Bolt On ...
When asked to choose my five favourite watches. I thought, this is going to take forever. Not so, it took all of 5 minutes. A real achievement by the following companies, bearing in mind the variety of watches I deal with day in day out.
No. 1: Rolex Submariner ‘James Bond’ c.1950’s ref. 6538 £4,500
The Rolex Submariner, introduced in the early 50’s, laid down the tracks upon whcih most of their competitors would follow. From the rotating bezel, (used to gauge air-time when submersed), to the flip lock clasp and extension link (to wear outside a wetsuit with the minimum of fuss) - all Rolex inventions.
Rolex weren’t entirely happy eith their new creation, and as a result made many different Submariner models during the 50’s, known today as the James Bond. Some of these experimental models (such as refs. 6200, 6538 and 5510) had chunkier cases and bigger winding crowns which, when attached to the original and somewhat flimsy Oyster revited bracelets, are wonderful, I liken them to the ‘Coming Soon’ trailers before the main feature.
The main feature being Rolex’s ultimate diving tool, finally achieved in 1962 with reference 5512/5513. The Sub was, by now, bulletproof, right down to the protective shoulders for the new, trip-lock winding crown.
The watch has remained pretty much unchanged since then, with only the addition of a calendar and sapphire crystal glass. Current RRP is £2,120. An absolute must when one’s wrestling thoese horrid great whites!
No. 2: Patek Philippe Chronograph ref. 1463 c. 1960 (Private collection)
When one talks about quality of workmanship, Patek are invariably at the top of the list. If you wanted a highend piece such as my favourite - the screw-back round pushered chronograph re f. 1463 - you didn’t just walk into a shop all wedged up and tie one to you wrist. No, no, no. You placed your order, gave a healthy deposit, and, depending on the backlog, received your timepiece between 1 and 4 years later. Wonderful.
The movements used in their chronographs were nothing short of a work of art. They started with the widely used Val Joux (the movement also used by Rolex in the Daytona), then lobbed away the parts they found inadequate and handcrafted the replacements. The dials weren’t just painted. They were engraved and filled, resulting in the permanence of a tattoo. The cases, whether the snap back 130 or the screw-back 1463, are subtle. They’re actually quite small for a chronograph of the period, measuring just 35mm. This typifies the Patek aficionados’ motto. "Those that know, know. Those that don’t know, don’t need to know."
No. 3: Tank Americane by Cartier £4,750 large size in white gold.
Born in the 1920’s - and still one of their best sellers. If I had to associate one watch with the word classic, the American Tank would be it. Cartier, quite simply, are the best jewellers in the world. From a manufacturing point of view, their cases are exquisite - jewels typified by the American Tank or ‘Tank Americaine.’
The curved back doesn’t just clip in to the top, perfectly acceptable to other watchmakers; it is secured with your croc strap is bolted to the case with delicate inch long gold screws. Pure sex.
If ever you get the chance to own one of the originals that house a European watch movement, funds permitting, buy it. I’ve only ever owned one and regret ever selling it. Finally, when faced with roman numerals, which company do you think of?
No. 4: Stainless Steel Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual £23,000
The Royal Oak name apparently comes from a King, who took refuge in a hollow tree; and the bezel was designed, or should I say inspired, by the porthole of a ship. But never mind all that - what a watch.
The case, much like the Patek Nautilus, doesn’t have a back. The movement enters the case from the top and the bezel is then secured with eight platinum screws, clamping it to the back. The Royal Oak is one of only a few watches styled in the 70’s that still sell today. Even during the 80’s, when anything from the previous decade was ridiculed, the Oak was still going strong. The problem was, I had to flip a coin to come up with the favourite version of the Oak. Heads was the subtlty of the perpetual moon phase. Tails, the ‘bigger is better’ motto of the Offshore Chronograph. Heads! It would be - at double the price.
The truth is that there are very few modern watches a true watch aficionado can get away with wearing. The Royal Oak holds its own against even a vintage Patek Chronograph; it’s not only more ‘complicated’ with day, date, month and lunar calendar without ever needing adjustment (hence the word ‘perpetual’), it’s also the thinnest automatic movement of its kind. Let’s face it. You’ve got to know a thing or two about kettles to be spending £23,000 on a modern stainless steel watch.
No. 5: Jaeger-LeCoultre 1930’s £3,000-£4,000
Tavannes Reverso 1930’s £2,000-£3,000
Up until 1932 there had been many attempts to protect watches from damage, especially for sportsmen. The most popular idea was to have a hinged cover that protected the glas, know as a ‘hunter’. This worked well with pocket watches, but for wristlets (as they were called) the cases proved bulky and the hinges delicate.
Enter the Reverso. A rectangular case that would slide on bearings in a bracket strapped to the wrist, Brilliant. This enabled the wearer to flip the watch over, protecting the glass from damage, proving it a must for the polo fraternity.
Although the word 'Reverso' has become synonymous with Jaeger, the earliest originals actually ran Tavannes movements. This was because jaeger were still developing a movement for the unique case. Versions with the Tavannes movement can be spotted by the absence of second hand and the word 'Reverso' printed on the dials. The Tavannes is worth less than the Jaeger, which is understandable given the difference in quality. However, in the weird and wonderful world of the vintage watch, rarity is everything.
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Like the reintroduction of the Mini motorcar over a decade ago, this reinterpretation of Big Pilot by IWC is better than the original. This 1st series Platinum example is of course the top of the top.