus in platinum available as a special order Ref.5711p

Patek Philippe Nautilus in platinum available as a special order Ref.5711p

To own a good collection of vintage watches, regardless if they are IWC, Omega, Rolex or Patek Philippe, takes time and usually persistence. You have to have a certain love for the art of watches. For most serious collectors, once they start to buy vintage, they rarely turn back. Many even buy two or three of the same model due to minor variations (usually with vintage Rolex) or to replace an example they already own that isn’t in quite as pristine condition.

It’s amazing what. little sunlight can do. Two Rolex Explorer Ref.1016

It’s amazing what. little sunlight can do. Two Rolex Explorer Ref.1016

So where to start? First decide what field you are drawn to. It really has to be something you have a passion for so it’s different for each person. The most common areas of collecting vintage, certainly today, are Patek Philippe complications and Rolex sports models, both are fraught with dangers from varying opinions on condition and, alas, fakes. Perhaps though, this creates more appeal, as when you find and wear a great example, a knowing nod from another collector giving approval can easily make all the hours, or years, of searching worthwhile. You never just glance at a vintage watch the same way you do a modern one, as rarely two are the same. You want to look closer. How is the condition of the dial, case? What is the history? Where did it come from? Vintage tends to strike a compelling ‘tell me more’.

Vintage and modern Rolex sports models

Vintage and modern Rolex sports models

While I was at a cocktail event in Hong Kong some years ago, as usual, looking around the room at the various watches being worn by the attendees, one caught my eye. It was. Vintage (early 1970’s) Rolex Daytona Ref.6239 with an exotic dial known as the ‘Paul Newman’ dial. The wearer was talking with a group of people and I just couldn’t resist finding out more so went to say hello. It turns out he had inherited it and follows the market closely, although waits for such events to actually wear it. We remain friends to this day. Vintage Rolex sports watches are perhaps the most ‘used’ vintage examples as they are relatively robust and as long as you are not foolish you don’t have to be too concerned about damaging it. Although I have seen clients wear their multi-million-dollar vintage Patek Philippe watches, they do so only on an occasional basis as the idea of damaging one would be just too heartbreaking. 

Patek Philippe Ref.2499 second series

Patek Philippe Ref.2499 second series

For those who, like the collector I met, own so many modern watches they want to diversify, or if someone likes the idea of owning something different and has an interest in vintage, I advise before you start, research yourself, or find a reliable person who is knowledgable and ask for advice. Only recently a friend reached out to me on an opinion if the vintage Breilting they were about to buy was worth the money; it was a fake. 

Other than that, finding several people and asking all their opinion is often the safest way, just be aware when using online forums, in this business everyone considers themselves an expert; yet very few are. Alternatively there are numerous dealers located worldwide for vintage watches, although there will only usually only be a few that stand out in terms of their stock and knowledge, and again, dealers tend to stick together to protect themselves so do your research, sometimes the biggest, including those that have written books, are the baddest. Buying directly from a vintage dealer has the advantages of receiving a guarantee should it stop working, and being able to buy immediately at a fixed price. One the other hand, auctions are a good alternative way for collectors to start as they offer, usually, a large variety at one time and potentially more competitive prices. Just do you research first as auction specialists can easily, and often, over-over-estimate the value of an item by the time auction fees are added, in addition they are are human and can make mistakes on originality. Make sure you view the watch in person, research the model taking into account condition and if it has box/papers, set your highest bid amount calculating auction fees and don’t exceed that figure, it’s easy to get carried away on the day and then regret it. Believe me, I know. Most people tell me if the auctions cover against buying fakes or vintage with replaced parts; read the fine print. In world of real estate the guide is always location, location location, well, in watches, it should be research, research, research. 

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A version of this article was originally written by Charles Tearle for Hong Kong Sprial magazine