lunedì 23 maggio 2022

The One-of-A-Kind exhibition

Never before has such an important private watch collection been revealed to the public. The London’s Design Museum is currently hosting the best of the OAK collection – 168 of the over 600 exceptional pieces owned by the French businessman Patrick Getreide (pictured above), who acquired them over the span of 40 years. The collection almost exclusively features One-of-A-Kind watches (hence the acronym OAK), produced in limited series as special edition or on special order. It also includes many items worthy of being showcased in museums. 

Among the latter are the timepieces that once belonged to Henry Graves Jr, the American banker and railroad tycoon who commissioned 39 watches from Patek Philippe. Thirteen of them are currently on display at the company’s Museum, whilst Mr Getreide is the world’s only private collector who owns five. Above, the platinum-cased tourbillon pocket watch that won the Geneva Astronomical Observatory Timing Contest in 1933. 

The Rare Handcrafts section of the exhibition features pieces such as this Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 with “cloisonné” enamelled dial.

Among the Rolex Sports Chronographs is the 1966 Cosmograph Daytona with Paul Newman dial that belonged to the NASA astronaut Walter Cunningham, who occupied the Lunar Module Pilot seat for the flight of Apollo 7, the first launch of a crewed Apollo mission.


The London stage of the OAK Collection travelling exhibition runs until May 25. It will then move to Bahrain, China and the USA.


mercoledì 18 maggio 2022

An historic timepiece

The catalog of next month’s Christie’s auction – New York, 8-9 June – features several timepieces that will sell for more than this Rolex chronograph Ref. 3525, but none of them can claim a comparable history. 
Its original owner was RAF Flight Lieutenant Gerald Imeson, who had it delivered to the Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in 1942. He ordered it from the company itself, whose founder Hans Wilsdorf offered British POWs the chance to buy Rolex watches on credit, allowing them to pay when the war was over. Having been captured after his Wellington bomber was hit by flak, Imeson had the watch he was wearing seized by the Germans. Once moved to the camp, he became one of the 3,000 British servicemen who ordered a Rolex watch, and not an ordinary one – this chronograph was the first one to feature a waterproof Oyster case with screw-down crown, and one of the catalog’s most expensive timepieces.

Imeson is the fourth from left in this picture of British POWs at the Stalag Luft III camp. He wore his Ref. 3525 chronograph while taking part in the episode celebrated by the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen. He and his comrades built three 30ft deep tunnels that would hopefully allow for 200 men to escape from the camp. Iveson was allocated position 172 in the queue, but never made it into the tunnels as the German guards discovered the break-out. 73 of the 76 escapees were captured and 50 of them executed. A war crime that led to an investigation and a trial after the war: 13 of the 18 defendants received death sentences.
Imeson wore his Rolex during the marches forced on the POWs as the Germans evaded the advancing Russians in early 1945. He survived and was eventually liberated from another camp in May. He only paid for the watch two years after the war because of British currency restrictions. The price was £ 170, the equivalent of £ 6,000 today. 

The picture above features Imeson and his wife in the 1980s. He is wearing his Rolex chronograph, an object he treasured until he died in 2003 aged 85. His last wishes were for it to one day be sold so his family could benefit. In 2013 his grandchildren entrusted it to a British auction house, which sold it for £ 50,000. Christie’s estimate for the upcoming auction is $ 200,000-400,000.


venerdì 13 maggio 2022

Watches & Cars - Rolex Day-Date / Jaguar E-Type

ENGLISH (il testo italiano è in fondo alla pagina)

This 1:18 diecast model reproduces the Jaguar E-Type, an icon of the motoring world since its launch in 1961. The British sports car boasted a unique combination of  beauty, high performance and competitive pricing.

Enzo Ferrari, someone who knew a bit about automobiles, called it “the most beautiful car ever made”. The New York MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) included it in its permanent design collection, one of only six automobiles to receive the distinction.

Which watch would the lucky owner of this beauty have worn in the early 1960s? The Rolex Day-Date seems an appropriate pairing, as its popularity among well-to-do jet-setters was unmatched by any other timepiece at the time.

Perhaps our fictional Jag driver was not a show-off kind of guy, so he had the President gold bracelet replaced with a less flashy lizard strap. On the other hand, he was keen on originality. When he ordered his Day-Date from his Rolex agent, he asked for a distinctive dial with linen finish rather than the standard smooth surface. Its whiteness-enhancing effect proved especially impressive as he wore his brand new timepiece while sitting at the wheel of his convertible in sunny days.

