Our Watch specialists Adrian Hailwood and Nick Mann make their selection of highlights from the group of Fine Watches in the forthcoming auction of Fine Jewellery, Watches, Silver and Objects of Vertu, taking place on 28 November.
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Breguet’s pilot watch collection (Type XX / XXI) holds a curious place in the company’s history. The watches lack the neo-classic design cues, established by Abraham Louis Breguet himself in the 19th century. They are not overly complex, or slim and refined, but instead have the air of ‘tool’ watches designed for robust functionality, yet these incongruities have kept the company alive during some very dark days.
In 1954 Breguet was on life-support, barely existing from one connoisseur’s commission to the next. The provision of pilot watches to the French military was just the kind of contract that could keep the wolf from the door until 1973 when the Chaumets bought the company with grand plans for development. Breguet, along with 6 other brands was commissioned to provide pilot watches to the government’s specifications. These hand-wound twin-register chronographs hand black dials, rotating bezels and fly-back functionality and constituted the original Type 20s, not a model name but an official designation.
Sadly, the Chaumets’ efforts, and beautiful new model lines ended in bankruptcy and so in 1987 Breguet was sold to Investcorp. For the second time it was the Type XX (a new spelling indicating a civilian version) that came to the rescue. Launched in 1995 the Type XX formed a major part of the brand’s output until Breguet’s rejuvenation by Swatchgroup under Nicholas Hayek in 1999.
The Type XXI, launched in 2004, built on the heritage of its military sibling, offering a larger size case and a new dial layout. In the spirit of the technical tool watches of the 1970s and 80s powered by the tough Lemania 5100 movement, the Type XXI moves the minute counter to the centre of the dial alongside the second hand, making it easier to read. The movement is Breguet’s 584Q based on Lemania’s old 1340 calibre which is much more amenable to decoration and a display case back than the utilitarian 5100.
The Breguet 3817ST is the first of its family to offer a peek at this movement and at the same time updates the dial with an on-trend retro-inspired font and faux-aged luminous material.
This Omega Speedmaster Apollo 8 series limited edition stainless steel bracelet wrist watch is probably Omega’s most iconic model, and it comes with a compelling history. The great thing about the Speedmaster is that by simply changing the bracelet it can be worn on any occasion. Switching the bracelet for a leather strap it is now a dress watch for more formal occasions, or, a placed on a Nato strap the casual look is achieved. This model is the Apollo 8 from the 1997 Mission series and even more appealing as it is from a limited edition.
This is a tool watch designed for the diver. Hailing from the Rolex family, Tudors can sometimes be overlooked. The Black Bay shares similar stylings to its Rolex Submariner cousin, but can be had at a fraction of the price that Submariners demand at auction. This example has a blue bezel, which is one of the colours being pushed by a lot of watch brands this year.
The watch with its bracelet together make their presence felt and they are heavy to wear on the wrist, but, we think this is a good thing as you certainly know you are wearing it.
This has to be the dress watch of choice, it meets all the criteria you would be looking for in an understated, elegant and formal watch. Gold, slim and with a clean dial. It simply tells the time with no other unnecessary complications. And, with the signature of Patek Philippe on the dial, you know the movement underneath matches the high-quality finish of the case and dial.
Rolex, as a watch manufacturer, is famously and some would say obsessively self-sufficient. Much significance is placed (often misplaced) in watch makers being a true ‘Manufacture’ i.e. making the movement entirely in-house, but, even these companies will often source cases, bracelets and smaller movement parts such as hairsprings and escapements from elsewhere. However, Rolex does it all, even down to owning their own foundry to smelt their gold to exact specifications.
This was not always the case; from the early days right through until the end of the last century Rolex used third-party movements and the very last non-Rolex movement to be housed in a Rolex case was the Zenith El-Primero found in the Rolex Daytona Automatic Chronograph.
Since 2000 Rolex have used only their own engines, and so the pre-2000 Daytonas have become collectable. The combination of an iconic watch design with the first Swiss integrated automatic chronograph makes a compelling package. Of course, Rolex being Rolex, the El Primero was improved with around half of the original parts being replaced or removed.
Of all the details that identify this watch against its newer replacement the most charming is the ‘inverted 6’ on the hour counter. This is not an error, all the sub-dial numbers are written radially from a point of view at the centre of each circle, but only the 6 changes its meaning when flipped over making it seem as if the dial has two 9s. Not all the early Daytonas have it but if you see one you know a Zenith-based movement sits inside.