While the foregoing is a debatable figment of my fantasy, no doubts can be raised about the nationality of the timepiece’s owner. The name of the day proves that he was Italian – possibly an Italian lover of British sports cars?
This Day-Date is a Ref. 1803 dating back to 1963. Its movement is the chronometer-grade Caliber 1556, which brought about a few changes on its predecessor (1555): the updated rotor design, higher frequency and instantaneous date change.  

Questo modellino metallico in scala 1:18 riproduce la Jaguar E-Type, icona dell’automobilismo fin dal lancio nel 1961. La vettura sportiva britannica vantava una combinazione unica di estetica, prestazioni e prezzo competitivo. Enzo Ferrari, uno che aveva qualche conoscenza in materia, la definì “l’auto più bella di tutti i tempi”. Il Museo d’Arte Moderna (MoMA) di New York l’ha inserita nella sua collezione permanente dedicata al design, un onore riservato ad appena sei automobili.
Quale orologio avrebbe indossato il fortunato proprietario di questo capolavoro nei primi Anni 60? Il Rolex Day-Date sembra un abbinamento adeguato, visto che la sua popolarità tra i facoltosi membri del jet-set non aveva rivali in alcun altro segnatempo. Forse il possessore della Jaguar in questione non amava l’ostentazione e per questo fece sostituire il bracciale d’oro President con un cinturino di lucertola meno vistoso. D’altra parte ci teneva all’originalità. Quando ordinò un Day-Date presso il suo agente Rolex, chiese un quadrante con finitura a “tessuto” al posto della classica superficie liscia. L’accentuazione del colore bianco candido ottenuto mediante questa lavorazione risultò particolarmente gradevole nelle giornate di sole, quando il nostro protagonista immaginario indossava l’orologio nuovo mentre si trovava al volante della sua cabriolet.
Quanto ho raccontato finora è solo un  frutto della mia fantasia, ma non si possono nutrire dubbi sulla nazionalità del proprietario dell’orologio. Il nome del giorno prova che era italiano: forse un italiano amante delle vetture sportive britanniche?
Questo Day-Date è una Ref. 1803 del 1963. Il movimento di qualità cronometrica è il Calibro 1556, che introdusse alcune modifiche rispetto al predecessore (1555): il design aggiornato della massa oscillante, la frequenza più elevata e il cambio istantaneo della data.

domenica 8 maggio 2022

Vintage library - The high-frequency watch (early 1970s)

(il testo italiano è in fondo alla pagina)
“What high frequency timepieces bring to the retailer and the consumer”. The Swiss committee for the promotion of the high frequency watch published this booklet in the early 1970s. Its aim was to emphasise the advantages of the movements equipped with a balance wheel oscillating at 36,000 vibrations per hour (10 times per second). Girard-Perregaux was the first manufacturer to adopt the fast beat escapement patented by the Fabriques d’Assortiments Réunies (FAR) in 1965, and several competitors followed suit.

The brochure points out that the 36,000vph frequency guarantees an increased accuracy as compared to the 18,000vph of an ordinary movement, as well as a better rate stability, shock resistance, and long-term reliability due to the dry lubrication system. 

The popularity of high-frequency movements lasted for only about a decade, after which time the falling prices and unsurpassable accuracy of quartz watches overshadowed their main selling points. The most notable survivor of the fast-beat era is El Primero, the chronograph movement by Zenith whose frequency enables to time events to the tenth of a second.

“Cosa offre l’alta frequenza al commerciante e al consumatore”. Il comitato svizzero per la promozione dell’orologio ad alta frequenza pubblicò questo opuscolo nei primi Anni 70. Il suo scopo era sottolineare i vantaggi dei movimenti equipaggiati con il bilanciere che oscillava a 36.000 alternanze/ora (10 semioscillazioni secondo). Girard-Perregaux fu il primo fabbricante ad adottare lo scappamento ultrarapido brevettato dalle Fabriques d’Assortiments Réunies (FAR) nel 1965, imitato in breve da numerosi concorrenti.
La brochure fa notare che la frequenza di 36.000a/o garantisce una precisione superiore alle 18.000 a/o di un movimento standard, oltre a prestazioni migliori in termini di stabilità, resistenza agli urti e affidabilità a lungo termine grazie al sistema di lubrificazione a secco.
Il successo dell’alta frequenza durò poco più di un decennio, poi i prezzi calanti e la precisione insuperabile del quarzo misero in ombra i suoi argomenti commerciali più importanti. Il sopravvissuto più famoso di quel periodo è El Primero, il movimento cronografico Zenith che grazie alla sua frequenza permette di misurare tempi parziali con una precisione al decimo di secondo.

martedì 3 maggio 2022

Auctions - Christie's (Geneva, 9 May)

Here are some of the most interesting timepieces seen in the catalog of the upcoming Christie’s auction in Geneva.

Rolex Daytona 18k gold Ref. 6269 “Jack of Diamonds”, made for the French market. The exterior of the case back is stamped with the French ‘owl’ importation gold marks and both the case back and bracelet clasp are stamped with the Rolex France Logo. Estimate: CHF 1,100,000-2,000,000. 

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 3448, dating back to 1970 is one of only three examples known publicly that are double signed for Patek Philippe’s Italian retailer, Hausmann & Co. in Rome. The present dial would be one of the last of the engraved hard enamelled dials to be used on the reference. The dials changed to printed signature and calendar numerals from 1971. Estimate: CHF 150,000-200,000. 


Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. This timepiece is part of the first 2000 ‘A-series’ Royal Oaks ever created, with the serial number ‘A 1741’, the 1’741th piece to be made. It has an original ‘A-series’ dial, with the AP logo above the 6 o'clock index, and reads "Swiss" below 6 o'clock. Estimate: CHF 70,000-140,000. 

This Cartier London 'Crash' features a large cursive script signature ‘Cartier London’ on the painted dial, a crisp heavy gold case and a matching gold ‘Crash’ folding clasp both with full Cartier London signature and hallmarks for 1990. Estimate: CHF 180,000-280,000.



giovedì 28 aprile 2022

New releases – Louis Erard Excellence Guilloché Main II


This limited series of 99 pieces features engine turned (guilloché in French) dials produced piece by piece. The company’s engineers had to invent and manufacture new cams (large metal stencils that the lathe translates into a design and scales down to the scale of the dial) to achieve this result. The 42 mm steel case houses the Caliber Sellita SW261-1, an automatic movement with hour and minute function. Price: CHF 3’900.


domenica 24 aprile 2022

Vintage ad - Audemars Piguet (1927)

"Top quality baguette 5.6 x 16 mm - Side winding crown". This Audemars Piguet ad dating back to 1927 is more telling than it seems. Wristwatches were steadily gaining market shares over pocket watches, but final victory was still a few years away as far as male customers were concerned. Women on the contrary had proved more modern-minded, the main obstacle to a widespread adoption of such timepieces being the poor reliability of most small movements. That is why top manufacturers set about developing calibers such as this one - a superbly designed baguette-shaped engine that could make even the tiniest jewel watches accurate.
Do you like vintage watch ads? Please visit the page about Watch Ads, my two-volume pictorial history of communication and design in 20th Century watchmaking. Click here to watch the video clip about the project. Click here to display and download a 20-page preview of Volume 1.

"Baguette di prima qualità 5,6 x 16 mm - Corona di carica laterale". Questo annuncio Audemars Piguet del 1927 dice più di quanto appaia. Gli orologi da polso stavano sottraendo quote di mercato rilevanti ai segnatempo da tasca, ma per la vittoria finale presso la clientela maschile ci sarebbe voluto qualche anno ancora. Le donne, invece, si dimostrarono più rapide nel recepire la novità, trovando un ostacolo solo nella scarsa affidabilità di molti movimenti di dimensioni ridotte. I fabbricanti di gamma superiore si impegnarono quindi nello sviluppo di calibri come questo - un superbo progetto meccanico di forma baguette in grado di rendere precisi perfino gli orologi gioiello più minuscoli.  
Ti piacciono le pubblicità d'epoca? Visita la pagina su Watch Ads, la mia storia illustrata in due volumi della comunicazione e del design nell'orologeria del Novecento. Clicca qui per guardare il video sull'opera. Clicca qui per visualizzare e scaricare un'anteprima di 20 pagine del Volume 1.